How to Choose Safer Seafood


Confused about which fish and shellfish are the very best decisions when it comes to your health (and the atmosphere)? Start right here with our tips on how to select safer seafood.

Eat extra fish.

That’s what the U.S. Dietary Guidelines preach for all Americans and we’re onboard with this advice as properly as a result of seafood (fish and shellfish) is:

  • An excellent supply of high-quality protein.
  • A tasty different to rooster, beef, and pork to change up the menu.

You additionally get a healthy dose of omega-3 fat while you select chilly water varieties like salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines, which has been proven to lower the danger of heart problems and Alzheimer’s – and will enhance your temper too. The present advice is to eat 12-18 ounces, or 2-3 servings, of lower-mercury seafood per week for optimum health advantages. This contains salmon, cod, canned mild tuna, tilapia, scallops, mussels, shrimp, pollock, and crab.

That being stated, there’s plenty of info on the market about which fish and shellfish are the most secure and most ecological choices. So a lot info, in truth, that you could have thrown your palms up within the air and simply missed seafood as a healthy possibility which is why we’re speaking right now about how to select safer seafood.

We’ll share nearly all the pieces you want to know to make you a savvy client of seafood together with how a lot to eat every week, the dangers of mercury and the way to select lower-mercury seafood, how to select the freshest seafood and we’ll even take a fast dive into which species to restrict or keep away from from an environmental health perspective. Though we’ve tried to preserve this put up as brief as doable, there’s plenty of info so when you simply need the ‘quick download’ on how to select safer seafood, then scroll down to discover the listing of our Top 8 Safer Seafood Picks under.

Zucchini ‘Pasta’ Carbonara with Shrimp

Plate of Zucchini Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp with link to the recipe.
Photo Credit: Jess of Plays Well with Butter

Health – yours and that of the atmosphere.

When we’re speaking about “safer” seafood we’re actually speaking about two issues – mercury (your health) and sustainable fishing practices (the atmosphere). Unfortunately, all seafood decisions don’t match into one tidy class or one other. While some are fairly black and white, say swordfish, there are others like tuna and flounder that fall into the gray space between so we’ve executed our greatest to present details about each points to make it easier to select the very best choices for you and your loved ones.

What is mercury?

Mercury might be present in small quantities in air, food, and water and in larger quantities in amalgam dental fillings. Most meals are thought-about to be extraordinarily low in mercury apart from fish and shellfish, which might include appreciable quantities of mercury in its most poisonous type, methylmercury.

Methylmercury is created when mercury circulating within the atmosphere is dissolved in waterways (freshwater lakes and rivers and saltwater oceans). This mercury then accumulates within the flesh of fish and seafood, concentrating as you progress larger up the food chain (i.e. predatory fish eating smaller fish, older or bigger fish, and many others.).

Methylmercury is very poisonous and seafood is the biggest contributor of mercury in people. Because its results are dose-dependent and the poisonous dose varies relying on age (younger youngsters are at larger danger than adults), life stage (pregnancy and/or breastfeeding), and body weight (the lighter you’re, the much less you’ll be able to deal with) the suggestions as to how a lot is protected to eat will differ. During pregnancy, methylmercury publicity, even when not at a poisonous stage, can improve the danger of stillbirth and/or start defects as a result of it simply crosses the blood-brain barrier and placenta, which is why it’s notably essential to perceive how to select the bottom mercury seafood so you’ll be able to nonetheless benefit from the health advantages whereas considerably reducing your danger of toxicity.

For most individuals, the health advantages of consuming fish outweigh dangers of mercury, however there are issues you are able to do to lower or decrease your danger.

  1. Eat decrease on the food chain: Mercury accumulates in bigger, older fish and an excessive amount of mercury publicity can lead to fatigue and problem concentrating (with constantly low-level publicity) or numbness or tingling of the palms or ft and impaired mind growth in fetuses, infants and younger youngsters with larger publicity thus the necessity to search out lower-mercury fish.
    • Big fish to keep away from: Shark, tilefish, king mackerel, bluefin and ahi tuna, swordfish, Atlantic flatfish corresponding to halibut, flounder and sole. All of those are high in mercury and a few, like shark and tuna, are overfished. 
  2. Limit your consumption: 
    • For non-pregnant adults: Eat up to 18 ounces (3 servings) per week of low-mercury fish and seafood.
    • For pregnant or breastfeeding women and youngsters: Eat up to 12 ounces every week (2 servings) of canned mild tuna and different low-mercury fish, corresponding to salmon, shrimp, catfish, pollock, and scallops. Within this 12 ounce allowance:
      • Limit your consumption of contemporary or canned albacore (white) tuna to 6 ounces per week.
      • Limit your consumption of domestically caught lake or river fish to 6 ounces per week. You can discover out concerning the security of domestically caught fish in your space here.

