Fish is a healthy food rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is among the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids, meaning we must obtain them from our diet. They are crucial in lowering inflammation, improving brain and heart health, and reducing the risk of developing heart disease—the single most significant cause of death.
It is no secret that fish is an excellent source of essential nutrients. However, fish can also contain harmful toxins. The ocean has unfortunately been polluted, and fish in the ocean have also become contaminated with pollutants. The ocean, rivers, lakes, and groundwater have also become polluted with toxins like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), entering into freshwater fish who live there.
Fish harvested from certain areas may contain more toxins than others. In addition, farmed fish can be harmful to health as many are genetically modified or raised in unhealthy conditions.
This article will discuss the best and worst fish to eat.
What Is the Best Fish to Eat?
The best fish to eat for health and nutrition are those that are not only rich sources of nutrients but those that are most likely to be toxin-free (or at least contain minimal toxins). The fish mentioned in this best fish to eat list are the most nutritious, have the highest safety profiles, and are the most eco-friendly.
1. Wild Caught Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is one of the best fish to eat because it is rich in high-quality omega-3s, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Salmon is very low in saturated fat and is also one of the best sources of vitamin B12. It's also packed with potassium, and other nutrients like iron and vitamin D. While wild and farmed Salmon contain some contaminants, wild Salmon has significantly lower impurities and is considered safer overall. Therefore, Alaskan wild caught Salmon is considered among the safest source of wild caught Salmon.
Cod is one of the best white fish to eat. It has an impressive nutrient profile and is an excellent source of B vitamins (including vitamin B12), phosphorus, and protein. In addition, Cod is one of the best fish to eat for protein, with just a 3-ounce portion of cooked Cod containing 15 to 20 grams of protein.
3. Rainbow Trout
Rainbow trout is perhaps the best freshwater fish to eat. Moreover, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, it is the best type of fish to eat in terms of its environmental impact. In addition, farmed rainbow trout is considered a safer option than wild, as it's raised protected from contaminants that wild-caught rainbow trout may be exposed to.
Like most fish, rainbow trout is packed with protein and essential Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also rich in potassium and phosphorus and is a good source of selenium and B vitamins.
Mahi-mahi is a tropical fish that is prepared in a variety of ways. As a result, it is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, is high in protein, low in calories, and a rich source of selenium and B vitamins. It is also considered a fish that is unlikely to be high in mercury.
Tuna is a commonly consumed fish that is often served fresh and canned. The best tuna to buy fresh is tuna that smells ocean-fresh and looks glossy. When it comes to canned tuna, the best kind of tuna to get is "chunk light." Light tuna is less likely to contain mercury than skipjack species of tuna. Yellowfin, albacore, and ahi tuna commonly have a high mercury content, so they are best avoided or eaten in moderation.
Sardines are small, oily fish rich in many vitamins and minerals. They are easy to find canned and may be healthier when served canned. This is because they contain the whole fish—bones and all. These become more easily eaten and digested after being in a can for a while. In contrast, fresh sardines are typically not consumed as whole fish. Instead, sardines are commonly used as toppings. They can be a great addition to a meal to get some additional nutrients.
Herring is a small, fatty fish that is similar to sardines. They are often served smoked. Herring are a rich source of fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium. They are also packed with protein. Just a 3-ounce serving of herring contains 20 grams of lean protein. This makes them one of the best fish to eat for protein.
Mackerel is an oily fish that is rich in healthy fats. It is also rich in the compound coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which has many benefits for heart health. In addition, mackerel is high in antioxidants. Not all mackerel is the same, however. For example, Atlantic mackerel is considered to have the lowest mercury content. In contrast, king mackerel is most likely to have high mercury content.
9. Striped Bass
Striped bass is considered to be a sustainable fish, whether it is wild or farmed. It has a delicious flavor and contains fatty acids and essential nutrients. Striped bass is a low-fat source of selenium and omega-3 fatty acids and contains essential B vitamins.
