The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: The Seafood You Should & Shouldn’t Eat

Fish and sea food

Fish and seafood can be one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Food from the sea tends to be high in protein, minerals, essential fats like omega- 3s and B vitamins. This makes the bounty from the sea high on the list of healthy foods. But because our oceans, lakes rivers and streams are heavily polluted and many of our fish species have been over fished, choosing fish and seafood that is both sustainable and good for you can be tricky.  While the issue of the health of our oceans, lakes and water ways and the sustainability of our fish supply is important (I could write an entire book on that subject alone)in the interest of keeping this simple I will  confine this article to talking about seafood from the perspective of human nutritional health and well-being. Sustainability will factor into the equation because wiping out a species means less diversity in our diet which impacts our nutritional health. If you would like to learn more about the health of the planets water and aquatic animals I suggest you visit:


Why do seafood choices matter? Almost 85% of the world’s fisheries are fished to capacity. Taking the burden off the top commercial fish by using fish species that currently aren’t at risk would allow these species a chance to regroup and come back. On top of that because of high levels of toxins like mercury and PCBs in many species of fish and certain mollusks it’s important to choose your seafood wisely. Let’s explore both the good the bad and the ugly when it comes to delicacies from the sea.


 The Good (chow down my friend!)

Wild caught salmon: This is the gold standard when it comes to healthy sea food. A nutritional power house, most varieties, including coho and sockeye, provide more than three times the 250-mg recommended minimum daily dose of omega-3s and a ton of protein and B vitamins.

Pacific oysters: Not only are they incredibly delicious both raw and cooked this mollusk delivers 1.2 g of omega-3 fatty acids per 3oz serving and 12mg of immunity and libido building zinc. The fact that it’s virtually devoid of mercury (just 0.01 parts per million) makes this a top choice for a healthy diet.

Farm raised rainbow trout: This fish is easily purchased almost anywhere in the USA and is a healthy choice with a full gram of omega-3s. Tests on mixed varieties of trout show only 0.07 ppm of mercury, and farmed may contain even less. It also boasts more than twice the 2-mcg RDA for B12 and half the 15-mg RDA for niacin, which lowers bad cholesterol and plays a key role in metabolism.

Fresh water perch: If you live in a landlocked area this may be the closest thing you get to truly fresh fish. One serving provides over 100 percent of your omega-3 minimum, almost all of your selenium (47 mcg), and half of your B12, with no measurable mercury. Not a bad choice for fish lovers who don’t live close to a large body of water.

Pacific sardines: These tiny fish are loaded with omega -3 fatty acids. Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12, second only to calf’s liver as the World’s Healthiest Food most concentrated in this nutrient. Vitamin B12 promotes cardiovascular well-being since it is intricately tied to keeping levels of homocysteine in balance; homocysteine can damage artery walls, with elevated levels being a risk factor for atherosclerosis. Even better this fish is fairly affordable when purchased in caned form and have a mild flavor which makes them perfect for salads and sandwiches.

Clams: A favorite steamed and in chowder you get 0.2 g of omega-3s (some tests reveal that they can contain as much as 0.5 g). A single serving also has 350 percent of the 15-mg RDA for iron and a colossal 84 mcg of B12. All that with a mere 0.02 ppm of mercury.

U.S farm raised tilapia: considered a “best choice” by Sea Food Watch. U.S farm raised tilapia is both affordable, tasty and nutritious. This mild flavored fish has only 0.1 g of omega-3s, tilapia is nearly free of mercury (0.01 ppm) and contains 84 percent of your daily selenium and 79 percent of your B12.

Wild caught shrimp: During the whole cholesterol craze shrimp got a really bad rap. But now that we know that dietary cholesterol has little to do with blood cholesterol for the majority of the population, shrimp is back on the list of good seafood.  This yummy crustacean is on the list mostly because of its low calorie count (only 84 calories per serving) and a super-safe mercury level of 0.05 parts per million. It even boasts a 0.3 g of omega-3s. Even better shrimp taste great and are easy to use in all kinds of recipes from pasta to tacos, so eat up!

 Farm raised striped bass: Considered to be low in mercury this sustainable alternative to the wild striped bass packs 0.8 g of omega-3s, more than twice the suggested minimum. Bonus nutrients include about double the RDA of B12 and 72 percent of your daily selenium.

The bad (not really bad just not the best choice)

Canned U.S  Pacific albacore light tuna (line caught): Not the best choice because of its high mercury count (0.12 parts per million)  higher than most fish on this list, but it has the least of all other types of tuna and still provides 0.2 g of omega-3s. Eat it no more than eight times a month and feel good about getting 75 percent of your niacin RDA and more than 100 percent of your selenium and B12.

 Anchovies: Anchovies are high in omeg-3s, vitamin A, calcium and selenium. They are also very low in toxins like mercury and PCBs. All that sounds great but I put them on the bad list because the ones you get out of cans and jars have been processed with high amounts of sodium which can be a problem for people with high blood pressure or border line high blood pressure.

Halibut: This dense meaty fish is a good source of omega-3s and provides over 40% of the daily requirement of niacin which would make this a fairly decent healthy choice if it weren’t for the high mercury count which is 0.2 parts per million more than double that of salmon.

Pacific Cod: Cod is a mild tasting, light and flaky fish which has a pretty fair amount of omega-3s and a good dose of selenium to boot. Add in the fact that this fish is low in calories (just 89 calories per serving) makes this a good choice as long as you don’t eat it more than twice a week because of a high mercury count(o.1parts per million).

Maine Lobster: One of my personal favorite treats from the sea. Lobster has a sweet delicate flavor and enough omega 3s, zinc, and twice your RDA of B12 to make it more than just an indulgence.

The Ugly (these are fish you should almost never eat)

Imported farmed shrimp: The other fish on the ugly list are mostly just high in mercury and PCBs but farmed shrimp (wild caught shrimp are completely different) have the distinction of being loaded with more than just toxins. Farmed shrimp come with a Mother Lode of things like antibiotics, chemicals used to clean their pens, rodent hair, E coli and feces. Yumm Yumm!

Shark: Being a large predator the shark tends to have high mercury levels, some of the highest of all fish. On top of that by over fishing sharks we totally screw up the aquatic eco system.

Orange roughy: High levels of toxins and low levels of omega-3s makes this fish a light weight in the healthy  eating catagory, plus it’s seriously over fished. This fish is also farmed but there are no fisheries that are considered well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council. Best to just steer clear.

Imported farmed catfish: Almost 90% of all imported catfish come from Vietnam. Why is that important? In Vietnam they are allowed to use several different antibiotics that are banned in the U.S., these antibiotics keep the fish from getting sick and make them grow faster. The USDA does very little inspecting of these fish as they enter the country so who knows what you’re getting.

Swordfish: Swordfish is on the Environmental Protection Agencies list of fish to avoid because of high levels of mercury which makes it especially important for pregnant women and infants to stay away from. While it is still a big sport fish the species has been on the decline for several years, allowing this majestic ocean predator to regroup is probably best for everyone involved.

Bluefin Tuna: Almost all varieties of tuna contain mercury but this one tends to be the highest of all because of the fishes size and age. This is the tuna that you get at your favorite sushi bar and in those high end restaurants that serve seared ahi steaks. This fish is on the endangered list which makes it even less appetizing.