Which Fish Are Healthy To Eat?

You know that fish is rich in protein (6 oz. contains 30 - 35 g) and have heard that it is a renowned source of the essential omega 3 fats, which most North Americans are deficient in.

You want to eat more but determining which ones are safe from mercury, PCB's and pesticide contamination makes it so overwhelming that you either avoid it altogether or continue eating the fish you've always eaten.

Deciding on which fish are the best to eat is challenging even for the heartiest of fish researchers. One of the challenges is that there are different factors that play a role in the health and environmental rating beyond just breed. For example:

Photo by Caroline Attwood via Unsplash.

Photo by Caroline Attwood via Unsplash.

  • where was it caught?
  • how was it caught?
  • was it farmed or wild?
  • if it was farmed what was the method and what was it fed?

Take tuna as an example. Fresh or frozen albacore caught from Canada or the U.S. is considered omega 3-rich, light on the contaminants and an environmentally responsible choice. However albacore tuna from the can or caught elsewhere in the world is considered a poor choice for health and environmental reasons.

So let's take a quick 'fish-eye' view of which are the best choices and which are the worst. Then it will be up to you to start asking questions at your local fishmonger.

Here is a list of the fish that are considered low in contamination and high in essential omega 3 fats, and are environmentally friendly choices (consider that what is good for the oceans will ultimately be good for all of us):

  • wild salmon from Alaska (fresh, frozen and canned)
  • canned salmon (most of it is from Alaska)
  • Arctic char
  • herring, Canadian Pacific
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • sardines
  • sablefish/black cod from Canada or Alaska
  • anchovies
  • farmed oysters (wild oysters are rich in omega 3 but not as eco friendly)
  • farmed rainbow trout
  • tuna, albacore, from the U.S. and Canada (not canned)
  • shrimp and prawns from U.S. and Canada

In addition, these are the fish that are not as high in omega 3's but are safe to eat at least 4 times per month by men, women and children. This list also takes sustainability into account:

  • clams
  • cod, Pacific Alaskan
  • crab, dungeness, King U.S., stone, snow
  • crawfish, U.S.
  • haddock, U.S./Canada (caught by hook and line, not longlines or trawls)
  • halibut, Pacific (kids to age 6 - no more than 2X per month)
  • lobster, Caribbean spiny from U.S. Atlantic
  • mussels, blue
  • scallops, bay, farmed
  • squid
  • tilapia, U.S. (beware of Asian caught)

On the list of worst to eat for mercury and PCB concerns, in the order of concern from worst to least, are:

  • tuna, bluefin
  • walleye
  • mackerel, king
  • marlin
  • eel, American, European
  • bluefish
  • weakfish
  • croaker
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • flounder, summer
  • sturgeon
  • perch, yellow
  • salmon, wild from Washington
  • opah
  • tuna, bigeye
  • orange roughy
  • salmon, farmed or Atlantic
  • sea bass, Chilean
  • crab, blue
  • lingcod
  • seatrout

Finally, since canned tuna is a favourite for so many, here are the Environmental Defense Fund recommendations for the various tunas based on age:

Type of Canned Tuna               Adult                Kids 6 - 12      Kids 0 - 6

white solid, Albacore           3X/month            2X/month       1X/month

yellowfin                                  4X/month            2X/month       2X/month

canned light                            4+/month            4+/month       3X/month

There are great resources to be found at www.seachoice.org and www.edf.org - both sites have downloadable apps and pocket guides to take with you while you shop.