One of the healthiest food choices is fish and with Summer months in full swing, no matter where you are there tends to be an increase in fish consumption. Besides being a source of low-fat and high-quality protein, it is a rich source of vital nutrients such as vitamin D—a nutrient that many people must supplement because of deficiency. Fish is also rich in calcium and phosphorus, as well as other minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.

While fish in general is a healthy food choice, some fish are better choices than others. Fatty types of fish are considered the healthiest, because they are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your body and brain to function optimally and are strongly linked to reduced risk of many diseases. Many studies have shown that people who eat fish regularly have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death from heart disease.

Unfortunately, environmental pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can accumulate in foods, including fish. Some fish also contain higher levels of heavy metals such as mercury, which can be toxic to the nervous, digestive, and immune systems. Fish that should be avoided because of mercury contamination include shark, ray, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, tilefish, orange roughie, ling, and southern bluefin tuna.

Safe fish choices that typically contain lower levels of mercury include:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tout
  • Canned light tuna
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Shellfish such as prawns, lobsters, and oysters

Not all fish categories are nutritionally equal, and sourcing affects nutrient quality and toxin levels. Fish that specifically have lower levels of mercury and are also rich in omega-3s include:

  • Atlantic mackerel (also known as purse seine, from Canada and the U.S.)
  • Pacific sardines (wild-caught)
  • Freshwater Coho salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)

As a general rule, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. 

I personally like to use the EPA’s Recommendations for Fish Consumption below when it comes to the type of fish I eat and how often:

Do Not EatEat in Moderation (Up to 6 ounces per week)Do Eat (Up to 12 ounces per week)

Fish high in mercury:

  • King Mackerel
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish

Fish for which a tribal, local, state, or federal advisory has been issued

Check advisories for your area here 

Albacore (white) tuna

Fish caught from local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas (Note: if eating these fish, do not consume other fish during the week)

Fish low in mercury:

  • Canned light tuna
  • Catfish
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp

If you're a fish lover like me or just curious in general, I highly recommend visiting seadoodwatch.org for up-to-date yearly seafood guides on sustainable, local and safe seafood for different regions around the world.   

xox, Dr. G