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What is the healthiest fish to buy at the grocery store?

Eating fish is widely encouraged by health professionals due to the many nutritional benefits it provides. Fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, not all fish options at the grocery store are created equal when it comes to health. This article explores some of the healthiest fish choices available and provides tips for selecting and preparing fish to maximize health benefits.

Benefits of Eating Fish

There are many excellent reasons to include fish in your diet on a regular basis:

  • High in protein. Fish is an outstanding source of protein, providing around 20 grams in a 3.5 ounce cooked serving. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and muscle mass.
  • Rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish varieties like salmon and mackerel are loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats that promote heart and brain health.
  • Excellent source of key nutrients. Fish supply a variety of vitamins and minerals, including selenium, niacin, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
  • May lower heart disease risk. Eating fish 1-2 times per week is linked to a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease in numerous studies.
  • Benefits brain health. The omega-3s in fish may help fend off depression and dementia and improve memory, especially in older adults.

For optimal health, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 8-12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week. Pregnant women can also benefit from more seafood intake to promote fetal brain development.

Healthiest Fish Choices

When buying fish, here are some of the top healthy varieties to look for:


Salmon is arguably one of the most popular and nutritious fish options. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, supplying over 2000 mg in a 4-ounce serving. Omega-3s support heart health by reducing inflammation, lowering triglycerides and decreasing blood pressure (1).

Salmon also contains a variety of other nutrients including:

  • High-quality protein
  • B vitamins niacin, riboflavin and B12
  • Selenium
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

Salmon is available fresh, frozen, canned and smoked. Wild-caught salmon tends to provide the most omega-3s as well as lower contaminant levels compared to farmed salmon (2).


This fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3s, providing about 3000 mg in a 4-ounce serving (3). Mackerel is also high in protein, vitamin B12, niacin, selenium and vitamin D (4).

Additionally, mackerel contains a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin, which has anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against heart disease and dementia (5).

Like salmon, mackerel has a strong fishy taste that some people find unappealing. Consider marinating it in ginger, garlic and citrus juices to help mellow the flavor.


This small, oily fish offers many of the same health perks as salmon and mackerel. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving delivers 35% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin D, 206% of the DV for vitamin B12 and 1098 mg of omega-3 fatty acids (6).

Pickled herring is a popular preparation that enhances flavor and shelf life. Additionally, canned and smoked herring fillets are readily available.


Sardines don’t have the best reputation as an appetizing fish. However, they are very nutritious and convenient due to their canned format.

A 3.75-ounce (106-gram) can of sardines supplies (7):

  • 191% of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 161% of the DV for vitamin D
  • 71% of the DV for selenium
  • 1,479 mg omega-3 fatty acids

Try flavoring canned sardines with lemon juice, herbs and pepper or blending them into spreads, dips and pasta dishes.

Rainbow Trout

Farmed rainbow trout is an inexpensive fish choice that provides an impressive amount of omega-3s.

A 4-ounce serving (113 grams) contains over 1000 mg of omega-3s, as well as (8):

  • 28 grams of protein
  • 100% of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 80% of the DV for selenium
  • 77% of the DV for vitamin B3

Rainbow trout has a mild flavor and can be fried, baked, grilled or broiled.

Atlantic Mackerel

Not to be confused with King mackerel, Atlantic mackerel is another healthy, omega-3 rich fish choice.

A 4-ounce (113-gram) serving contains (9):

  • 1300 mg omega-3 fatty acids
  • 20 grams protein
  • 90% of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 50% of the DV for selenium

Atlantic mackerel is smaller with a more delicate flavor compared to King mackerel. It works well when smoked, pickled or fried.


Although not as popular, anchovies supply a whopping 980 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in just a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving (10). Anchovies are also rich in vitamins and minerals like (10):

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

In addition to being eaten whole, anchovies make a flavorful addition to salad dressings, pasta sauces and pizza toppings.

Pacific Cod

This white, flaky fish is loaded with protein and vitamin B12 yet low in calories and fat.

A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of Pacific cod provides (11):

  • 19 grams protein
  • 150% of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 86 mg omega-3 fatty acids

Pacific cod has a very mild taste and can be baked, broiled or fried.

