What is the Healthiest Fish to Eat? Spoiler Alert: Yes

Healthiest Fish to Eat

You probably aren’t getting enough of the healthiest fish. From boosting heart health and baby brain development to reducing the risk of heart disease and depression, eating just about any seafood at least 2 to 3 times each week has scientifically-proven health benefits. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone—including pregnant and breastfeeding women—should increase the amount of seafood they eat to 2 to 3 servings each week for heart and brain healthy benefits.

At a time when people are told to limit many foods, seafood is among a handful of “yes” foods that Americans are encouraged to eat more of for optimal health. Yet despite seafood being a winning food, Americans just don’t eat enough. Most Americans, on average, eat about one serving of seafood every week, which means most people need to (at least) double the amount of fish and shellfish they eat to meet the recommended 2 to 3 servings each week. And, children are eating too little, as well. Consumer survey data shows 91 percent of parents with children 12 years and younger say their children aren’t eating seafood twice a week.[1]


Why It’s Important to Eat The Healthiest Fish

Seafood, which includes both fish and shellfish, tends to be low in calories and saturated fat, particularly when compared to other protein sources. Seafood is also rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. The good news is that eating more of the healthiest fish improves health and helps to lower these risk factors. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least two servings of seafood each week to reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, low consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S., taking a total of 84,000 lives each year. And, eating seafood just twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks by 36 percent![2] Eating seafood provides the essential nutrients that can help protect against heart attacks, decrease blood triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

Not only does a seafood-rich diet boost heart health in expectant moms, but eating seafood 2 to 3 times every week during pregnancy can help reduce post-partum depression. Research shows that women who eat no seafood during pregnancy are twice as likely to experience depression as those who eat seafood two times a week.[3]

And, the benefits from eating adequate amounts of seafood don’t stop with mom. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from seafood like salmon and tuna are essential for optimal baby brain and eye development. A recent study found that moms-to-be who ate fish 2 to 3 times each week during pregnancy had babies who reached milestones—such as imitating sounds, recognizing family members and drinking from a cup—more quickly than those whose mothers didn’t eat seafood regularly.[4] Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, found in seafood—like tuna and salmon—make up a major part of the brain and retina. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding moms eat at least 2 to 3 servings (or 8 to 12 ounces) of a variety of seafood each week to help baby’s eyes and brain develop properly.


How Much Seafood Do Americans Eat

According to recent USDA data, Americans ate about 14.5 pounds of seafood on average in 2014, which is down from 16.5 pounds in 2006. While this may sound like a lot, it averages out to less than 3.5 ounces per week, which is less than half of the recommended 8 to 12 ounces each week.

There are several reasons why most Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of seafood. The USDA survey suggests that a lack of awareness about the health benefits of seafood and lack of confidence in cooking seafood may be two factors. Additionally, other evidence suggests that the average American may not perceive themselves at-risk for health conditions stemming from an omega-3 deficiency and, therefore, are not making necessary changes to their diet. In addition, many Americans are misinformed about the safety of eating various types of fish and express a lack of confident in selecting or preparing seafood.[5]


Choosing the Healthiest Fish

Even though most Americans currently eat too little seafood, the good news is that choosing which seafood is healthiest to eat is easy. All commercially-sold seafood—meaning the fish and shellfish sold in restaurants in supermarkets—is safe to eat. While the Dietary Guidelines recommends eating a variety of seafood, the top five consumed seafood—shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaskan pollock—comprise nearly three-quarters of all seafood eaten in 2014, according to the USDA.

And for pregnant and breastfeeding women, there are only a few fish they need to avoid, such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish, orange roughy, marlin and bigeye tuna (found in sushi). Otherwise, all other commercially-sold seafood can—and should—be enjoyed by expectant and breastfeeding mothers.

[1] Danaei G, Mozaffarian D, Taylor B, Rehm J, et al. (2009). The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Med 6(4).

[2] Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).

[3] Golding, Jean, et al. “High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish.” Epidemiology 20 (2009): 598-603.

[4] The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available at:http://www.ajcn.org/content/88/3/789.abstract. Accessed March 5, 2012.

[5] Harrison L. (2001, November 1). Psychology Today. Eating fish during pregnancy and lactation may benefit mother and child. Available at: http: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200111/eating-fish-during-pregnancy-and-lactation-may-benefit-mother-and-child. Accessed March 5, 2012.