You’re probably aware that you should eat fish twice a month. Fish is a great source of protein, and oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are loaded with heart-and brain-healthy omega-3 fats.
But there’s also the environmental concern of choosing sustainable seafood. If you’re like me, you’re often perplexed at the fish counter: what’s good for me and the planet? We looked into the most sustainable, mercury-free, and nutritionally beneficial fish to eat.
The Healthiest Fish to Eat
1. Atlantic Mackerel
This species’ rapid growth means it can easily repopulate and withstand heavy fishing. Aside from being efficient, Atlantic mackerel fishing gear is also not likely to cause major habitat destruction. This bold-flavored fish is high in heart-healthy omega-3s, protein (a 3-ounce fillet has 20 grams), and pairs well with bold seasoning. Try our Korean Grilled Mackerel recipe with rich Korean chili paste and fresh ginger.
2. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon (including canned)
Alaskan wild salmon is free of contaminants like mercury and lead and comes from well-managed fisheries. Consider how well managed Alaska’s salmon fishery is: Biologists monitor river mouths for spawning wild fish. Like some Chinook fisheries recently, if the numbers start to dwindle, the fishery is closed. Due to close monitoring, strict quotas, and careful water quality management, Alaskan wild-caught salmon is healthier (over 1,500 mg of omega-3s per serving) and more sustainable than most other salmon fisheries.
Buying salmon in a can also makes it more affordable. Salmon is a great source of nondairy calcium and omega-3 fats. 3 oz. provides 18% of daily needs. Wild salmon canned in Alaska is usually sockeye or pink, but check the label to be sure. Try our Quick Lentil Salmon Salad for a quick and healthy lunch.
3. Sardines, Pacific (wild-caught)
The tiny, cheap sardine is on many superfood lists for good reason. In addition to omega-3 fats, it is one of the few foods naturally high in vitamin D. Sardines are a common name for many herring species. In addition, it contains 33 percent of your daily calcium needs per serving.
They have recovered from both overfishing and a natural collapse in the 1940s. Get a taste of sardines in our delicious Lemon-Garlic Sardine Fettuccine.
4. Rainbow Trout (and some types of lake)
Seafood Watch recommends eating rainbow trout (also known as steelhead trout) farmed in the United States or in indoor recirculating tanks. Trout is a good source of potassium, selenium, and vitamin B6, and provides more than a day’s worth of vitamin B12.
When sourced properly, lake trout is a great alternative. Seafood Watch recommends buying lake trout caught in Minnesota’s waters.
For good reason, herring has more omega-3s than sardines, trout, and mackerel. It’s high in vitamin D and selenium. Restaurants usually serve canned, cured, or smoked herring, but it can also be eaten fresh.
We recommend buying Atlantic herring from the US or California herring from set gill nets. If you haven’t already, make friends with your local fishmonger.
Avoid these 5 fishes
Several environmental groups have called for the banning of many fish. In addition to being depleted, popular fish like the ones listed below often contain higher levels of mercury and PCBs. The EDF has issued health warnings for some of these fish.
1. Bluefin Tuna
The bluefin tuna is an endangered species, according to the WWF, and its populations are depleted and overfished. Bluefin has high mercury levels and can contain PCBs, so EDF recommends only one serving per month.
2. Orange Roughy
This fish lives a long time but reproduces slowly, exposing it to overfishing. “Orange roughy lives 100 years or more,” says Seafood Watch. This means it’s high in mercury, prompting EDF to issue a health warning.
3. Salmon (Atlantic, farmed in pens)
Wild salmon trying to swim to their ancestral spawning waters are threatened by parasites and diseases found in most farmed salmon pens. Antibiotics are frequently used to treat open-net farmed salmon, and their waste pollutes the ocean. Seafood Watch has rated freshwater-farmed salmon as a Best Choice, and some open-net systems as Good Alternatives (see more salmon recommendations from Seafood Watch). Consumer pressure may encourage more farms to adopt better practices.
4. Mahi-Mahi (Costa Rica, Guatemala & Peru)
EDF lists imported longline mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) as one of the least eco-friendly fish. Bycatch concerns include sea turtles, seabirds, and sharks entangled in mahi-mahi fishing gear. Seafood Watch rates mahi-mahi caught with troll lines in the United States and Ecuador as a Good Alternative.
5. Halibut (Atlantic, wild)
Because this fish matures slowly (up to 50 years), it is vulnerable to overfishing. Due to the depletion of Atlantic halibut populations, the United States prohibits commercial harvesting of this North Atlantic breed, which Seafood Watch rates as “Avoid.” Pacific halibut is a good alternative, as it is caught in well-managed fisheries with little habitat damage and little bycatch.
You’re undoubtedly already aware that you should consume fish (must be The Healthiest Fish) twice a week as part of a healthy diet. A lean and nutritious source of protein—and oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, among others, provide the heart-and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that you’ve undoubtedly heard you should be eating more of in your diet.