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Fish is a high-quality lean protein, and chances are, you’re not eating enough of it. The American Heart Association and our Dietary Guidelines recommend eating two servings of seafood a week, yet about 90% of Americans don’t hit this target.

There are numerous options to help you meet these recs, and varying your seafood intake is the best way to get the health-supporting nutrients fish contains while minimizing the risk of certain chemicals that may build up in fish over time. Here’s a handy guide to the healthiest fish to put on your plate.

No. 1 best fish to eat

Sardines

Based on their affordability, shelf-stability and nutritiousness, canned sardines are the best fish to eat. Canned sardines are packed with marine-based omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that helps lower inflammation and has been associated with benefits ranging from a lower risk of depression to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Gram for gram, canned sardines have even more of this powerhouse nutrient than salmon.

Canned sardines are also packed with calcium; a typical can has about as much of the mineral as a glass of milk. They’re also a significant source of vitamin D, which helps with calcium absorption.

A 2021 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that people with prediabetes who’re at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes experienced a reduction in markers indicating a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease when including sardines in their diet twice per week, when compared to those who were on a type 2 diabetes prevention diet that didn’t include sardines. 

Worth noting: While sardines are one of the healthiest fish to eat, their fishy flavor can be polarizing. Herbs and lemons can help mellow out their fishiness. 

What is the healthiest fish to eat?

Salmon

While sardines top the list as the healthiest fish to eat, salmon has many of the same benefits and is less fishy, so it’s more approachable. 

Worth noting: All forms of salmon (whether farmed or wild) have similar levels of nutrients, including omega-3s. Mercury and other environmental toxins aren’t a concern in salmon, so it’s safe to eat it regularly. However, it’s a good idea to make sure the salmon you buy is certified by an organization such as the Marine Stewardship Council to indicate that it’s a sustainable choice. 

Trout 

Consider trout an alternative to salmon they’re closely related and interchangeable in recipes. Trout is milder than salmon, so it can be a good starter option if you’re just getting on board with seafood. Like salmon, it’s rich in beneficial omega-3 fats, protein and other nutrients, such as vitamin D. 

Worth noting: You can score a day’s worth of vitamin D in 3 ½ ounces of trout.

Arctic char

Raw arctic char has pink flesh similar to salmon, but becomes less pink as you cook it. Flavor-wise, it’s less fishy than salmon and more similar to trout in taste. 

Arctic char is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that may help prevent heart disease and are essential for brain health and development.

Worth noting: You can use Arctic char in recipes that call for salmon and vice versa. 

Halibut

You’ll often find this firm, white fish as a steak (rather than a fillet), so it’s a great choice for grilling. In addition to protein, halibut provides more than 50% of your daily requirement for vitamin B12, a nutrient that plays a vital role in nerve function and cellular energy. 

Worth noting: Since it has more mercury than some contenders for the best fish to eat, the FDA lists it as a good (vs. best) choice and recommends eating it no more than once a week. During weeks you’re eating halibut, the FDA also suggests choosing protein sources other than fish for the rest of the week.

Shrimp

According to the National Fisheries Institute, shrimp is the most popular fish eaten in America. It’s an excellent, low-calorie protein choice that’s packed with other nutrients. 

For example, astaxanthin is a carotenoid responsible for shrimp’s pink hue. Studies involving animals and supplements suggest that this compound has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help protect against cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and type 2 diabetes. 

Worth noting: Research in rats confirms what you probably already knew: boiling and grilling but not frying preserve shrimp’s nutritional value and are considered the healthiest ways to eat shrimp. 

Cod

One of the leanest choices around, a portion of cooked cod is about 100 calories with 23 grams of protein. Cod contains other important nutrients, such as B vitamins, which help your body convert compounds from food into energy for your cells.

Worth noting: Cod is great for newbies since it’s among the mildest fish. It’ll hold up to several cooking methods, like grilling and baking, and it’s also meaty enough to use in soups and stews.

Branzino

Another lean, flaky, white fish, branzino comes from the Mediterranean Sea; another name for it is Mediterranean sea bass. 

Branzino is packed with protein and vitamin D, a nutrient involved in immune functioning, glucose metabolism and calcium absorption.

Worth noting: This is a small fish, and the bones are easy to remove, so it’s often cooked whole, whether roasted in a pan or oven or grilled.

Anchovies

These small oily fish are loaded with nutrients, including protein, omega-3s and calcium. They’re also rich in selenium, an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer and other health issues.

Worth noting: Anchovies are most commonly sold packed in oil and salt-cured in a can. You can also find them in a paste. They add a salty, briny flavor to foods like salad dressings and pasta dishes.

Mussels

These bivalves are rich in iron and vitamin B12, and they also contribute meaningful amounts of zinc and protein to your diet. They’re quite low in calories: A typical portion has just about 100 calories. While mussels are nutritious, they’re commonly served with French fries, so go easy on the fries and have some veggies on the side to get the most health benefits from your meal.

Worth noting: Mussels are on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Best Choice list, indicating they’re a top choice for environmental sustainability. 

