Why You Should Eat More Seafood & How to Do it Sustainably

woman slicing salmon

Are you eating enough seafood?

Adults should consume at least 8 oz of seafood per week. That’s two, 4 oz portions — about the size of a deck of cards — according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

This could be a salmon filet for dinner and a tuna sandwich for lunch in one week, or shrimp salad one night and scallops over linguine the next. 

Not serving up enough seafood in your diet? 

You could be missing out on some tremendous health benefits!

Health Benefits of Seafood

Seafood is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The combination of healthy fatty acids and lean protein means many seafood options are an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet. 

One omega-3 in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is vital for brain function. 

Oily fish, such as wild salmon, herring, albacore tuna, mackerel, and farmed trout are rich in DHA.  

Fish are also rich sources of essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, like:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium

What About Mercury?

Seafood is a rich source of beneficial macro and micronutrients. But no discussion around the benefits of seafood can be had without also mentioning the risk of mercury exposure.

Many have heard fish can contain this heavy metal, which can have serious health effects, especially for pregnant women and children.  

The good news is certain fish tend to have lower instances of mercury, so choosing those should be a priority for all individuals who consume seafood. 

Fish typically low in mercury include:

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Sardines
  • Clams
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Catfish
  • Pollock

Seafood which contains some of the highest levels of mercury include:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Grouper

These fish should be consumed very rarely.  

If you avoid high mercury level fish and follow dietary guideline recommendations, the benefits of consuming seafood generally outweigh the risks of mercury in fish.

The Natural Resource Defense Council offers an excellent Smart Seafood Buying Guide to help you choose low mercury fish.

How to Eat Seafood Sustainably

Most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount of seafood, and yet we often hear of overfishing, pollution from fish farms, and destruction of natural habitats. 

So how can we eat the recommended amount of seafood each week and get all the delicious health benefits, without adversely affecting the ecosystem?  

Apps and guides, such as those found at www.seafoodwatch.org, are reliable, reputable sources to help inform which seafood choices are best for you and your family. 

You don’t have to rely on apps, however. Be a seafood-shopper advocate! 

At your local grocery store, fishmonger, or restaurant, ask how the fish was caught and where it came from. 

Don’t feel disappointed if the person you’re asking doesn’t know the answer. 

Asking those questions, though it may feel awkward at first, will help grocery and restaurant suppliers better understand what their customers are looking for — and ready to purchase — which can help them prioritize offering more sustainable seafood choices. 

In the meantime, you can choose the following sustainable seafood options with a pretty clear conscience:

Bivalves

Seafood like mussels, clams, and oysters are a reliably sustainable choice. They have intense, briny flavor. These plankton filtering treats have a minimal environmental impact when farmed appropriately, and wild ones reproduce rather quickly.

Smaller Seafood

Smaller fish like sardines and anchovies are loaded with fatty acids and can be a sustainable choice. East coast residents should look for mackerel while west coast residents try sand dabs to minimize environmental impact.

Invasive Species

Your local waterways will thank you! Try lionfish, blue catfish, or snakehead fish. Check with your local water authorities, cooperative extensions, or DEC/USDA offices to see if fishing for invasive species in your area is safe and permitted.

Let’s Eat!

Eating 1 to 2 servings of seafood per week is a delicious way to get beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood is encouraged in most diets and is readily available in many restaurants and grocery stores. 

When you’re shopping for seafood, think “small and sustainable” to find fish that’s healthy for you and the planet, too.