Which Fish Is Which?
Fish to eat and fish to avoid
Most people associate seafood with good health. After all, we know that fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that can benefit brain and heart health. Indeed, fish can be a wonderful source of good nutrition for the body, but some fish pack more benefits than others.
Send These Fish Upstream
Not all fish are created equal, and in the deep blue sea, smaller is better. Varieties such as anchovies and sardines usually harbor fewer contaminants than their larger aquatic counterparts. As smaller fry are gobbled up by these big fish, so begins the cycle of contaminants compounding and building in potency until they reach your plate. Because large fish, such as tuna and swordfish, are higher on the food chain, they usually harbor greater concentrations of the toxins and contaminants being dumped into oceans and lakes than their food source (i.e., smaller fish).
These toxins and contaminants may include mercury and other heavy metals, petrochemicals, and dioxins and furans. And while the concept that farm-raised seafood is better sheltered from such contaminants, this is often not the case. Farm-raised seafood is also at risk for contamination and may contain antibiotics and have lower omega-3 levels due to poor-quality feed.
Seafood Cheat Sheet
Take this list with you and be in the know the next time you eat out or purchase fish from the store.
|Fish||Mercury levels||Consumption guidelines|
|Grouper, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna||avoid|
|Tuna: yellowfin, albacore (fresh or canned)
halibut, mackerel (Spanish, Gulf), sea bass (Chilean)
|Eat 3 servings or less per month (no more than 1/week)|
|Tuna: skipjack, chunk light (fresh or canned)
Arctic char, bass, carp, mahi-mahi, monkfish, perch (freshwater), skate, snapper, tilefish (Atlantic)
|Eat 6 servings or less per month|
|Anchovies, sardines, salmon, scallops, and squid||Consume freely|
Also watch for the following fish and shellfish
- Shellfish (choose only wild mussels, clams, oysters, lobster, shrimp)
- Farmed fish (some, including Atlantic salmon, may be supplemented with antibiotics)
- Fish preserved with dyes (always avoid)
- Seafood from outside the US, where standards may be different
Assume that fish not labeled as “wild” are farm-raised. Also be aware of genetically modified salmon. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of these salmon and does not require any labeling. When in doubt, ask the grocer or seller for details.
Be a Wise Fisherman
Don’t be in the dark about where your fish comes from—ask questions. Remember—while there are plenty of fish in the sea, not all of them belong on your plate. Shop smart when purchasing fish to eat, and enjoy the benefits of this rich source of omega-3s!