The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends Americans eat fish or shellfish twice a week for the nutritional benefits.(1) The good news is there is a wide variety of fish to choose from.
All fish are high in protein, and fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, halibut and sardines, bring omega-3s to your plate.(2) Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial for brain and heart health, but they can be hard to get from food sources. Fortunately, fatty fish have omega-3s your body can readily use.(3) Shellfish, like crab, lobster and clams, are also a good choice because they’re low in fat, high in protein and they have omega-3 fatty acids and important nutrients like vitamin B-12(2) for supporting brain health.
For the most health benefits, avoid overcooking fish so it retains the most nutrients. Choose cooking methods like baking, steaming, poaching and grilling. Fish cooks quickly – take it off the heat when it’s almost cooked through and it will finish cooking within a few minutes.
A factor that may affect your seafood choice is sustainability. If you want to conserve endangered species or avoid fish that are caught or farmed using environmentally harmful methods, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List. You can make informed choices by learning what sources are more sustainable and how the fish are caught.
The amount of pollutants in the fish you eat is also important to consider. Some larger wild fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, contain high levels of mercury(5) and other pollutants. Pregnant and nursing women, children and others with health problems should avoid eating fish high in pollutants, and healthy individuals should limit eating these fish to no more than once a month.
Which is better, wild or farmed fish? Any source of food that’s raised in its most natural environment and isn’t treated with antibiotics is going to contain more natural and beneficial nutrition. Wild fish may contain more mercury, but it also tends to be higher in beneficial omega-3 fats than farmed fish. In addition, farm-raised fish may contain antibiotics and other chemicals.
(1) Consumers Missing Out on Health Benefits of Seafood Consumption, https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research news/2015/consumers-missing-out-on-health-benefits-of-seafood-consumption/
(2) USDA Food Composition Databases, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
(3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids, https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3
(4) The Nutritional Value of Shellfish, https://wsg.washington.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/publications/Nutritional-Value-of-Shellfish.pdf
(5) What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish, http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/buystoreservesafefood/ucm110591.htm