It’s the healthiest fish to eat, say experts
“As an animal source, it contains one of the lowest amounts of saturated fat compared to protein,” said Lourdes Castro, registered dietitian and nutritionist and director of the NYU Food Lab. In addition to being a lean protein, seafood is rich in vitamins D and B and minerals like iron, potassium and calcium.
“Our diets generally don’t contain a lot of omega-3s,” said Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine. Eating seafood twice a week is a sure-fire way to increase our intake of these basic fatty acids.
From a nutritional standpoint, salmon is the big winner in the Healthiest Fish competition. “Fattier cold water fish are a better source of omega-3s,” Camire said, and salmon is king when it comes to the number of grams of omega-3 per ounce.
Wild or farmed?
Sustainability is the other part of the equation when it comes to calculating the healthiest fish – for personal health, the health of fish populations and the planet in general.
“Today there are ecologically sustainable sources on both the wild side and the cultivated side,” said Santi Roberts, senior scientific director of the Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Farmed salmon is not only managed more sustainably than in the past, but it is taking a leap forward in terms of omega-3s. “From a nutritional standpoint, in the old days, the wild was superior to the breeding,” Castro said. However, Camire said that with advances in aquaculture, farmers can adjust their salmon’s diets to produce fish that have higher omega-3 levels than their wild counterparts.
Sustainable aquaculture is also a proactive way for fisheries to combat the effects of climate change. “There aren’t enough fish in the ocean to feed everyone based on the nutritional recommendations for seafood,” Castro said.
Camire accepted. “The wild is a sexy idea,” she said, but wonders how wild Alaskan seafood will fare over the next several decades. “When it comes to feeding billions of people and heating the climate, we’re going to have to do something different.”
Other healthy choices and fish to avoid
Unlike finfish, bivalves do not need to be fed when raised in a culture environment; they get all of their nutrients from the water around them. They can also filter out impurities and compensate for waste that enters the environment, which Roberts says is often a problem with farmed seafood.
Nutrition and sustainability experts don’t think we should avoid eating tuna altogether, but it does require research to make sure you choose the most manageable option. “Avoid eating bluefin tuna until we have seen significant improvement in the management of these populations,” said Roberts.
If you want to eat tuna, skipjack and albacore offer almost as much omega-3 and are the two most common species found in cans of tuna. Roberts recommends looking for the phrases “rod caught” or “trolled” on the label.
How to choose well
If you’re overwhelmed by seafood labels at the fish market, that’s understandable. But these days, apps and websites run by scientific and nonprofit organizations can help you make the healthier choices.
“It’s a dynamic and complex world – what we’re trying to do is simplify it, is look for the green,” Roberts said.
The simplest choice for farmed seafood is to make sure it’s really raised in the United States, which has more stringent food safety standards than many overseas operations. “It’s safe to say that national seafood is the Cadillac of seafood when it comes to environmental sustainability,” said Joshua Stoll, assistant professor of marine policy in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine.
If you’re trying to reduce your impact on the planet and simultaneously enjoy the health benefits of fish, Stoll suggests that you think of seafood the same way you would local produce or meat. “It doesn’t matter where you get your seafood from, it doesn’t matter who you get your seafood from,” he said.
By purchasing salmon and other seafood options from community fisheries and companies with sustainable farming methods, you will be making the healthiest choice for everyone.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Branded Treats”; and editor of the site Good. Food. Stories.