Given how poisonous extra methylmercury publicity might be, our suggestion is, before everything, to select fish and shellfish for its health advantages (or extra precisely on this case, for its diminished dangers), however together with that we additionally acknowledge that the sustainability of the fish and shellfish additionally has a big effect on the atmosphere.

Salmon Burgers with Garlic-Avocado Sauce

Overhead view of Salmon Burgers with Avocado-Garlic Sauce on a plate. Photo is linked to the recipe.

What are the environmental considerations?

Oh boy, this can be a huge can of worms (pun meant) and one we’re simply going to contact on as a result of there are whole web sites devoted to this very matter. In brief, due to the elevated demand for seafood, poorly regulated fishing practices which lead to overfishing, polluting fish farm operations and a warming local weather that threatens pure lakes, rivers, and oceans, there are some fish and shellfish which can be finest prevented (or on the very least, restricted to occasional consumption).

These overfished or endangered species embody:

  • Caviar (particularly beluga sturgeon caviar) – The fish from which the eggs are harvested are sluggish to develop and reproduce making them vulnerable to overfishing thanks to their high demand and market worth.
  • Chilean sea bass – Poor farming practices make them an undesirable selection they usually’re additionally high in mercury.
  • Eel – Eel of all kinds are overfished and may additionally high in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and flame retardants (endocrine disrupters) when harvested from rivers.
  • Atlantic Salmon (farmed and wild caught) – In the wild, they’re overfished and fish farming operations present a major environmental concern.
  • Imported Basa/Swai/striped catfish (typically referred to as simply “catfish”) – Often contaminated with Vibrio micro organism, a typical reason for shellfish poisoning. Poor farming practices present important environmental considerations and high antibiotic utilization contributes to the formation of superbugs. Your finest guess for catfish is those who come from U.S. farms, typically referred to as ‘channel catfish’.
  • Imported farmed shrimp – Usually from China or Vietnam, these are seemingly the worst offenders from an environmental and health perspective thanks to the way in which they’re farmed and the chemical compounds used to accomplish that (together with heavy doses of pesticides and antibiotics).
    • Gulf shrimp present the problem of “wasted bycatch” which means fish and sea turtles inadvertently harvested die within the course of so our suggestion is to search for U.S. farmed or wild shrimp as a safer different.
  • Imported king crab (from Russia) – Unsustainable farming practices make this an undesirable selection. King crab from Alaska, nevertheless, is a wonderful selection. But purchaser beware, some statistics level out that a good portion of king crab offered within the U.S. is imported from Russia and falsely labeled being from the U.S.
  • Orange roughy – Since this fish is a backside feeder and infrequently a really outdated fish (it takes 20 years to attain sexual maturity earlier than it may well reproduce) it has larger mercury ranges as well as to overfishing considerations.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna and Ahi tuna – These huge fish are high in mercury and overfished almost to the purpose of extinction and thus needs to be prevented. For sushi lovers, you’ll see blue tuna on the menu as ‘hon maguro’.
  • Swordfish – Here’s one to keep away from in any respect prices because it comprises very high mercury ranges, a lot in order that the Environmental Defense Fund cautions women and youngsters to keep away from it completely and recommends males restrict their consumption of swordfish to no a couple of serving (6 ounces) per 30 days.
  • King and Spanish Mackerel – Though wealthy in omega-3s, they’re additionally high in mercury so the FDA recommends women and youngsters keep away from it completely. Atlantic mackerel, however, is far decrease in mercury making it a safer approach to get these healthy omega-3 fat.
  • Grouper – This fish is each high in mercury and overfished, making it a much less fascinating selection.

How to select extra sustainable seafood.

OK, that was so much to digest and greater than you may presumably recall the subsequent time you’re out for dinner or on the grocery retailer. Thankfully there are a bunch of free assets accessible to make it easier to select essentially the most sustainable choices which we’ve rounded up for you right here:

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

Includes data for mercury, environmental considerations and really helpful servings per 30 days for every species. This is our favourite useful resource.

Environmental Defense Fund logo that is linked to the Seafood Selector.


Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide

Available as a helpful printable pockets card or searchable on-line database.

Logo for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo is linked to their website.


Marine Stewardship Council

Learn extra about sustainable fishing and what this label and certification means on the seafood you purchase.

Marine Stewardship Council logo that is linked to their website.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council

Use there product locator (set nation filter to “United States” or different desired nation) to get an inventory of certifed seafood manufacturers and merchandise.

