Fish are one of the healthiest proteins in the world. They’re lean, tasty, and chock-full of essential vitamins.
Oily fish, like salmon, tuna, and sardines deliver those heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fats that you know you should be getting in your diet.
But there’s concern about choosing seafood that’s sustainable and environmentally friendly.
People also worry about which fish are actually safe to eat because of the rising levels of mercury and pollution in our oceans today.
Knowing what seafood is best for your health and the environment isn’t always easy.
If you’re like me, you often stand at the fish counter a little confused: what is the best fish for me to eat and is also good for the planet?
In this article we’ll get to the bottom of what the healthiest types of fish to eat are, the different types of fish and their nutritional profiles, what fish you can eat often and which fish you absolutely shouldn’t eat.
Not all fish are the same. So it’s important to know how to make sure you get the most out of what you eat.
There’s a lot of fish swimming in the sea.
What Is The Healthiest Fish To Eat?
“Diet” does not mean “Temporary alteration of your life for short-term gain,” it means, “Way of Life.”
— ERIC EDMEADES, AUTHOR OF MINDVALLEY’S WILDFIT PROGRAM
When exploring the best fish to eat, there are lots of different things to consider.
Besides the fact that different types of fish will have different nutritional profiles, it’s also important to take into account things like:
- Is it wild fish or farmed fish?
- What region was the fish caught?
- How was the fish caught?
- What other treatment methods has it undergone?
- Was the fish caught humanely?
- What are the environmental impacts of eating this fish?
- Is this fish safe to eat?
These 7 superstar healthy fish make our list not only for their great nutritional profiles, but also because they’re some of the safest fish to eat.
These fish are eco-friendlier choices too, which means they are being responsibly caught or farmed and not overfished.
1. Wild salmon (BC, Alaskan)
Wild salmon has to be first on the healthy fish list.
That’s because salmon is a great all-around fish. Salmon is an oily fish high in omega-3’s which are great for your heart.
This cold water, fatty fish is also a good source of vitamin D and calcium.
An important note: always choose wild salmon over farmed.
Farmed salmon is often raised in overcrowded conditions that produce viruses and bacteria. They also have lower nutrient and vitamin levels and are higher in saturated fat.
So to answer the popular question — is salmon good for you?
Indeed, salmon has a host of nutritional benefits!
Just make sure you’re getting the wild kind.
2. Albacore tuna
Tuna is low in fat and high in vitamins and protein.
In one 3-ounce can, you’ll get 22 grams of protein, half of your daily vitamin D, and an entire day’s worth of the essential nutrient selenium. (And all in only 100 calories!)
Try to pick canned light tuna packed in water (not oil) for the best health boost.
This type of fish is often known as a high mercury fish, but albacore tuna (the kind of white tuna that’s commonly canned) is on our healthy fish list.
It’s important that it’s troll- or pole-caught tuna from the US or British Columbia though.
These fish have much lower mercury and contaminant ratings. Fish caught in colder northern waters often also have higher omega-3 counts.
You need to do your homework to know how your fish was caught, or look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue eco-label.
3. Atlantic mackerel
Mackerel is a firm, white fish with a strong flavor.
This oily fish also tends to have more omega-3s and vitamin B-12 than other types of fish, and also has plenty of immunity-boosting Vitamin D.
Make sure you’re getting Atlantic mackerel though — Atlantic mackerel is a low mercury fish and has one of the lowest levels of mercury contamination.
4. Rainbow trout
This cold-water fish is high up on the best fish to eat list because of its rich omega-3 content and its significant protein levels.
One fillet of trout has about 20 grams of protein in only 150 calories.
All rainbow trout sold in the U.S. are farm-raised. They also have one of the best eco-rating from the EDF because of their lower mercury levels.
This makes farmed trout one of the safer and healthier fish choices.
And in regards to trout vs salmon, trout and salmon are actually very similar species.
Tastewise, trout tastes very similar to salmon. Trout tends to have a slightly less fishy taste than salmon though. Also, if trout isn’t farm-raised it does tend to taste a little gamier than salmon.
This white fish also has a mild taste and is a relatively inexpensive fish.
Tilapia also has one of the lowest levels of mercury of any fish and is considered one of the safest fish to eat.
It’s one of the best fish to eat for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children, according to recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration.
