The Best and Worst Fish For Your Health


When you’re stocking up on your beach body foods, take your time on the seafood aisle. (Image courtesy of Bonnie Taub-Dix)

What if I told you there’s a food that may be able to help keep your heart strong, brain healthy, and eyesight sharp? If you haven’t guessed by now, this multi-tasking food is fish. Although fish is a lean yet potent source of protein, it’s not just any fish that brings on the most benefits. Fatty fish supply eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),  long-chain omega-3s that may be the key behind the benefits associated with eating fish, more so than their shorter-chain, plant-based omega-3 counterparts: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

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Moreover, research studies have found that EPA and DHA omega-3s can help sustain normal blood pressure levels, support healthy triglyceride levels, manage risks of heart disease, positively impact brain function and cognitive development, and play an essential role in eye health and infant visual development.

Although this information has been in and out of media headlines for years, most of us still don’t seem to eat enough fish. Americans eat about 3.5 ounces of fish per week on average. That’s about the size of a deck of cards and a far cry from the 8 ounces per week (spread over two 4-ounce servings) recommended by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In fact, only 20% of Americans meet this goal.

Fish for the Best

Nearly all fish options are good for you, but some are indeed better than others when it comes to supplying EPA and DHA. Generally speaking you’ll want to choose a fatty fish, since EPA and DHA are stored in the fat of the fish. Most shellfish are not an adequate source of EPA and DHA (oysters and mussels are the exception), but the following fin fish are good options:

  • Herring

  • Salmon

  • Mackerel (not King Mackerel)

  • Tuna (wild bluefin – canned)

  • Sardines

  • Trout

Related: 5 White Foods You Should Be Eating

Sail Past These Fish

Some fish, while they do supply nutrients, should be avoided. Many of these may contain harmful levels of mercury, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children. These fish include:

  • Shark

  • Swordfish

  • Tilefish

  • King Mackerel

Don’t Like Fish? Try These Alternatives

For people who don’t like fish or who don’t eat fish because of dietary restrictions, all hope is not lost. There are other ways to get enough EPA and DHA:

  • Take fish oil pills. Supplementing with fish oils is another good solution for vegans, vegetarians, and people who simply do not or cannot eat fish. Note that the milligrams on the front of the bottle correspond to the total amount of fish oils in the supplements. To make sure you’re getting enough EPA and DHA, you should look at the “Supplement Facts” panel on the side or back of the package to make sure it contains around 250-500 mg EPA and/or DHA per serving.

  • DHA-fortified foods. You can even get some benefits of DHA through certain kitchen staples such as milk, eggs, yogurt, walnuts, bread and even some chocolates. DHA can be sourced from algae, and DHA in fortified foods cuts out the fish middle-man, which is good for non-fish-eating vegetarians.

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Get “Hooked” on Good Health

There are many factors that contribute to a healthy heart, brain, and eyes, and getting enough long-chain omega-3s is just one of those factors. In addition to an overall healthy lifestyle – one that includes getting  plenty of exercise, avoiding smoking, and drinking moderate to no alcohol – striving for at least two servings of fatty fish (or 8 oz.) per week is the goal, and if that’s not possible, fortified foods and supplements could be a great option, too.

Related: 6 Vegan Habits Everyone Should Adopt (Without Giving Up Meat)

Science aside, one of the most obvious benefits of fish is that it tastes delicious. Here’s one of my favorite recipes for my tangy mustard and horseradish sauce for salmon. It’s gluten-free and it will make you pucker up and smile at the same time. Let me know what you think!

This article originally appeared on The Best and Worst Fish For Your Health

By Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, Everyday Health columnist


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