Which Fish Is The Healthiest?

July 30, 2013   25 Comments

Snack Girl made a mistake last month, and I’m not talking about the mismatched socks that I was wearing.

Healthy Fish

No, I wrote about the relative environmental health of farmed tilapia without checking the human health of eating it. You see, it all starts with my long lost desire to be a marine biologist.

Am I concerned about the world’s fisheries? Absolutely. I happen to love fish and I am very aware that we have been overfishing them (and fish populations are in a dramatic decline). So, I checked out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and decided that farmed tilapia was a great choice for my fish sticks recipe.

Then, I got flamed for not knowing that these fish aren’t packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. Whoops!

According to the New York Times -Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish:

Compared with other fish, farmed tilapia contains relatively small amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the fish oils that are the main reasons doctors recommend eating fish frequently; salmon has more than 10 times the amount of tilapia. Also, farmed tilapia contains a less healthful mix of fatty acids because the fish are fed corn and soy instead of lake plants and algae, the diet of wild tilapia.

Tilapia is a good a source of protein and has less saturated fat than red meat, but doesn’t have a large concentration of those awesome omega-3 fatty acids that assist in brain development and protect against heart disease.

In addition, tilapia has omega-6 fatty acids that may increase your risk of heart disease. Argh!

What is a Snack Girl to think? I think it is important to know that farmed tilapia is not the same as wild salmon in terms of healthfulness. Will I stop eating it? I think in moderation it is okay, but now I won't be featuring it on the site.

I found a great list on US News - 11 Best Fish: High in Omega-3s and Environment-Friendly. Here they are:

1. Wild Salmon (fresh, frozen or canned)
2. Arctic Char
3. Atlantic Mackerel
4. Sardines
5. Sablefish/Black Cod
6. Anchovies
7. Oysters (these are not fish so I don’t know why they are on the list)
8. Rainbow Trout (farmed)
9. Albacore Tuna (US or Canadian fisheries)
10. Mussels (also not fish)
11. Pacific Halibut

Canned salmon, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, and oysters are your best bet if you lack the dough for fresh fish.

Did you know about the tilapia - omega-3 problem? Please share your thoughts about healthy fish.

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 25 )

I personally do not eat farmed fish. There was a tv special a while back on the deplorable conditions of these farmed fish. The waters they were in were filthy, full of fesces, and garbage. If it isn't wild or just caught by me, I do not eat it. I wish I had more facts but I just don't remember where this was happening. Worth the research though. Thanks for your yummy recipes. Have a great day.

My husband and I are careful shoppers. One area where we refuse to compromise is our selection of fish. We are careful to never buy farm raised fish of any sort. After lots of research i decided that the practices of fish farming are in general unhealthy. As I learned more through my reading, tilapia was the first to go! I also find the wild caught has a superior taste and better consistency. I also try to eat a large variety of fish. I learned from a local fish monger that any salmon labeled "Atlantic" is farm raised. The Pacific and Alaskan varieties are wild caught.

Thanks so much great article! What about sea bass and flounder! I'm not going to buy farm raised anymore!

Um, so tilapia is now the 'french fry' of the fish world? ;)

Great article. I much prefer eating the wild caught fish over farm raised because of the taste and texture. I have purchased farm raised tilapia from Chile in the past, but was occasionally turned off by the flavor. Then I found out it was because they are bottom feeders and that might give the fish a "dirty" taste. Mmm...who knows?

So most of the time I purchase salmon because it is high in Omegas. I usually shop at Meijers here in the Midwest. They display NuVal (nutritional value) number on most of their products. I was quite perplexed to see that the NuVal for farm raised Atlantic Salmon had a higher NuVal number, than the wild caught sockeye salmon. Would anyone know why?

Farm raised salmon also adds red dye to give it a pink color...and I believe the Atlantic Salmon should not be colored pink to begin with.

But cost wise, farm raised salmon is a lot cheaper than wild caught. I would probably still eat farm raised Atlantic Salmon for the health benefits...cause who knows what is done with other meats like chicken, turkey, pork & beef anyways!

I recently read an article about farm raised fish from China and other Asian countries and would not purchase it because of the lack of regulations there. Be aware that most frozen fish fillets in the freezer-cooler comes from China.

Do packages indicate if it's farm-raised? Are we to assume that if it doesn't say "wild-caught," then it's farm-raised? Thank you for this informative article. My friend recently told me about the documentary she saw about tilapia, and I immediately threw out my frozen package of tilapia.

Please be aware that fish and other foods that contain lots of omega 3 fatty acids are now linked to a substanial increases risk of prostate cancer in men. It's been all over the news lately. So, while omega 3 fatty acids may promote heart and brain health, they are also linked to a much greater risk of prostate cancer. Be informed. Check it out for yourself.

I only buy fish from the USofA. I have seen farm raised catfish here and how they feed them using a corn meal mix with animal by products. I can only imagine what it is like in Asia and other places that would feed them anything. But getting a list from the US Govt. or the web, who can you trust to give the right info. Just eat as healthy as you can, don't go over board. The worst looking people I see are in "Whole" health food stores, and people I personally know that have died were 100% no meat, veggie only etc. kind of people.

Also people need to know that seafood fraud is a huge problem - especially with fish from Asia (surprise surprise). White fish, in particular, is often labeled as one type of fish and is actually something else. Most US consumers aren't educated enough to tell the difference. I personally only buy wild caught fish, usually salmon. We're lucky because we have a small health food store where I live that is affiliated with a couple who travels to Alaska and actually buys and freezes salmon right off the boat, so we know exactly where it came from. It's about $5 more a pound than the store stuff, but well worth it, especially for only about 1 meal a week.