10. Arctic Char
Arctic char is a fish in the salmon family. It looks similar to Salmon and tastes somewhat similar, though it also tends to have a flavor resembling trout. It has a very high-fat content. This fish can be found wild-caught or farmed. Farmed Arctic char typically contains fewer contaminants than wild-caught arctic char.
What Is the Worst Fish to Eat?
The worst fish to eat for health are those considered high in toxins like mercury PCBs, dioxin, and other chemicals. Genetically modified fish may also harm health, as not enough research has been done to verify the long-term health effects of genetic modification. The worst fish to eat include:
Shark meat is considered one of the most likely contaminated types of fish. A study on shark meat stated that "shark meat could pose a significant risk to human health due to high concentrations of pollutants found in the tissue of different species."
Swordfish are another fish that is best avoided, as they are considered to contain high levels of mercury.
3. King Mackerel
As mentioned earlier, mackerel can be a very healthy fish to eat—but only the Atlantic mackerel. King mackerel, on the other hand, is considered to be a significant source of mercury and is best avoided.
Tilefish is another of the worst fish to eat due to its high mercury content.
5. Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin tuna have high levels of mercury and PCBs. Furthermore, they are considered to be a very endangered species. Therefore, consuming them is not only bad for health but bad for the survival of their species and the ecosystems that they are a part of.
6. Chilean Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass, also called Patagonian toothfish, is a slow-growing fish often prized for its buttery meat. This fish has unfortunately been significantly overfished and is nearing extinction. They are often caught with trawlers and long lines that are known to be very damaging to other fish, sea mammals, and even the ocean floor. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has also issued a consumption advisory for Chilean sea bass due to high mercury levels.
Monkfish are also on our "worst fish to eat" list because they have been heavily overfished. They are bottom-dwellers almost entirely fished by trawlers, which damage the ocean floor and catch many other species in their nets. These have threatened monkfish as well as the habitat where monkfish live. To protect this species and its habitat, it is recommended not to support monkfish fishing.
Groupers are large fish that can live up to 40 years in the ocean. However, they only reproduce over a short time, making them vulnerable to overfishing. The EDF has also labeled groupers as high mercury fish and has issued a consumption advisory against them.
9. Orange Roughy
Like groupers, Orange roughy lives long lives but reproduces slowly, making them susceptible to overfishing. However, they live much longer than groupers and can live up to 100 years! The EDF has also issued a health advisory against these fish as they are likely to contain high levels of mercury.
10. Farmed Salmon
While some fish are farmed healthier, Salmon is seldom the case. Farmed Salmon are often deceptively labeled as "Atlantic salmon," implying that they are wild-caught. Unfortunately, they are usually raised in tightly packed pens riddled with parasites and diseases. These pens are open-net pens that threaten the wild Salmon that swim by them. Farmed Salmon are also fed fish meal, given antibiotics to combat the diseases they are exposed to, and have levels of PCBs. These make them very toxic to human health. Not to mention that some farmed salmon are genetically modified, which poses an additional health risk. If you are going to eat Salmon, it is best to opt for Alaskan wild-caught Salmon.
Fish is a healthy food rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that can be a great staple to your diet. However, fish can also contain toxins like mercury, PCBs, and other chemicals. This has become much more common today due to the continual pollution of our oceans, freshwater streams, and lakes.
Because of this, certain fish have even been banned from consumption. Others are recommended only to consume sparingly. New mothers and children are even advised to avoid certain fish due to their mercury content.
In today's world, it is helpful to know the best and worst fish to eat. It is also recommended not to eat fish daily because of the potential exposure to toxins. When eating fish, aim to eat the fish mentioned in the "best fish to eat" list and avoid those on the "worst fish to eat" list.
To summarize, the best fish to eat are:
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Rainbow trout
- Tuna (chunk light)
- Striped bass
- Atlantic char
The worst fish to eat are:
- King mackerel
- Bluefin tuna
- Chilean sea bass
- Orange roughy
- Farmed Salmon