How a lot mercury is an excessive amount of?

Unfortunately, there isn’t any set restrict so you’ve gotten to use your finest judgment, which suggests selecting lower-mercury fish and shellfish each time you’ll be able to and limiting these which can be high in mercury to lower than one serving per 30 days.

Now, all of this isn’t right here to scare you into swearing off seafood perpetually, however reasonably, to make it easier to make the very best decisions for you and your loved ones. You can nonetheless benefit from the style and health advantages of fish and shellfish when you know the way to select safer seafood – which hopefully we’ll have geared up you with the data and assets to accomplish that by the tip of this put up.

Easy Tuna Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Mayo

Photo of Easy Tuna Cakes with Red Pepper Mayo on a tray with carrot sticks. Photo is linked to the recipe.

Our 8 Top Picks for Safer Seafood

  1. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon – Read the label to make sure you’re getting the actual deal!
    • Though wild-caught Alaskan salmon is taken into account the gold customary by some, there are threats to overfishing that include high demand (and better value tags too). According to, there are different nice salmon choices on the market that aren’t all Alaskan wild-caught if you realize what to search for. Our go-to’s for wild-caught Alaskan salmon while you need it delivered to your step is Butcher Box.
  2. Chunk mild or skipjack tuna – Look for these which can be pole-and-line caught within the Eastern, Western and Central Pacific. Our go-to is mild or skipjack tuna packed in water (we like this brand as a result of it’s broadly accessible and examined for the bottom doable ranges of mercury).
    • Because there are such a lot of varieties of tuna, we encourage you to take a look at the Seafood Selector to decide which is the only option for you, your loved ones and your funds.
  3. Albacore tuna (white tuna) – Though larger in mercury, stable white tuna is high in omega-3 fat so the hot button is to select low mercury manufacturers and restrict your consumption to not more than 6 ounces per week. Look for pole- or troll-caught from the U.S. or British Columbia and people which can be examined for mercury (we like this brand packed in water and this brand packed in olive oil).
  4. Pacific Sardines – Sardines are small fish and thus are low on the food chain making them a terrific low mercury selection. They’re additionally high in omega-3s and are tremendous moveable. If you’re new to sardines, we suggest selecting these which can be boneless, skinless and packed in water as they’re essentially the most ‘mild’ (like these, these or these). They’re not as scary as you assume and style remarkably related to tuna. Of course, they’re additionally scrumptious when packed in olive oil, however barely extra ‘pungent.’ Consuming sardines with the skin on supplies extra healthy omega-3 fat.
  5. Pollock – This versatile, low-mercury white fish lends itself properly to many dishes and is comparatively budget-friendly. Look for these which can be from the Atlantic (U.S., Norway, and Canada) as they’re essentially the most eco-friendly.
  6. Scallops – Scallops are a scrumptious, low-mercury seafood possibility and each wild and farmed variations are good decisions. Look for these labeled as ‘dry’ that haven’t been handled with sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP.
  7. Crab – Though low in mercury there are some which can be higher than others from a sustainability perspective. Better decisions embody Red and Blue King Crab (from the U.S.), Stone crab (U.S.) and Snow crab. Dungeness crab is a reasonably stable possibility too although it’s topic to overfishing so it pays to learn the labels or ask your fishmonger the place it’s from.
  8. Shrimp – We love shrimp, however deal with it extra like a delicacy than an on a regular basis food as a result of let’s be sincere, ‘clean’ shrimp isn’t the simplest to supply. Knowing what you’re searching for (wild vs. farmed and imported vs. home) is the important thing to choosing the most secure shrimp.
    You can examine the different sorts here or search for U.S. farmed or wild shrimp from the Northern U.S. when studying labels – these have a tendency to be extra broadly accessible although they do have a ‘moderate’ environmental affect which is why we embody shrimp in our diets much less typically than different varieties of seafood. Looks for packaging that has the Aquaculture Stewardship Council logo to discover safely farmed fish.
    • A be aware about preservatives: Shrimp typically has preservatives added to it throughout processing. Look for phrases like Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) or Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), sodium bisulfate, and ‘Everfresh’). Though thought-about ‘safe’ by the FDA they’ll have antagonistic health results together with sensitivity and extra sodium content material and presumably even publicity to xenoestrogens within the case of Everfresh. It’s finest to select these with out components each time doable. 