Well, we are in luck, tilapia is a fish we don't like anyway. But, I did not know this information about the Omegas. We usually have cod or perch (not sure about perch). We don't have fish often and get our Omega 3's from Flax Seed Oil or Flax Meal. Flax meal can be sprinkled on peanut butter sandwiches, soups, stews, almost anything. It does not have a strong taste and also be used in certain proportions in recipes calling for oil in order to cut down on oil consumption.

As far as prostate cancer goes, folic acid found primarily in leafy greens and other foods appears to be important to prostate health. Rather than cut down on Omega 3's, maybe it is also important to look at other factors such as genetics and variety in diet. I had not heard anything about the connection of Omega 3 and prostate cancer at all in the news anywhere but I will research this. It is important to remember, at least in my opinion, where this type of information comes from. Does it come from an .edu site (university) or from scientific studies done by more than one group? What is the credibility of the studies? These are things I look for before I determine if a food is something I want to consume.

I agree with everyone here that farm-raised fish is NG. My limited research confirms that farm-raised seafood is as disgusting as cattle/poultry feedlots. That said, I love seafood and eat alot of it every week. I recently read about the Bristol Bay, Alaska troubles with threats of copper-mining operations killing the natural order of salmon. It disgusts me because it appears to be the only remaining safe source of salmon [Chile and Norway are now either defunct or contaminated]. So I learned that Bristol Bay's canned wild salmon is unlabeled until it reaches the retailer where they slap on their label and how a consumer can ID it as Bristol Bay is to look for a number beginning with 35 embossed on the can! I found one on Rubensteins canned salmon and felt a bit of POM! I like to use canned salmon for tuna sandwich replacement and salmon burgers. As for salmon fillets or steaks I buy flash-frozen wild-caught Alaska sockeye or coho because I believe ''fresh'' is just defrosted fish anyway [somewhere I read long ago that all fish, shrimp too are frozen at sea and that notion stuck with me].

Other seafood I love is:

-Big Y's fresh shucked chopped clams; these are unbelievable in clam sauce, chowder, seafood stews, etc.

-sardines in water or evoo; try to enjoy these weekly on crackers, sandwich or in a salad

-anchovies; use 5-6 as base for seafood sauces, chowder, shrimp scampi, etc., adds depth of flavor!

-mussels from Prince Edward Isle, always clean, no beards or sand! Sweet flavored, they are grown on strings in icy waters of Nova Scotia; so good steamed in white wine seasoned with red pepper flakes, italian seasoning, then resulting broth sopped up with crusty garlic chiabatta bread!

-wild-caught canned tuna, occasionally, due to mercury content.

-wild-caught cod, I do eat this probably monthly, on blind

faith because I haven't researched the sourcing of cod, I get it from Stop & Shop, but now I will!

Love the info exchange, SG! So informative and thought-provoking! Thank you!…

From the the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Ecuador and U.S. seem to have the best choices for Tilapia while China, not so much. This chart I found seems to be very complete.

Blue Ocean Institute also has what seems to be good info on fish as well.

I think these sites as well as the one mentioned by Snack Girl are worth a look.

Alright Im not going to buy the Tilapia frozen at the grocery store anymore. My question is I don't like salmon. What other white fish should I look into purchasing? I was raised on Sandbass (white fish), catfish (white fish) and Striper (white fish). THANKS YALL

I used to occasionally buy farmed fish, but that didn't last long becaause of the inferior texture and flavor. I shop at Costco and am able to find not only wild caught fish, but also occasionally wild line caught fish. They also label any of these items that has been previously frozen. I try to buy seasonal wild caught fish in quantity when it is available, divide it into dinner size portions and vacuum pack it before freezing it. Its a significant expenditure at the time,but its worth it to me.

Trader Joe's also has frozen wild caught fish, but I have had a few bad experiences with how the fish was packaged or cut. Love your emails and ideas.

PS My husband I also eat fish we have caught ourselves, of course.

Thanks for the post "Which Fish Is The Healthiest?". I found it very helpful and expect other will find it useful too.

Don't diss ALL "farmed" fish - sometimes its a better alternative when wild fish populations are being decimated by overfishing. Not all fish farms are the equivalent of cesspools. Modern aquaculture is rapidly enabling people to have access to inexpensive, healthy, sustainable seafood. What's most important is that the fish is clean and fresh. While it is sometimes difficult to find, I try to only purchase fish caught or farmed in/by the USA...(including what I catch myself)

Hi Lisa,

I was listening to science Friday two weeks ago and heard about a new study that said the oily fish are not easy for our to process and appear to be causing cancer in certain demographics, they were cautioning folks about the use of fish oil supplements. It makes it seem like your first suggestion of Tilapia might be correct? Although as you say above ... wild fish is probably best.

One day I decided to go the healthy route and get wild caught salmon. I took it home, cut it a little.... and there were little worms squirming out! EW! It really put me off of wild caught. I took the fish back and next day I went and got a pack of (probably farmed) salmon from Trader Joe's.

All this makes me want to stop eating fish altogether, which I know won't happen, but I think I will cut back.

I recently bough Swai fillets at a local grocery store, I read that they are huge in omega 3's, I really liked it, you should try Swai fillets snack girl!

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