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Healthy Fish for Your Dish: The Fish You Should (and Shouldn’t) Eat

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By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer at The Fit Father Project

healthy fish

When you eat healthy fish, you reap numerous health and wellness benefits. But which fish are the best (and worst) for you?

You probably already know that healthy fish and seafood are nutritious options for weight management and reduced disease risks.

However, certain types of fish are healthier than others, and some can be dangerous in large amounts.

Knowing the facts about healthy fish is the key to maintaining optimal health. So let's dive under the sea and take a look at healthy fish!

People often hear “fish” and just assume it's healthy. Do you know how healthy your food is? Here are 20 “healthy” foods that aren’t really healthy!

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Which Nutrients Does Fish Provide?

Fish is loaded with essential nutrients, which is why it's such an excellent choice when planning healthy menus.

Examples of nutrients found in fish include:

  • Protein
  • Vitamin D
  • B vitamins
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Potassium
  • Selenium

However, large fish are also a source of higher levels of mercury and other neurotoxins, which may harm your body in large amounts.

That's why choosing healthy fish over less-healthy alternatives is so important.

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What Are Some Health Benefits of Fish?

In addition to providing you with a variety of essential nutrients, eating fish regularly can offer the following overall health and disease-fighting benefits:

  • Healthy weight management
  • Muscle building
  • Fat burning
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of blood clots
  • Lower risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Reduced risk of heart failure
  • Fewer irregular heartbeats
  • Lower risk of age-related cognitive decline

Aim to eat healthy fish at least two to three times weekly to reap these and other health benefits, reducing your risk of medical problems.

Which Fish Are the Healthiest?

Consider adding the following types of healthy fish to weekly meal plans to achieve optimal health and wellness.

Salmon

Salmon is one of the healthiest types of fish you can choose, as it's loaded with protein, vitamins, and other antioxidants.

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week, particularly oily fish like salmon, to enhance heart health and reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Omega-3-rich salmon is also a good choice to optimize cognitive function and prevent the mental decline associated with aging.

One serving of salmon or other fish equates to 3.5 ounces or about 3/4 cup.

Add salmon to stir fry, kabobs, soups, sandwiches, and salads, or eat it as a main dish with a fiber-rich starch and non-starchy vegetables, such as green beans or asparagus.

Tuna

Like salmon, tuna is loaded with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Despite all the nutritional benefits tuna offers, it's a low-calorie fish, providing 70 calories and 16 grams of protein in each 3-ounce can.

Canned light tuna and skipjack tuna are the types of tuna lowest in mercury (and other neurotoxins), followed by albacore tuna, yellowfin tuna, and bigeye tuna.

Mix (low-sodium) canned light tuna with avocado oil mayonnaise if you'd like, and add it to sandwiches, salads, or casseroles!

Catfish

Catfish is a low-calorie white fish loaded with protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients.

According to the FDA, catfish are one of the lowest-mercury, healthy fish options you can enjoy two or three times weekly.

Choose unbreaded (not fried) catfish to gain the most nutritional benefit, without adding extra calories.

Sardines

Most people either love sardines or hate them.

Either way, sardines are low in calories and rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids — and of course protein, vitamins, and minerals — which is why they make the list of healthy fish to add to meal plans.

Take (low-sodium) canned sardines with you to work for a between-meal snack, or eat them as a main course!

Cod

Cod is low in mercury and other neurotoxins, but it's still a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Cod is a white fish that takes on the flavor of its seasoning.

Try baking cod, or cooking it on a stovetop or grill.

Pair cod with corn on the cob or sweet potatoes, plus green veggies.

Or, consider this healthy Mediterranean cod skillet recipe your entire family will love!

Herring

Herring is an oily fish packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it's a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

As with other types of healthy fish, avoid choosing breaded or fried herring whenever possible.

Grill it, bake it, or cook herring on a stovetop with oil and seasonings.

Serve herring with potatoes and vegetables, in soups, on salads, or consider this smoked herring with bell peppers recipe that's bursting with flavor!

Lake Trout

Lake trout is an excellent choice when eating healthy fish is your goal.

It's a good source of essential nutrients, including omega-3s, protein, and vitamins.

Lake trout is also a low-mercury fish.

Grill or bake lake trout, serve it on kabobs with vegetables, or try this simple oven-baked trout recipe!

Atlantic Mackerel

Atlantic mackerel is another good source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and micronutrients.

The FDA classifies Atlantic mackerel as a low-mercury fish, so you can enjoy it three times per week if you'd like.

Grill it, bake it, cook it on the stovetop, or try this nutritious roasted mackerel recipe prepared with olive oil, lemon, and seasonings!

Other Low-Mercury Seafood

In addition to the healthy fish listed above, other low-mercury seafood includes:

  • Crab
  • Clam
  • Black sea bass
  • Anchovies
  • Atlantic croaker
  • Butterfish
  • Crawfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Perch
  • Lobster
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Pacific chub mackerel
  • Pollock
  • Squid
  • Tilapia

Change up the type of healthy fish you eat regularly to avoid boredom and maximize the variety of nutrients you're consuming.

Search for unique recipes to enhance the flavor of your favorite seafood!

This video explains and breaks down the relationship between food and your body.

Which Fish Should I Avoid?

Avoid fish highest in mercury, or limit them as much as possible.

Your body eliminates small amounts of mercury over time, but high levels of mercury can build up in your system.

Mercury, found naturally in the environment, turns to methylmercury in water and gets absorbed by fish.

Generally speaking, the larger the fish, the more mercury it contains.

The reason high levels of mercury that build up in your body may be harmful is that methylmercury is a neurotoxin.

