I'm A Registered Dietitian & These Are The Healthiest Fish To Eat
Picture this: You're standing in front of the seafood counter, perusing the selection of fresh fish available and trying to decide the healthiest fish to eat for dinner. You love a good battered fish taco, and breaded cod with fresh-squeezed lemon juice makes you nostalgic for your childhood, but now you're an adult and hoping to step up your seafood game for the taste and health benefits.
Do you opt for the salmon filet? Or do you nix the counter altogether and get some tinned fish to taste test? If you find yourself getting a little overwhelmed when it comes to choosing a healthy fish, you've come to the right place.
What is the healthiest fish to eat?
Fish are a great source of lean protein high in omega-3s (when it comes to oilier fish), minerals (especially iodine), and other micronutrients. Adding seafood to your plate can improve your heart and brain health as well, and the American Heart Association1 even recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week—bonus points if they're a fattier variety!*
According to registered dietitian and mbg Collective member Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, finding a balance between the different types of fish you're eating (e.g., higher fat fish vs. white fish; small fish vs. big fish) is the healthiest way to eat fish. "If someone is eating tuna every single day for the long haul, it's possible to consume higher-than-safe levels of mercury because the bigger fish tend to be higher in mercury," she says. Her solution? "Mix it up."
A quick note on sustainability.
Sustainable seafood is a hot topic these days, thanks in part to the documentary Seaspiracy spreading awareness about some of the awful (and unhealthy) fishing practices across the globe. Overfishing, habitat destruction, threatened species, and the overall impact of the water ecosystem are just some of the issues that mbg cares deeply about.
What can you do to protect our oceans and the marine life that calls them home? When selecting your fish du jour, do some research about the fishing or fish farming practices in the region your seafood is coming from. (We recommend starting with Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch—it's a great resource to help you do just that.)
Now that we've expressed our concerns about the longevity of sea life and marine ecosystems, let's dive into our list of healthiest fish to eat.
5 healthiest fish to eat.
You don't have to be a pescatarian to appreciate (or benefit from) eating healthy fish. These five seafood options will give you plenty of inspiration for this week's meal plan.
One of the most versatile fish (and arguably the most popular), salmon is delicious and packed with nutrients. "If you're wanting to get enough omega-3 fatty acids, I do think that wild salmon has a lot of nutrition to offer," says Cording. "You're getting omega-3s, vitamin D3, protein, vitamin B12—and the wild-caught salmon tends to be leaner and higher in the omega-3s, too."
Nutrition info2 for a 3.5-ounce serving of Atlantic salmon, wild, cooked with dry heat:
- Calories: 182 kcal
- Protein: 25.4 g
- Omega-3 content: 2,209 mg
These small fish are potent in selenium (which supports thyroid health), omega-3s (which aid cognitive function and cardiovascular health), and flavor.*
In terms of preparation, you can find anchovies in tins packed with water or olive oil. Cording recommends starting with white anchovies packed in oil. You can mash them with olives as a tapenade to spread on toast, or use them as a flavor accent in salads, salad dressings, or pasta sauce.
"I find that they're a little more approachable because it's a milder flavor and a little bit of a different texture," Cording explains. Also, the smaller the fish, the lower the heavy metal load. Win-win.
Nutrition info3 for a 3.5-ounce serving of European anchovies, canned in oil:
- Calories: 210 kcal
- Protein: 28.9 g
- Omega-3 content: 2,094 mg
Another excellent source of omega-3s, B12, and vitamin D, mackerel is a sustainable and affordable healthy fish with low levels of mercury. Fattier than tuna but less fishy than sardines or anchovies, you can find canned mackerel in the grocery store and prepare it on toast (the same way you would tuna), or try a marinated fish recipe, like the one below.
Nutrition info4 for a 3.5-ounce serving of Atlantic mackerel, cooked with dry heat:
- Calories: 262 kcal
- Protein: 23.8 g
- Omega-3 content: 1,309 mg
Similar to anchovies (though larger in size and milder in flavor), sardines also pack a lot of omega-3s in their tiny tins. Additionally, they're an excellent source of vitamin B12, minerals, and calcium (if you choose to eat the bones, that is). "I love wild sardines packed in extra-virgin olive oil—it's one of my favorite foods, which is super weird," Cording says with a laugh. "Whenever I'm stressed out, that's what I'm always craving because those omega-3s are so soothing to our nervous systems and the olive oil, also, has so many antioxidants and healthy fats."
For people new to tiny tinned fish, Cording recommends starting with boneless, skinless sardine fillets. "It's a very different experience, right? You're not crunching bones—you're a step removed," she notes. "You've just got these nice little fillets, and again, you can find them packed in water, packed in olive oil—there are a lot of different ways you'll see them sold." Sardines can be mashed and served on toast, thrown into a salad, or rolled into a wrap.
Nutrition info5 for a 3.5-ounce serving of Atlantic sardines, canned in oil:
- Calories: 208 kcal
- Protein: 24.6 g
- Omega-3 content: 982 mg
Tuna is a good source of omega-3s, vitamins B12 and D, iodine, and selenium. Since it's a bigger fish, it's important to consider where your tuna comes from and how frequently you eat it to ensure you're taking in as little mercury as possible. We're sure you've had a tuna fish sandwich or tuna melt before (because who hasn't?). For something a bit healthier, try adding your tuna to a salad or pasta dish to incorporate extra veggies and micronutrients.
Nutrition info6 for a 3.5-ounce serving of skipjack tuna, cooked with dry heat:
- Calories: 132 kcal
- Protein: 28.2 g
- Omega-3 content: 345 mg
The bottom line.
There are a lot of fish in the sea, but these five are some of the healthiest fish to eat with their omega-3 content, vitamins, and minerals.
If you're struggling to get enough omega-3s from your diet alone (like more than 90% of Americans are) and/or want to infuse a purified and reliable source of marine omega-3s into your nutrition ritual, it might be time to consider a premium fish oil supplement to fill in nutrient gaps.
mindbodygreen's omega-3 potency+ is made with ORIVO-certified (for evidence-based transparency), sustainably sourced fish oil derived from wild-caught, cold-water anchovies off the South Pacific coast of Chile, and each serving contains a high-potency dose of 1.5 grams of marine omega-3s (EPA plus DHA). That's the omega-3 equivalent of eating a fish a day—what a catch!†
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.