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Fish Guide: What type of Fish to Buy and a Quick Salmon Recipe

April 7, 2011 by Melanie Zook

Fish is good for you.  We’ve all heard it.  Even the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January of 2011, recommend 8 ounces (about two servings) of fish per week.  And even more recently, research has shown that a diet high in fish can help prevent bone loss.

So why aren’t most of us reaching this goal of two servings a week?  Some choose to avoid fish due to the taste or the perceived difficulty in preparing it.  But there are two main issues with fish that seem to cause the biggest confusion & hesitancy when choosing fish: the health risks of eating contaminated fish, and the environmental impact of fish farms & overfishing.  So what kind of fish is safe to eat, while being environmentally responsible?

First, for children & women of child-bearing age, mercury levels are especially important.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) offers an online mercury calculator.  While most varieties are safe, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish should absolutely be avoided.  But I don’t know many people that regularly enjoy these fish anyway.  More commonly enjoyed, however, is white albacore tuna, and that should be limited to 6 ounces per week.

Concerned about the environment?  Looking for green fish choices?  Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch offers several ways to help you choose the most eco-friendly fish: a seafood search, pocket guides organized by region of the country, and mobile apps for iPhone & Android.  The Environmental Defense Fund’s guide is also a list of the eco-best & eco-worst fish choices, including the best eco-friendly choices for salmon, shrimp, tilapia, trout & tuna.  (Also available in a complete list or a convenient pocket guide.)

Salmon is often a go-to fish for people, when eating out or grilling at home.  While farmed salmon is cheaper than wild, it is not a better option.  Nutritionally, farmed salmon has less protein and more fat (but not the omega-3 type), and can also be contaminated with pesticides & antibiotics used in crowded salmon cages.  Environmentally, producing & eating farmed salmon does not protect the dwindling wild salmon stock, as it is believed to, and is far from energy efficient.  When you can, choose wild Pacific salmon (from Alaska or Washington).  Canned “pink” or “red” salmon is often this type, and is much more affordable than fresh wild salmon.  (See below for an easy, healthy recipe using canned salmon.)  Here’s a summary of best salmon choices from Seafood Watch.  Note: as of now, there is no such thing as organic salmon!

The bottom line is: using these tools & or others like them, make the best choices you can, whether you’re selecting from the restaurant menu, the fish counter, or the grocery store freezer.  And for most people, especially those with heart disease, the health benefits of fish outweigh the risks.  Finally, if you’re just not going to be able to increase the amount of fish in your diet, or have heart disease, consider a fish oil supplement as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.