In fetuses and young children, mercury can cause brain and nerve damage.

The effects of mercury in men aren't as well established, but it's still a good idea to limit or avoid mercury as much as you can to maintain optimal health.

The following fish contain high levels of mercury, so restrict or avoid them:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Bigeye tuna

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends young children, women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, and breastfeeding moms consume 8-12 ounces of low-mercury fish or other seafood weekly to reap nutritional benefits, but AVOID high-mercury fish altogether.

Want to know which oils to use for cooking? This guide will help!

How to Add Fish to Meal Plans

Whether your goal is weight loss, muscle building, fat-burning, or all of these, adding healthy fish to meal plans helps you achieve overall health and fitness goals.

Use the following guidelines when planning healthy meals.

Protein Foods

A good rule of thumb is to fill one-fourth of each plate with protein foods.

You might choose fish, shrimp, other seafood, chicken, turkey, lean organic steak, eggs, plant-based meat alternatives, or other protein-rich foods.

In this video, we help you sort the myths from the facts to find out your recommended protein intake depending on your goals.

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Aim to fill half of each plate with leafy greens, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, other green veggies, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, or other non-starchy vegetables.

Starches

Fill the remaining one-fourth of each plate with nutritious starches loaded with fiber.

Examples include corn, peas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, other legumes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, or other whole grains.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Aim to consume about three servings of dairy foods or calcium-rich equivalents daily, as these foods are loaded with protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients.

Examples include cow's milk, plant milk, Greek yogurt, plain kefir, low-fat cottage cheese, reduced-fat cheese, and whey or casein protein shakes.

Healthy Fats

Don't forget to include healthy fats in each meal plan to boost satiety and optimize overall health.

Choose avocados, olive oil, other plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, nut butter, olives, fish oil, or hummus.

What are healthy fats? Find out in this video!

How Should I Cook Healthy Fish?

An easy way to cook fish is on a stovetop, grill, or in the oven.

Consider these simple cooking techniques you can use to prepare healthy fish.

Stove Top

You can season fish with your favorite herbs or other seasonings, or simply use salt and pepper.

Here's a simple stovetop recipe for cooking healthy fish:

Ingredients

  • 6- to 8-ounce fish fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Capers, minced herbs, or lemon wedges for serving

Instructions

  1. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel.
  2. Sprinkle fish fillets with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Place fish on the skillet.
  5. Cook the fish for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Flip over the fish and season it with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook the fish for another 2-3 minutes, or until it flakes apart easily.
  8. Remove fish from the heat, serve it with garnishes of your choice, and enjoy!

Grilled

Grilling fish is easier than you might think!

To prep and cook healthy fish on the grill:

  1. Preheat your grill to a medium- to high-heat setting.
  2. Allow the fish to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Clean your grill grates to remove prior cooking debris.
  4. Remove the skin (if present) from the fish.
  5. Coat both sides of the fillets with oil.
  6. Flavor the fish with seasonings of your choice.
  7. Place fish on the cooking grates.
  8. Grill with the lid down.
  9. Grill each side of the fillets for 3-4 minutes (if the fish is about one inch thick).
  10. Let the fish cool for 3-5 minutes.
  11. Serve it with your favorite garnish and enjoy!

Oven-Baked

You can cook healthy fish in the oven too!

Try this easy baked fish recipe:

  1. Season fish with salt and pepper.
  2. Marinate the fish with olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Add fish and seasonings to a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  5. Pour the marinade over the fish.
  6. Bake the fish in the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until it flakes.
  7. Let the fish cool, serve, and enjoy!

Learn about the best foods for weight loss and try this sustainable men's diet plan to lose weight and keep it off.

I'm Eating Healthy Fish: Now What?

If you have a healthy diet down, which includes eating healthy fish while avoiding sugary drinks, sweets, fried foods, processed grains (white bread, etc.), processed meats, other processed foods, gravies, baked goods, and sugar-sweetened condiments, it's time to adopt additional lifestyle habits if you haven't already.

Examples include:

Work Out Daily

While it's perfectly fine to skip workouts from time to time, aim to work out most days of the week to maintain lean body mass, keep body fat low, and perfect your physique.

Complete at least 30-60 minutes of exercise daily.

Combine cardiovascular exercise with weightlifting or other resistance workouts to achieve the best possible outcome.

Check out our blog and the Fit Father YouTube Channel for some amazing workouts!

This full-body, at-home resistance band workout will help you stay toned and lose weight!

Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial when you want to stay healthy, reduce your risk of disease, maintain high energy levels and a healthy weight, and build muscle mass.

Get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal health.

Sleep in a cool, dark room, go to bed at the same time each night, and sleep next to a fan or white noise machine as needed to help you sleep soundly.

Can't sleep? Try these 7 ways to sleep better!

Drink More Water

In addition to adding healthy fish to weekly menus, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, keep energy levels high, and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Aim to consume at least 16 cups of fluids daily.

Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, and flavor it with fruit if you'd like.

Coffee and tea count as part of your daily fluid intake, too, just don't sweeten it with added sugar!

Drinking water is important, but getting your daily fluid intake isn't always easy! Try these quick tips to hit your daily hydration levels.

Join a Healthy Lifestyle Program for Men

Join the Fit Father Project to help you maintain healthy habits for a lifetime.

When you sign up, you receive custom meal plans, recipes, fat-burning and muscle-building workouts, health coaching and social support, and much more!

Try the FF30X program for weight loss, or sign up for a free workout and meal plan in addition to eating healthy fish several times per week!

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Erin Coleman B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer at The Fit Father Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on healthy fish.

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