One filet of tilapia can serve up over 23 grams of protein, a third of your daily vitamin D and just 110 calories.
This makes tilapia hands down one of the healthiest fish to eat.
The tiny, inexpensive sardine is one of the best fish to eat for good reason.
It packs more omega-3s (1,950 mg!) per 3-ounce serving than salmon, tuna or just about any other food.
It’s also one of the very, very few foods that’s naturally high in vitamin D.
In fact, many fish in the herring family are commonly classified as sardines.
This flaky white fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids while being low in carbohydrates and fat.
It has nearly 15 of protein per 3 ounces and is also a more sustainable alternative to cod, which often suffers from over-fishing practices.
What Fish Should You Not Eat?
Now that we’ve covered some of the best fish to eat, let’s move onto some of the fish we should definitely avoid eating.
Many of these types of fish are high mercury fish, and/or endangered species.
These fish are best left swimming in the ocean and not on our plates.
1. Orange roughy
This fish lives a long life but is slow to reproduce. Hence, the orange roughy is very vulnerable to overfishing.
As Seafood Watch puts it, “orange roughy live 100 years or more, so the fillet in your freezer might be from a fish older than your grandmother!”
This also means that the orange roughy has high levels of mercury. The EDF has issued a health advisory to avoid eating this fish.
Though swordfish is sometimes known for its high nutritional content, this type of fish has a high level of methyl-mercury and should be avoided, the FDA advises.
Eating swordfish can be particularly dangerous to young children and nursing or pregnant women.
For one, these predatory fish are extremely high in mercury.
More importantly, shark populations are at historically low levels as a result of overfishing.
It’s estimated that half of the sharks killed each year are a result of bycatch. If we choose to eat shark, the entire ocean ecosystem suffers too.
4. King mackerel
Already previously mentioned, make sure you stay clear of King Mackerel — specifically from the Pacific — because of its high levels of mercury.
Imported, longline mahi-mahi or dolphinfish is rated as one of the least eco-friendly fish by the Environmental Defense Fund.
There is concern about bycatch, including sea turtles, seabirds and sharks, getting tangled in the fishing gear when mahi-mahi is fished.
This is another fish that grows and matures slowly (living as long as 50 years).
This one is best avoided because it’s susceptible to overfishing.
Other types of fish that you should avoid eating because they’re high mercury fish and/or are an endangered species:
- Tile fish
- Bluefin Tuna
- Ahi Tuna
- Chilean Sea Bass (Patagonian Toothfish)
So now that we’ve covered some of the best fish and worst fish to eat, let’s get to the bottom of some other questions we know you’ve been fishing for.
What is white fish?
So what is a white fish in the first place?
White fish is simply a species of fish that lives near the bottom of seas or lakes and has fins.
These types of fish are generally mild in flavor, cook quickly and usually aren’t very expensive.
Besides tilapia, some other popular types of white fish are cod, bass, grouper, haddock, snapper and the Alaskan white fish.
Is fish meat?
When we choose to eat fish, we’re eating the flesh of a living animal.
And by definition, meat is the flesh of an animal.
Some people do not consider fish to be meat because they’re not mammals, or because their religion does not consider fish to be meat.
Regardless of what your definition of meat is, the important thing is that you feel aligned with what you’re choosing to put on your plate.
And, if you already choose to eat other animal meat, eating fish is a healthier option than other animal sources because fish has lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fat than red meat while still being rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.
What is the best tasting fish?
This one comes down to personal preference!
Halibut is often a popular fish to eat because it’s firm and meaty, yet also very lean and flaky.
Cod is another favorite because of its mild, delicate, and flaky taste. If you buy quality cod, you’ll taste a hint of butter.
And those that love salmon, simply love salmon!
In the end, find the fish that tastes best for you.
The bottom line
Practice being an educated, mindful consumer.
Making conscious, informative decisions on what we choose to put on our plates is something we can all practice, no matter what our individual diet choices look like.
Become aligned with the food on your plate.
Do you feel it’s contributing to the growth of your mind, body and spirit?
Does your diet reflect your personal values and unique goals?
Remember, what we put into our bodies is only an integral part of how we choose to show up as ourselves every day.
Consciously choose the food you eat.
Make sure it contributes to forming the best version of yourself.
So, what is your favorite fish to eat? Let us know if the comments below.