Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?


Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?

Seafood is very healthy to eat – all things considered. Fish and shellfish are an important source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and they are low in saturated fat. But seafood’s claim to fame is its omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), all of which are beneficial to health. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans strongly suggest that adults eat two servings of seafood, or a total of eight ounces, per week.

Omega-3s are today’s darling of the nutrition world, and many observational studies have indeed shown them to benefit a range of conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. However, there isn’t complete scientific agreement on the health benefits of omega-3s, especially when considering the lack of strong evidence from randomized clinical trials.

Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?Tuna being lifted from a fishing boat. From www.shutterstock.com

The strongest evidence exists for a cardiovascular health benefit, and from consuming seafood (not just fish oil), which is significant because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

One of the things I research is Americans’ meat and protein consumption. Though many of us are concerned about getting enough protein, most Americans actually get more than enough protein in their diets. Rather, the problem is that most of us don’t include enough variety of protein sources in our diet. We eat a lot of poultry and red meat but not as much seafood, nuts, beans, peas, and seeds. For seafood in particular, consumption is estimated to be closer to 2.7 ounces of seafood per week per person, well below the recommended eight ounces.

Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?Consumption from the Protein Foods Group heavily leans toward poultry and red meat, rather than seafood and plant-based sources. USDA Economic Research Service

So the solution might seem simple: Increase public health messaging along the lines of: “Seafood is healthy. Eat more of it.” But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Complication #1: Omega-3 fatty acids vary from fish to fish

Here’s the catch: If you are dutifully eating your two servings a week, but it’s from tilapia, shrimp, scallops or catfish, you won’t actually be getting much of the health benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids.

That’s because seafood varies in its omega-3 fatty acids content, and many commonly consumed seafoods are not actually that high in omega-3s.

The top five seafood products consumed in the U.S. are shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaskan pollock (think fishsticks). Together, these seafood products total about three-fourths of U.S. seafood consumption.

Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?Most frequently consumed seafood in the U.S. USDA Economic Research Service

Let’s take a look at the omega-3s content of these top seafood choices. Salmon is a good choice here, even though the total of omega-3s varies considerably by type of salmon (the species and whether it is farmed or wild-caught). Regardless of the type, salmon is still one of the best omega-3 sources.

Canned tuna is an okay source, but it’s a bit of mixed bag (white tuna has more omega-3s than light tuna).

Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?Fish sticks are a popular choice but likely do not have a lot of omega-3s in them. From www.shutterstock.com

Meanwhile, the other top seafood products – shrimp, tilapia and Alaskan pollock – are all fairly low in omega-3s.

In short, we’re not eating a lot of fish to begin with, and much of the fish we do eat is not actually that high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Complication #2: Mercury

A naturally occurring heavy metal in rock, mercury is released into the environment primarily through human processes, such as the burning of fossil fuels.

Mercury makes its way into our waterways and bioaccumulates in the marine food chain. Generally speaking, small fish and shellfish are low in mercury, while the most mercury accumulates in big, long-lived, predator fish, such as king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, ahi (or yellowfin) tuna and bigeye tuna.

Humans, of course, are also part of that food chain. When we eat those big, long-lived predator fish, we ingest the mercury that’s accumulated in them.

Consuming mercury is definitely not a good thing. A little bit here and there is probably not going to harm the average adult, but with high exposure, mercury can damage key organs. Fetuses, infants and young children are vulnerable to mercury toxicity, as high exposure can cause serious, irreversible developmental and neurological damage.

To minimize mercury exposure in women and young children, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced new mercury in seafood guidelines on Jan. 18, 2017. There are three categories – Best Choices, Good Choices and Choices to Avoid, and while most types of seafood clearly fall in just one category, some classifications are species-specific.

Tuna shows up in all three categories: canned light tuna is a Best Choice, canned white tuna is a Good Choice, but watch out for Bigeye tuna - it’s a Choice to Avoid.

For optimizing the health benefits, the best seafood choices are those high in omega-3s and low in mercury. ChooseMyPlate lists several seafood options that fit nicely in both categories, including salmon, trout, oysters, herring and sardines, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.

Complication #3: Sustainability

There is also the issue of sustainability.

Let’s again take the case of tuna. For certain species, the method of harvest and the location of harvest matter a great deal. Here’s an example from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide: If you purchase a can of light tuna that’s trawl-caught in the East Pacific – that’s a Best Choice.

But if that canned light tuna is caught with a deep-set long line in the Hawaii Western Central Pacific, now it’s a Good Alternative. And canned light tuna caught on a purse seine in the Indian Ocean? Now we’re squarely in the Avoid category.

By now you are probably asking if there are any win-win-win fish. Yes! Alaskan salmon is a popular one, but Alaskan salmon is sold at a premium price. Most of the salmon sold in the U.S. is farmed Atlantic salmon, which typically has a poor sustainability rating.

Want To Eat Fish That's Truly Good For You?U.S. farmed rainbow trout like this one can be good for dinner. From www.shutterstock.com

Pacific sardines, farmed mussels, farmed rainbow trout and Atlantic mackerel (not trawled) are some other “win-win-win” options.

How can I make an informed decision?

Making informed choices about seafood isn’t easy, and it is complicated by seafood fraud. But there are some resources to help.

