The 7 Healthiest Fish for You and the Planet

Confused about what kind of fish is best to eat? Remember these seven options and you can’t go wrong.

August 4, 2009

Sea sure: Know which fish to order to protect your health, and the seven seas.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Fish sticks aren’t the only aquatic food choice that’s questionable for your health. It’s true that some varieties of fish contain an especially beneficial type of fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and other risk factors associated with heart disease. But fish may also contain mercury and other contaminants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

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THE DETAILS: According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, mercury (which fish absorb from water, suspended sediments, and their food) may affect the developing nervous systems of unborn babies and infants. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and golden bass all contain more mercury than other varieties. As for dioxins and PCBs, they accumulate in fish in much the same manner as mercury, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes them as likely human carcinogens. Also worth considering: the environmental impact of the fish you buy. Some fishing techniques deplete the stock of not only target fish but of other species caught incidentally. Some fish farms pollute the environment, or allow the farmed fish to escape into the wild and upsetting a delicate ecological balance.

WHAT IT MEANS: What’s a health-conscious fish eater to do? The Monterey Bay State Aquarium’s seafood watch website can help you sift through dozens and dozens of options, and even offers a pocket guide you can print out. But for times when you’re caught without that data, here’s a simple list of the healthiest fish to keep in your head:

1. Albacore Tuna (Canada, U.S.)
2. Arctic Char (farmed)
3. Atlantic Mackerel
4. Rainbow Trout (farmed)
5. Sablefish/Black Cod (Alaska, Canada)
6. Sardines (U.S.)
7. Wild Salmon (Alaska)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium and EPA have rated these as the most healthful—not just for you, but for the ocean, too. All are high in heart-healthy omega-3s and low in contaminants, and are fish whose fishing or farming methods have minor impacts on the environment.