The Best Types of Fish for Health

Fish and Mercury
Fish and Mercury. Charlie Schuck / Getty Images

We know that eating fish is good for you. In fact, fish may be the ultimate anti-aging superfood, but eating the wrong kinds of fish too often can raise the level of mercury in your body. This is especially dangerous for pregnant and breastfeeding women because fetuses and newborns are very sensitive to mercury. Find out the best fish to eat and in what amounts.

    Why Eat Fish?

    Fish are a great source of protein. They contain healthy fats that will reduce your cholesterol and improve your health. Fish also contain omega-3 fatty acids that help keep your heart healthy and may even improve your mood. Fish have been shown to be an important diet of many long-lived peoples around the world.

    The Problem With Fish

    All fish contain trace amounts of mercury. For most people, the small amounts in fish do not pose a health problem. Some fish, however, contain high amounts of mercury -- enough to damage a fetus or newborn. That is why pregnant and nursing mothers must be very careful about the amounts and types of fish they eat. Young children should also avoid eating fish high in mercury. According to the FDA, pregnant women and small children (under 6) should not eat more than 2 servings of fish each week -- and should only eat those fish with low mercury content (see below).

    Mercury levels can build in adults too -- eventually becoming harmful to health. High mercury levels can cause permanent damage to the kidneys and brain.

    Which Fish Have the Most Mercury?

    Big fish have more mercury for the simple reason that big fish usually live longer.

    They have more time to build up higher levels of mercury in their bodies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends checking local advisories for the mercury content of fish caught in your area using this website. See the lists below for general mercury levels of many common types of fish and how much of each type to eat (according to the National Resource Defense Council):

    LOWEST MERCURY

    Eat 2-3 servings a week (pregnant women and small children should not eat more than 12 ounces (2 servings):

    • Anchovies
    • Catfish
    • Clam
    • Crab
    • Crawfish
    • Flounder
    • Haddock
    • Herring
    • Mackerel
    • Mullet
    • Oyster
    • Perch
    • Pollock
    • Salmon
    • Sardine
    • Scallop
    • Shrimp
    • Sole
    • Squid
    • Tilapia
    • Trout
    • Whitefish

    MODERATE MERCURY

    Eat six servings or fewer per month (pregnant women and small children should avoid these):

    • Bass
    • Carp
    • Cod
    • Halibut
    • Lobster
    • Mahi Mahi
    • Monkfish
    • Perch
    • Snapper
    • Tuna (Canned Chunk light)

    HIGH MERCURY

    Eat three servings or less per month (pregnant women and small children should avoid these):

    • Bluefish
    • Grouper
    • Sea Bass
    • Tuna (Canned Albacore, Yellowfin)

    HIGHEST MERCURY

    Avoid eating (everyone):

    • Marlin
    • Orange Roughy
    • Shark
    • Swordfish
    • Tilefish
    • Tuna (Ahi)

    Sources:

    Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish

    Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

    National Resource Defense Council. Mercury Contamination in Fish.

    Centers for Disease Control. Public Health Statement for Mercury. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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