Eco-certification labels can help you make a decision without doing all the research yourself. Not all eco-labels are created equal, though, so a good place to scope out what to look for is the Seafood Watch website. There, you can find a list of eco-certification labels for specific seafood products that, at a minimum, meet yellow “Good Alternative” recommendations.

There are also a number of consumer seafood guides, and with a little upfront research, these can help you make purchasing decisions when you get to the grocery store or restaurant. Many guides use a traffic light system to clearly designate choices with a green, yellow or red light signs.

Additionally, the new Seafood Import Monitoring Program, a governmental program that goes into effect this year, will help to combat the problem of seafood fraud. But you should still always be vigilant for prices that seem too good to be true.

If your only concern is reducing mercury content, the EPA and FDA guide “Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know” should suffice. For sustainability concerns, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide allows you to search for options using a traffic light system, or you can look for information by the type of seafood. If you’re looking for a fish that meets all three criteria, the Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guide to Seafood and the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector both provide comprehensive information.

When making food choices, sometimes we’re fortunate and the health and sustainability goals line up. Eating less red and processed meat, for example, is a choice that’s good for your health and better for the environment. Unfortunately, with many seafood choices, these three important considerations – omega-3s, mercury and sustainability – sometimes, but don’t often, align as we might like them to.The Conversation

About The Author

Keri Szejda, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for Research on Ingredient Safety, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating

healthAuthor: Walter Willett M.D.
Binding: Paperback
  • P.J. Skerrett

Studio: Free Press
Label: Free Press
Publisher: Free Press
Manufacturer: Free Press

Buy Now
Editorial Review: In this revised and updated edition of the bestselling Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Dr. Walter Willett, for twenty-five years chair of the renowned Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, draws on cutting-edge research to explain what the USDA guidelines have gotten wrong—and how you can eat right.

There’s an ever-growing body of evidence supporting the relatively simple principles behind healthy eating. Yet the public seems to be more confused than ever about what to eat. The never-ending promotion of celebrity and other fad diets gets in the way of choosing a diet that is healthy for both you and the planet that we all share.

So forget popular diets and food trends. Based on information gleaned from the acclaimed Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Study, which have tracked the health and eating habits of thousands of women and men for more than thirty years, as well as other groundbreaking nutrition research, this revised and updated edition of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy provides solid recommendations for eating healthfully and living better and longer.

Dr. Willett offers eye-opening new research on choosing foods with the best types of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and the relative importance of various food groups and supplements. He clearly explains why controlling weight, after not smoking, is the single most important factor for a long, healthy life; why eating some types of fat is beneficial, and even necessary, for good health; how to choose wisely between different types carbohydrates; how to pick the right protein “packages”; and what fruits and vegetables—not juices!—fight disease. Dr. Willett also translates this essential information into simple, easy-to-follow menu plans and tasty recipes. Revised and updated, this new edition of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy is an important resource for every family.

Healthy Gut, Flat Stomach: The Fast and Easy Low-FODMAP Diet Plan

healthAuthor: Danielle Capalino
Binding: Paperback
  • For all our books; Cargo will be delivered in the required time. 100% Satisfaction is Guaranteed!

Brand: Countryman Press
Studio: Countryman Press
Label: Countryman Press
Publisher: Countryman Press
Manufacturer: Countryman Press

Buy Now
Editorial Review:

Beat bloat and discomfort with the scientifically proven, easy-to-follow, low-FODMAP plan.

There are a lot of myths about beating stomach bloat and getting a flat tummy, but the FODMAP approach has been scientifically proven to work for both. FODMAPs are sugars found in certain foods that can be hard to digest, and can cause discomfort, gas, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms. Some of the most nutritious foods around are high in these sugars, frustrating people who eat well but still have tummy issues. Apples, garlic, onions, beans, dairy, bread, and cereals are on that list. It may sound complicated or far-fetched but the many converts who have tried the science-supported diet swear by it. In addition to useful everyday advice, the book includes:

  • The differences and similarities between this diet and a gluten-free diet
  • 7-day sample menu plan with recipes
  • Simple and easy recipes for the basic items you need to adapt to fit into the low-FODMAP diet, including staples like salad dressing, marinade, and dips
  • Clear explanations for the science behind the low-FODMAP diet and why it works
40 color photographs

The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day

healthBinding: Paperback
  • America s Test Kitchen

Brand: America s Test Kitchen
  • America's Test Kitchen

Studio: America's Test Kitchen
Label: America's Test Kitchen
Publisher: America's Test Kitchen
Manufacturer: America's Test Kitchen

Buy Now
Editorial Review: Bring the Mediterranean--from Italy and Greece, to Morocco and Egypt, to Turkey and Lebanon--into your kitchen with more than 500 fresh, flavorful recipes. This comprehensive cookbook translates the famously healthy Mediterranean diet for home cooks with a wide range of creative recipes, many fast enough to be made on a weeknight, using ingredients available at your local supermarket.

The structure of the book follows the guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. You'll find large chapters devoted to Beans and to Vegetables, the Seafood Chapter is larger than Poultry and Meat, and the Fruits and Sweets chapter, while shorter, is packed with recipes you can truly feel good eating.

Recipes include Spiced Baked Rice with Potatoes and Fennel, Tagliatelle with Artichokes and Parmesan, Orzo with Shrimp, Feta, and Lemon, Za'atar-Rubbed Chicken, Greek-Style Braised Pork with Leeks, and Orange Polenta Cake.


follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email


follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email