Scallops

Scallops are often described as buttery and sweet, so they’re a great choice for people who aren’t as fond of fishier fish, those new to seafood, and even picky eaters. 

Like other fish, scallops contain protein and other key nutrients, including zinc and selenium, both of which support optimal immune function. 

Worth noting: Scallops are on the FDA’s best choice list, meaning they’re quite low in mercury, so you can eat them often. They’re also a best choice for environmental sustainability, per the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Crab

There are several types of crab, including Dungeness, stone and king crab. When eaten baked, boiled or steamed, they’re a light and lean choice, with around 100 calories or less and up to 20 grams of protein per serving.

Worth noting: Watch out for imitation crab meat, which is a cheaper, processed alternative to crab meat. It may not contain any crab meat, and it may have starches and other non-fish ingredients added.

Flounder

A 3 ½ ounce portion of flounder has under 100 calories and 15 grams of protein. Reducing your intake of red and processed meats by eating more healthy fish, like flounder, may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Worth noting: Flounder can be bought and cooked whole or as a fillet. The fillets are soft and flaky, but coating them with chopped nuts or flour will help keep them from falling apart.

Tuna

Canned tuna is one of the most convenient and affordable healthy fish around. Like other fish, it packs protein and contains valuable nutrients, including omega-3 fats, selenium, iron and vitamin B12. While it’s common to mix it with mayo, it’s delicious in other preparations, such as tossed into pasta, made into patties, and combined with beans, herbs and extra virgin olive oil.

Worth noting: Canned albacore (white) and yellowfin tuna are higher in mercury than skipjack (light) tuna. Higher mercury species, like canned white tuna, should only be eaten once a week, and other fish shouldn’t be eaten in the same week.

Fish benefits

Fish is chock full of nutrients, and eating fish at least twice a week is smart for your health. Some of thee benefits include:

  • Packs high-quality protein: Fish is a great protein source, and a protein-rich meal can help you stay fuller longer between meals. This may make it easier to manage your weight. Also, eating adequate protein is important for maintaining (and building) muscle mass throughout life. 
  • Supplies vitamin D: Fish can be an important dietary source of vitamin D, a nutrient that supports bone health, immune regulation, and controlling your inflammatory response. More than 90% of adults in the United States don’t meet vitamin D recommendations, putting them at risk for weak bones and potentially other health issues, such as cancer, heart disease and depression.
  • Rich in marine-based omega-3 fats: Many of the health benefits of fish pertain to these beneficial fats. Omega-3 fatty acids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against numerous health issues.
  • Lowers the risk of numerous health problems: Eating a fish-rich diet has been associated with a lower risk of many health concerns. For example, fish eaters may have protection against high blood pressure, heart disease, and dying prematurely from heart disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. Omega-3 fats also support brain health throughout life.

Fish high in omega-3 fats

While all fish contain omega-3 fats, oily fish have the most. The best sources of healthy omega-3 fats include salmon, trout, sardines and anchovies. The next best include white tuna, mussels and crab. The advice to eat fish twice a week is intended to help you get an average of 250 to 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA two marine-based omega-3 fats.

Fish high in protein

Most fish have 15 or more grams of protein for a 3.5-ounce cooked portion. These fish have at least 20 grams of protein for that serving size, making them high-protein options.

  • Anchovies
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Trout
  • Tuna

Calories in fish

On the low end, fish contains about 100 calories, while on the higher end, oily fish, like salmon, have about 200 calories per 3 ½ ounce cooked serving. For comparison’s sake, the same amount of cooked, skinless chicken breast has 165 calories, while the same serving of cooked flank steak trimmed of fat has 200 calories.

Fish you should never eat

There are plenty of reasons to eat fish and to vary your intake, but there are some fish that you should never eat. The FDA recommends avoiding king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish and bigeye tuna since these species are the highest in mercury.

You can also check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to find out which fish they recommend avoiding because they have the worst environmental impact. Alternatively, you can look for certifications, like the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue label and Best Aquaculture Practices, to steer you toward environmentally sustainable fish and away from fish you should never eat because of their environmental impact.

Are fish oil supplements just as good as eating fish?

This has been the topic of ongoing scientific debate. While there’s no doubt that including fish in your diet is associated with health benefits, studies on supplements have produced mixed results, depending on the condition. It may be that studies on supplements use a smaller dose than what’s needed to see a benefit or that studies aren’t long enough to see health differences between fish oil supplement users and non-users. 

The strongest evidence for fish oil supplements is for lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels and potentially improving pain and stiffness among people with rheumatoid arthritis. 

That said, many experts suggest taking fish oil supplements if you aren’t meeting the recommended two servings of seafood per week. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking a fish oil supplement, as they may interfere with certain medications. 

Key takeaways

It’s a good idea to include two servings of fish in your diet each week and to mix up your sources. Fish have protein and beneficial nutrients, and eating fish has been shown to lower your risk of certain health problems. Choose lower mercury fish most often, and if you’re eating a fish that’s a little higher in mercury, choose protein sources other than fish the rest of the week. If you don’t eat fish twice a week, talk to your healthcare provider about taking a supplement.



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