The 15 Healthiest Fish to Eat, According to Registered Dietitians

·9 min read
Photo credit: Claudia Totir - Getty Images
Photo credit: Claudia Totir - Getty Images

Like raisins, raw tomatoes and cilantro, fish is one of those polarizing foods — there are the lovers, and then there are “not a fish person” people who make an involuntary gross-out face when you suggest a seafood restaurant.

Fair enough, but if you've got a hater in your family, there's a decent chance that simply haven't met their BFF (Best Fish Friend) yet. Many don't taste at all "fishy" points out Valerie Agyeman, RD, a women’s health dietitian and founder of Flourish Heights virtual nutritional counseling service. Incorporating a mild fish into pasta, pizza or tacos can open picky eater's minds. "I find that adding seafood to favorite foods is always a great idea," says Agyeman.

And it's worth experimenting, because fish “is packed with vitamins and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke,” says Grace Derocha, RD, CDCES, MBA, a national spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Never mind that health orgs such as the American Heart Association recommend that we eat fish twice to three times a week, adds Agyeman. “Fish is a high-quality, lean protein to add to your eating routine for healthy muscles, bones, tissue and skin,” she says.

That said, some folks nix fish because of concerns about sustainability, or a fear of consuming mercury, a neurotoxin that are especially bad for pregnant women and young children, which can be an issue in larger fish. Most types of commonly sold fish are healthy to eat a few times a week, however. "It’s always best to look for sustainable seafood certifications, including MSC, ASC or Fair Trade USA to ensure a safe, healthy and accountable seafood supply,” says Agyeman. You can also check out Seafood Watch for seafood recs based on sustainability standards, Derocha adds.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says women who are or might become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, as well as young children should avoid:

  • King mackerel

  • Marlin

  • Orange roughy

  • Shark

  • Swordfish

  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)

  • Tuna, Bigeye

Inspired? Check out these 15 super-health fish options to work into your rotation. (These are in no particular order — what’s healthiest for you depends on what your body needs and what the rest of your diet looks like; where mercury is a concern, you'll see how to reduce your exposure.)

1. SALMON

Photo credit: Aleksandar Bojkovic / 500px - Getty Images
Photo credit: Aleksandar Bojkovic / 500px - Getty Images

Salmon is the prom queen of fish — that is, super popular. The fat in salmon (especially wild-caught salmon) is the “good” kind, and has lots of calcium and vitamin D, says DeRocha. “This is because wild caught salmon is found in its natural habitat and hence is less exposed to contaminants and processed fish food,” she says. The National Institutes of Health recommend that men consume 1.6 grams and women consume 1.1 grams of omega-3s daily, and one 3-ounce has more than enough. Alaskan Chinook (or King) salmon, Coho salmon and sockeye salmon are three wild salmon species rated the highest in omega-3s.

2. TUNA (canned)

Photo credit: Lauri Patterson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Lauri Patterson - Getty Images

You can’t beat tuna for everyday convenience: Rip open a pouch or a single-serve can and toss it in your salad for a quickie lunch. “Tuna is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium — a mineral that acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body,” says Agyeman. “Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress and damage to your cells.” Don’t let tuna be your only fish, however, because most species have a high mercury content, points out Derocha. In general, bigger varieties (of any fish) contain more, and when it comes to tuna, that means going easy on yellowfin, ahi tuna and albacore. “Instead, opt for smaller species like the skipjack, which is the chunk light tuna in a can,” she says.

3. COD

Photo credit: Creativ Studio Heinemann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Creativ Studio Heinemann - Getty Images

Cod is a great fish to serve to newbies, says Derocha. “It has a milder flavor that picky eaters and kids could enjoy.” It’s so universally loved that it’s often used in fish and chips (yum!), and when grilled or baked, cod is low in fat and naturally rich in protein.

4. SARDINES

Photo credit: Viel, Pierre Louis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Viel, Pierre Louis - Getty Images

Sardines are not a good starter fish, because, well, they're "fishy." These little buggers have a strong taste, but they are excellent for you, says Agyeman. “Sardines have tiny, edible bones that provide a great dairy-free source of calcium,” she says, and have iron and selenium as well. “Sardines and crackers are one of my favorite midday snacks to keep me feeling satiated and get an energy boost.” They’re also good over pasta in tomato sauce, or with lemon and garlic.

5. HALIBUT

Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images
Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images

“Halibut is a firm, white fish with a rather mild flavor,” says Derocha, and so one that’s kid friendly (try it grilled or using it for fish sticks). It’s a good source of selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins B6 and B12. It does have more mercury than other options, though, which is why the FDA lists it as only a "good," once-a-week choice, rather than a "best" two-to-three times option.

