You know how good fish is for your health, but that’s only true if you’re eating the right kind. Here are the ones to feast on—and avoid.
Fish are loaded with nutrients that support the health of your brain and heart. According to a Tufts University study, eating seafood helps prevent some 54,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year. The latest Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least two to three servings, or eight to 12 ounces of seafood, each week (spread over two servings). “Most of us still don’t eat enough fish,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of betterthandieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. “Americans eat about 3.5 ounces of fish per week on average. That’s about the size of a deck of cards and a far cry from what’s recommended. In fact, only 20 percent of Americans meet this goal.” If you want to incorporate more seafood into your diet, be sure that you’re choosing the right varieties.
Best: Wild Pacific salmon
You’ll get vitamin D, selenium which supports your metabolism, omega-3 fatty acids which are healthy fats that protect against heart disease, and vitamin B12 which is good for your brain and body. Salmon can help keep you trim, too: In one study, people on a low-calorie diet that incorporated three servings of salmon per week lost about 2.2 pounds more weight over a month than people on a low-calorie diet with no fish. Experts say that wild-caught Pacific salmon is your best choice: “Wild-caught means less mercury buildup and fewer antibiotics and hormones, and the fish get to swim freely,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN of Essence Nutrition. The wild variety will cost more than farmed, but it’s worth the expense. Find delicious fish recipes for busy weeknights.
Best: Pacific cod
Cod is a flaky, mild-flavored white fish similar to haddock and pollock. It’s a good source of vitamin B-12, protein, phosphorus, and niacin. Try this meatier fish grilled or baked. “It can hold up well to different types of preparations without falling apart,” says Taub-Dix. “Cod is like a blank canvas that pairs well with any sauce.” Compared to people who consumed beef for lunch, those who had cod ate 11 percent less at dinner in a European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. Researchers attribute its slimming properties to cod’s heavy bulk of high-quality protein and its metabolism-regulating amino acids. If you need even more proof, in an eight-week study of men, University of Iceland researchers found that when combined with a calorie-restricted diet, participants who consumed cod five times a week lost more weight and visceral fat and showed better blood pressure improvements than those who ate cod just one or three times per week.
Fresh or in a tin, sardines are nutritional and inexpensive. You can find them salted, smoked, or canned in most markets. The canned kinds have whole or fillet sardines in oil, water, tomato sauce, or hot sauce. “If you don’t ditch the bones in sardines, your bones will thank you,” Taub-Dix says—you’ll get about 40 percent of your recommended daily value of calcium per serving. “Since most of us don’t get enough calcium, sardines are an excellent choice for many types of diets, especially those that can’t handle dairy,” she says. The bite-sized fish is naturally high in vitamin D, too—many people fail to get enough D. Because they’re at the bottom of the food chain, they tend to contain less mercury. (The element builds up in large fish that feast on other big fish.)
Toss a salad with the fish or mash them on a slice of bread with mayo and tomato. “If you’re new to the taste, I recommend starting with canned sardines in olive oil instead of water,” says Jenna Appel, MS, RD, LDN owner of Appel Nutrition Inc in Boca Raton, Florida. One note of caution: A can of sardines has about 282 milligrams of sodium, says Appel. Read up on fish oil’s amazing health benefits.