Canned Light Tuna

Canned tuna is an affordable source of protein that can be kept on hand in your pantry. Light tuna is usually made from skipjack tuna fish.

A 3-ounce (85-gram) can contains (12):

  • 20 grams protein
  • 11% of the DV for iron
  • 18% of the DV for vitamin D
  • 394 mg omega-3 fatty acids

Check the labels and choose tuna canned in water rather than oil, which cuts down on calories, fat and sodium.


Pollock is a whitefish that offers a lot of vitamin B12 in a 4-ounce cooked serving — 1,234% of the DV! It also packs 22 grams of protein and 145 mg of omega-3s (13).

Pollock has a very mild taste and flakes easily when cooked. It can be grilled, fried, baked or sautéed.

Arctic Char

Farmed Arctic char is a sustainable alternative to salmon. It has a very similar nutrition profile, providing (14):

  • 4 grams omega-3s
  • 20 grams protein
  • 113% of the DV for vitamin D
  • 87% of the DV for vitamin B12

Arctic char tastes like a cross between salmon and trout. Its mild flavor allows it to be prepared in a variety of ways.

Tips for Buying Healthy Fish

Keep the following tips in mind when shopping for fish:

  • Choose wild-caught fish over farmed when possible.
  • Select fish labeled as sustainable and ethically raised.
  • For whitefish, choose Pacific-caught varieties over Atlantic.
  • Avoid fish high in mercury, such as tilefish, swordfish, shark and king mackerel.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the seafood counter to find out where the fish came from and when it was brought in.
  • Purchase fillets instead of whole fish to simplify preparation.
  • Frozen fish is just as nutritious as fresh and often more affordable. Skip brands with added sauces and salt.

Healthy and Simple Ways to Prepare Fish

These easy cooking methods can help you start incorporating more fish into your diet:

  • Bake: Drizzle fillets or a whole fish with olive oil and top with citrus slices, herbs and pepper. Bake at 400°F (200°C) for 10–15 minutes.
  • Sauté: Warm a bit of oil or butter in a pan over medium heat. Cook 4-ounce (113-gram) fillets or pieces for 2–5 minutes per side.
  • Broil: Place fillets in a broiler pan coated with oil. Broil for 6–8 minutes under high heat 4–6 inches (10–15 cm) from heat.
  • Grill: Brush skinless fish with oil and grill over medium-high heat for 5–8 minutes each side.
  • Air fry: Cut into pieces, toss with oil and air fry at 400°F (200°C) for 8–12 minutes.
  • Poach: Simmer fillets or pieces in a pan with broth, wine or water and aromatics like garlic, parsley or lemon.
  • Canned and pouched: Look for canned tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel packaged in water or olive oil. These make quick, shelf-stable additions to salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches.

Aim to prepare fish fillets and steaks to an internal temperature of 140–145°F (60–63°C), which kills any parasites or bacteria present.

For convenience, stock up on a few bags of frozen fish fillets and cans or pouches of salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel when they’re on sale.

Simple Healthy Fish Recipes

Here are a few quick, nutritious recipes to help you eat more fish:

Citrus Salmon Over Greens

Top greens with baked salmon flavored with garlic, lemon and thyme.

Tuna Salad Lettuce Wraps

Combine tuna with onion, apple, lemon juice and parsley and serve in lettuce wraps.

Broiled Mackerel with Lemon and Herbs

Broil mackerel fillets brushed with mustard, lemon juice, garlic and herbs.

Asian Soba Noodle Soup With Salmon

Garnish this veggie and miso-based soup with salmon fillets and peanuts.

Canned Sardines Over Toast

Top whole grain toast with canned sardines, chopped hardboiled egg, tomato, arugula and balsamic vinegar.

The Bottom Line

Fish provides protein, omega-3 fats, vitamins and minerals as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, cod, light tuna, pollock and Arctic char are excellent healthy fish picks.

Prioritize wild-caught, sustainable fish sources and choosefillets or steaks over processed fish products when possible.Prepare using simple methods like baking, broiling, grilling or sautéing.

Including a few servings of nutrient-dense fish every week can benefit your health and fitness.