6. MAHI-MAHI

Photo credit: NightAndDayImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: NightAndDayImages - Getty Images

“Because it’s also called 'dolphin fish,' it’s sometimes confused with the mammal dolphin, but don’t worry, they’re completely different,” says Derocha. A tropical firm fish (mahi-mahi means “strong” in Hawaiian,) it can hold up to almost any preparation without falling apart, says Derocha. It's also a good once-a-week choice.

7. UNAGI (A.K.A. EEL)

Photo credit: DigiPub - Getty Images
Photo credit: DigiPub - Getty Images

Unagi is much-loved in Japan, and loaded with vitamins and minerals, protein and other key nutrients. “Unagi is also believed to have the highest amount of unsaturated fatty acids than any other sea creature — the omega-3 fatty acid in unagi could help improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and help maintain bone health,” says Derocha. “This and vitamin A are believed to reduce wrinkles and keep the skin supple as well.”

8. OYSTERS

Photo credit: rudisill - Getty Images
Photo credit: rudisill - Getty Images

As if you needed an excuse to test whether this shellfish is, in fact, an aphrodisiac! Oysters are not for beginners, but the salty, slimy slurp is a treat that have regulars racing to the raw bar. “Oysters contain a rich amount of zinc, which supports your body’s ability to fight off colds, viruses, and other icky bugs that make you sick,” says Agyeman. Or try cooking them, says Derocha, perhaps in a stew. They are also great for the environment. “The shells are an excellent source of calcium, which when used in the garden can help build strong plant barks as well as balance the soil pH,” she adds.

9. HERRING

Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

These silvery fish are not only affordable and full of omega-3s, but herring has minimal mercury content, making it one of the cleanest and safest ocean fish to eat, says Derocha. “Herring is an excellent source of vitamin D — for people who don't get enough sunlight, herring could be an ideal solution to keep your body at recommended levels of vitamin D.”

10. SHRIMP

Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images
Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images

Shrimp belong in your tacos, any day of the week. Okay, it is not a fish so much as a crustacean, but “shrimp is high in protein and has a light flavor that kids and adults can enjoy any time of day,” says Agyeman. “It’s also a great source of iodine and selenium, which supports a healthy thyroid and proper metabolism.” While not as high in omega-3 fatty acids as some other choices, they are low in mercury and calories and high in protein.

11. SCALLOPS

Photo credit: billnoll - Getty Images
Photo credit: billnoll - Getty Images

These shellfish have a pleasing texture and delicate flavor. Once shucked (which is how scallops are usually sold), they are simple to prepare, says Derocha. “Just be careful not to overcook them, which is easy to do—all it takes is a quick sear in a super-hot pan for them to be cooked to perfection.” Low in mercury, they’re ranked as sustainable in a variety of wild and farmed varieties, she adds. They're also one option that is good for picky eaters, says Agyeman.

12. TILAPIA

Photo credit: rez-art - Getty Images
Photo credit: rez-art - Getty Images

“Tilapia gets a bad rep as a bottom feeder, but it's actually a good seafood choice,” says Derocha. It’s inexpensive, and it’s plentiful: the fourth most popular fish eaten in the United States behind tuna, salmon, and Pollock, she says. Rich in vitamin B-12, niacin, phosphorous, potassium, it’s nice and mild, so the seafood-averse might just take to it, she adds. “Tilapia is the boneless, skinless chicken breast of the sea—it has almost a neutral flavor,” she says.

13. CLAMS

Photo credit: ProArtWork - Getty Images
Photo credit: ProArtWork - Getty Images

Agyeman favors these shellfish for their abundance of vitamin B-12, essential for healthy blood cells, nerves and brain function, she says. Derocha agrees. “One of the best benefits of clams is that their proteins provide several essential amino acids. These are amino acids that the human body cannot make, and therefore must be obtained from dietary sources. A serving of clams provides over 100 % of the recommended daily intake of 11 different amino acids,” including all nine essential ones.

14. CRAB

Photo credit: mozcann - Getty Images
Photo credit: mozcann - Getty Images

It has a fancy reputation, but there’s no need to save it for special occasions. “Depending on the variety, crab ranges from 80 to 100 calories per three-ounce serving and offers up 16 to 20 grams of protein, plus 350 to 400 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids,” she says. As far as sustainability goes, the Seafood Watchlist lists Alaskan crab as a “best choice.”

15. WILD ALASKAN POLLOCK

Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images
Photo credit: LauriPatterson - Getty Images

Alaskan Pollock is always wild-caught in the northern Pacific Ocean and because of its mild flavor and light texture, it’s the most-used type in fish sticks and other battered fish products that kids love. It’s also one of the more affordable, says Derocha, and naturally adopts the flavors of marinades and spices, so is good in lots of dishes. “But the shining star of Alaska Pollock is the omega-3s that it provides—between 50-1,000 milligrams of omega 3s per serving,” she adds.

You Might Also Like