Other good choices

  • Tilapia – Tilapia generally is a good addition to your food regimen simply make sure to select correctly as farming situations can differ from acceptable to downright deplorable (like these raised in China). Your finest guess is to select these which can be farmed within the U.S. in recirculating aquaculture tanks the place air pollution might be carefully managed. Learn extra about higher tilapia choices here.
  • Mussels – Unless you grew up on the coast you’re in all probability not accustomed to mussels and all of the scrumptious methods to take pleasure in them. Not solely are they low in mercury and present a low environmental danger, however they’re additionally high in protein, wealthy in iron, a great supply of nutritional vitamins A and B12, and a great supply of omega-3 fat.
  • Sablefish or Black Cod (wild caught from Alaska or Canadian Pacific) – Though average when it comes to mercury, this tasty and versatile white fish might be a part of a healthy total food regimen. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends that adults restrict their consumption to 4 servings per 30 days and that youngsters 12 and underneath eat not more than 2 servings per 30 days.

One-Pan Salmon and Veggie Bake

Overhead photo of One-Pan Salmon and Veggie Bake (salmon filets over a bed of sliced sweet potatoes, red onion and green beans. Photo is linked to the recipe.

How to select the freshest seafood.

Whether you’re shopping for contemporary or frozen, listed here are some tips to make it easier to select the freshest seafood.

Fish – Fresh, frozen, complete and filets

  • Look for fish with firm flesh with a gentle scent – Avoid those who have a robust ‘fishy’ scent. Saltwater fish ought to scent ‘briny’ or just like the ocean and freshwater fish ought to scent like a clear pond.
  • Fish needs to be moist however by no means slimy.
  • Fresh fish ought to seem freshly reduce. Avoid these which can be sticky to the contact and/or sitting in a puddle of creamy, white fluid.
  • Frozen fish mustn’t have a robust fishy scent and the packaging needs to be taught and tightly sealed with out proof of blood or ice.
  • If shopping for complete fish, search for these with plump, bulging eyes, pores and skin and scales which can be vivid and metallic and gills which can be clear and vivid pink or pink.

Mussels or Clams

When selecting mussels or clams, solely choose those who scent contemporary (on this case, pleasantly briney) and whose shells are tightly closed. Avoid these with open, chipped, cracked or in any other case broken shells as they’re unsafe to eat.

If the shell is barely open, give it a faucet along with your finger. If it closes rapidly then it’s nonetheless alive and protected to eat. If it doesn’t shut, discard it.


Avoid shrimp that scent like ammonia or have tender or slimy shells. They ought to have a gentle ocean-like or briny scent and be firm with out proof of browning or blackening on the perimeters and freed from black spots.


Scallops needs to be ivory, white or mild pink with out browning on the perimeters. Their texture needs to be firm (not mushy) and they need to have a candy scent. Sour smelling scallops are rotten and shouldn’t be consumed.

One-Pan Shrimp Fajita Bowls

Overhead photo of One-Pan Shrimp Fajita Bowls with limes and avocado halves next to it. Photo is linked to the recipe.

What does ‘previously frozen’ imply on contemporary seafood?

Seafood is commonly ‘fresh frozen’ shortly after it’s caught to guarantee it retains its taste, nutrition, and freshness. When you purchase ‘fresh’ fish it might have been beforehand frozen. Take, for instance, wild-caught salmon whose “season” solely occurs at a specific time of yr. This fish is frozen for transport then thawed earlier than hitting the cabinets at your native market as a result of “fresh” seafood is extra handy for customers – you’ll be able to scent the fish (which is tough to do when it’s plastic-wrapped and frozen) and take it dwelling to prepare dinner immediately with out having to thaw it first.

While beforehand frozen seafood remains to be a stable selection and infrequently the one selection for these not residing on the coast, simply know that after beforehand frozen fish or shellfish have been thawed it shouldn’t be re-frozen. You can prepare dinner the fish then freeze it in it’s cooked type however when you don’t plan to use it inside a day or two your finest guess is to forgo the contemporary seafood and replenish on frozen fish or shellfish as an alternative.

How to thaw frozen seafood.

There are two methods to safely thaw frozen seafood:

  1. Place it, in its wrapper or bundle, in a bowl within the fridge to thaw in a single day, or
  2. Place the fish or shellfish in a big bowl within the sink and activate the tap simply sufficient in order that cool, running water constantly fills the bowl. Note, it’s essential to preserve the water running and for the water to be cool, not heat or sizzling for food security causes.

That concludes our How to Choose Safer Seafood put up!

We know that it was so much to learn – and when you’re nonetheless studying, congrats – you’re now armed with all the data you want to make smarter selections when it comes to seafood and your health (and that of the atmosphere, too!).

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About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist residing in Boulder, CO together with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘actual food evangelist’ and loves sharing her data with others to assist them break freed from the food regimen mentality and discover their very own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark snowboarding, mountain biking, educating herself how to play the banjo and tenting out underneath the celebrities.

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