A Dietitian’s Advice: Top 3 Nutrient-Rich Fish Picks

There are cilantro lovers, and then there are people who find it repulsive and say it tastes like soap. Equally, there are fish lovers and people who don’t like fish. If you’re one of those people who avoid seafood at all costs, it’s worth exploring which items on the aquatic menu you can tolerate because, more often than not, whatever you choose will be packed with nutrients like healthful omega-3 fats. for the heart, vitamins D and B2, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and even potassium.

While some may not like the taste of seafood, others may choose not to eat it out of concern about its potential mercury content. This is a valid concern, as exposure to the neurotoxin can be harmful, especially to pregnant women and children. There are ways to limit your exposure, however, as not all fish will have the same amount. In general, large fish at the top of the food chain that eat smaller fish and live longer tend to accumulate much more mercury. Non-sustainably farmed fish also tend to contain more mercury. Shark, swordfish, bigeye tuna, king mackerel, and marlin are all examples of ones to avoid. Salmon, prawns, anchovies and scallops have much lower mercury content and are safer to consume.

Some of the healthiest foods on the planet live in the ocean, so choosing what you like as well as what is safe for regular consumption will be key. If you’re feeling a little more inspired now, here are the top three picks to add to your menu:

1. Salmon

I’m sure this was amazing to everyone! It’s not like salmon is the most popular fish in the entire world or anything.

On a more serious note, salmon takes the cake not just for its versatility and ability to take on any flavor you throw in, but for the range of health benefits. Typically, you’ll find Atlantic salmon on most people’s plates in the United States. These salmon are farm raised, which means these fish will typically be much fatter than wild-caught salmon that eat a diet from their natural habitat. While there are many reasons someone should choose to opt for wild-caught Sockeye or Coho salmon over Atlantic options, such as sustainability concerns and unsafe contaminants, it’s good to know that both options contain low levels of mercury and high amounts of protective omega-3 fats.

Another important thing to consider is that salmon is especially high in selenium, which is a nutrient involved in DNA synthesis, thyroid health, and reproductive health. Interestingly, selenium is even able to counteract the toxic effects of mercury. Salmon is also a great source of vitamin B12, which regulates the central nervous system and red blood cell production.

Salmon and vegetables on a flat plate
Salmon and other types of seafood are one of the best foods for protein. (Photo by cattalin on pixabay.com)

2. Sardines

Going from a crowd-pleaser to sardines might seem a little jarring, but they truly are nutrient powerhouses, and their small size makes them perfect for those concerned about mercury. These conveniently packaged fish are super high in protein (3 ounces contain about 18 grams) and don’t even require cooking. For many, the flavor takes some getting used to, but these are worth a try if you haven’t already!

In a four-ounce serving, they can contain up to 1.8 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, because fish tend to be full of bones, they are extraordinarily high in calcium. Even better, the bones are so small you honestly can’t even tell you’re eating them. They are also rich in selenium like salmon and are one of the most sustainable fish to consume.

If you’re struggling to find ways to make them palatable, I love preparing them these ways:

Photo of Ben Wicks from Unsplash

3. Mackerel

As mentioned above, king mackerel can have a lot of mercury, so it’s best to opt for smaller varieties. Mackerel is oily and meaty, making it a tasty way to get plenty of omega-3 fats, too (about 4,500 mg in a 3.5-ounce serving). Like sardines, they require very little preparation and yet are high in selenium and vitamin B12.

The types to choose are Atlantic and Atka mackerel and tossing them on the grill or in salads really brings them to life. Some Mediterranean countries even like to dip in olive oil with herbs, garlic, bell pepper, etc. To enhance the flavor even more. In fact, some people recommend trying mackerel first if you’re one of the people averse to eating any type of canned fish.

Photo by Mohan Nannapaneni of Pexels

While seafood is an excellent choice for health reasons, it’s important to be aware of what to look for when shopping to make sustainable, low-mercury choices. The food options are on millions of dishes around the world for good reason, and hopefully they’re coming to yours more often!

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