Excellent Fish and Shellfish for Avoiding Mercury

Nutritional Benefits of Fish and Shellfish

Salmon and shrimp sushi
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Fish and shellfish are good for a healthy balanced diet because they're high in protein and minerals, and they're generally low in calories and saturated fat. In fact, eating fish at least twice a week is an excellent addition to any diet, even for women who are pregnant.

But, there is one problem, and that's the potential for mercury toxicity. The good news is that not all fish and seafood contain the same amounts or concentrations of mercury and there are plenty of species that can be consumed safely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency test and monitor mercury levels in all the fish and seafood that are sold commercially here in the U.S., and the following 15 species are among the lowest in mercury and can be consumed freely.

This only covers the fish and seafood that are sold in stores; it doesn't include the fish you might catch in your local waters. So, if you're concerned about specific game fish, check with your state's Departments of Natural Resources.


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Anchovies might make you think of pizza or Ceasar salads, but fresh anchovies can be grilled or used in recipes that call for sardines. Anchovies are also high omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Atlantic Mackerel

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Mackerel is often smoked or canned, but fresh mackerel fillets can also be grilled or baked. Besides the omega-3 fatty acids, mackerel is high in vitamin B-12, niacin, selenium, magnesium, iron, and potassium, plus a fair amount of protein.


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Catfish is typically battered and deep fried, but you can also prepare it on the grill or in the oven. Catfish is not only low in mercury, it's an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and low in fat and calories.


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Clams are found in many delicious dishes, with maybe the best known being clam chowder. Clams can be served as an appetizer or as part of the main dish. They're low in mercury and they're high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.


Crab and parsley on ice
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Crab is low in mercury and so very versatile. Canned crab meat can be used to make crab cakes and various types of stuffings. Or you can feast on crab legs as an entree. Crab meat is an excellent source of protein, minerals, folate and vitamin B-12.


Boiled Crawfish
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Best known as the chief ingredient in crawfish etouffee, crawfish, or crayfish, look like little lobsters—but they're lower in mercury than lobsters. Crawfish are high in protein, minerals, and B-complex vitamins.

Freshwater Trout

Rainbow Trout
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Freshwater trout, such as rainbow trout, is a mild white fish that's low in mercury. Freshwater trout is high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, magnesium, and niacin.


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Haddock, or scrod, is a whitefish that's related to cod. But, haddock tends to have less mercury than cod and can be used in most recipes calling for cod or other whitefish. Haddock is an excellent low-fat source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.


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Herring is often pickled and served with sour cream as an appetizer. But, these small fish can also be cooked on the grill, oven or stovetop. Herring is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is a great source of protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, niacin, vitamin B-12, and selenium.


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Oysters are an excellent source of protein and minerals—especially zinc and iron—plus they offer some omega-3 fatty acids. They can be served raw as an appetizer or as part of a stew or main dish.


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Pollock are in the same family as cod but are lower in mercury. Pollock is a mild whitefish that can be used in any recipe calling for cod. Pollock is a great source of protein, minerals, and B-complex vitamins. 


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Salmon, especially canned salmon, is low in mercury. And that's good because salmon is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon steaks and fillets can be baked, grilled, sauteed, or poached. Or you can keep a can of salmon on hand to make salmon salads or sandwiches. Salmon is also high in protein, magnesium, potassium, niacin, vitamin B-12, and vitamin A.


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Sardines are small fish that you'll typically find in cans and are often served with crackers as an appetizer. You can also buy fresh sardines at some stores and grill, bake or smoke them.

Sardines are good for you, too. They're loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, niacin, and calcium.


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Scallops are delicious mild-flavored mollusks that are good for your diet. Two large scallops have only 21 calories, and they're an excellent source of protein and minerals. Serve pan-seared scallops with a little lemon and capers to keep them low-cal.


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Shrimp is probably the most popular type of seafood and it's easy to find in almost every restaurant and grocery store. It's low in mercury and a good source of protein while being low in calories. That is, unless you bread and deep fry the shrimp, or serve it as a scampi Keep your shrimp low-cal with a simple cocktail sauce.


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Tilapia is another type of whitefish that's low in mercury. It's also high in protein, B-complex vitamins and minerals, similar to other whitefish. Tilapia is also a good source of vitamin D. Serve tilapia just as you'd serve any whitefish

What Were Those Fish Again?

Herring sandwich
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First, a review: here are those 15 types of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury: 

  1. Anchovies
  2. Atlantic Mackerel
  3. Catfish
  4. Clams
  5. Crab
  6. Crawfish
  7. Freshwater Trout
  8. Haddock
  9. Herring
  10. Oysters
  11. Pollock
  12. Salmon
  13. Scallops
  14. Shrimp
  15. Tilapia

So, Which Fish Are the Worst? 

Avoid ocean fish such as King mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and bigeye tuna. They tend to have the highest levels of mercury contamination.


American Pregnancy Association. "Mercury Levels in Fish." http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/mercury-levels-in-fish/.

Natural Resources Defense Council. "Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish." http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp.

United States Food and Drug Administration. "Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990-2010). http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm115644.htm.

United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search.