Fish is often hailed as a nutritional heavy hitter — providing a slew of health benefits.
As fish is rich in essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals, the seafood can make for a healthy choice in an overall balanced diet.
Not every type of fish, however, is a slam dunk from a nutritional perspective.
Michelle Routhenstein, a cardiology dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, said, “Not all fish are created equal when it comes to their nutrition profile, so choosing specific ones may be more beneficial for your health.”
Read on for which fish deserve a regular spot on your plate, and which to avoid.
‘Best’ fish for your health
There are good reasons this fish gets a lot of lovin’ from health professionals.
“Salmon is among the best choices for healthy fish. “It’s high in omega-3s — fats that help cardiovascular and brain health — and also high in protein,” said Lauri Wright, a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.
Elaborating on omega-3s, Wright said research shows that omega-3 consumption decreases overall mortality from heart disease.
“Further, omega-3 provides a modest reduction in high blood pressure and significant reduction in triglycerides,” said Wright.
“In addition to cardiovascular benefits, omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory properties, making them beneficial for those suffering from arthritis,” she said.
For all these reasons and more, it’s probably a good idea to add omega-3 rich foods to your diet, whether through seafood sources discussed herein or via walnuts, flaxseeds and Brussels sprouts.
Talk with your own health care professional, of course, about any planned changes to your diet.
Slurp, slurp on these good-for-you bivalves, say nutritionists.
“Oysters, like salmon and sardines, are high in omega-3s and also high in iron. They’re also good for the environment. One warning, though — never consume raw seafood,” said Wright.
As Routhenstein noted, sardines are rich in EPA and DHA, omega 3 fatty acids, that provide anti-inflammatory, heart health benefits.
“Sardines also have a unique nutritional profile because they are rich in calcium, which helps with bone health and heartbeat regularity,” she said.
In addition to praising sardines for being packed with omega-3s, Wright shared that sardines are high in vitamin D and are also inexpensive.
If you want to add more sardines to your diet, Wright has a few easy ideas.
Top a cracker with a sardine and mustard. Sauté sardines in oil, garlic, onions with a bit of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to get rid of the strong fishy flavor and serve with rice. Substitute sardines for lox on top of a bagel.
Halibut is rich in selenium, per Routhenstein, which is a heart-healthy antioxidant that reduces inflammation and oxidative stress.
“Halibut is also a good source of vitamin B6, which is beneficial for immune, nerve and liver health,” she added.
Pass the red snapper, please.
“Red snapper is a rich source of potassium, which helps improve blood pressure and arterial health,” said Routhenstein, noting this fish is also a good source of protein and B vitamins.
‘Worst’ fish for your health
Sole has a high risk for contaminants, and it is low in many heart-healthy nutrients like omega-3s, potassium, and magnesium, cautioned Routhenstein.
“It is also high in sodium relative to potassium, which may increase blood pressure levels,” she said.
Another fish you might want to steer clear of is farmed tilapia, which “contains high levels of contaminants, antibiotics and omega-6 fatty acids that can be pro-inflammatory and negatively contribute to your health goals,” said Routhenstein.
Also known as the red roughy, this fish is best to avoid. Why?
“Orange roughy has a long lifespan, meaning it often picks up many contaminants throughout its life, including high levels of mercury,” said Wright.
It’s worth flagging that this creature may not be good for your health, or the environment, experts say.
“Shark is very high in mercury, which is a neurotoxin. It should be avoided completely by pregnant women and children. Further, the population of sharks is also declining,” said Wright.
A note about tuna
Ah, tuna. This fish can be controversial — so Routhenstein set the record straight.
“Tuna is a rich source of vitamins B6 and B12, which helps support immune, hormonal and nerve health,” she said.
“However, tuna is not a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and it contains high levels of mercury, so if you enjoy it, you should try to limit it to 1-2x a week,” she continued.
Due to its high mercury content, it may need to be consumed zero times — or only once a week — by certain populations, such as young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Adding to this, Wright said the basic guideline is to choose light tuna and limit it to less than two servings a week.
“A 130-pound woman can eat almost two six-ounce cans of light tuna a week and stay within the EPA-recommended safe zone for mercury,” she said.
“A four- or five-year-old child should eat only about four ounces of light tuna per week,” Wright added, noting that the guidelines differ for albacore tuna.
“Children should avoid that type of tuna altogether, and women of childbearing age should consume no more than four ounces per week,” Wright concluded.