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Sustainable & Safe Seafood

Swimming through the research on safe seafood can be daunting.

Fish and seafood have been consumed by humans for years and are a known part of a healthy dietary pattern, but how do you know what’s safe and sustainable to consume? From toxins in our oceans and fresh waters to overfishing and questionable farmed fish practices, it can be difficult to navigate. This edition of REAL Living will review latest research on consuming seafood and fish while sharing tips from environmental groups on safe consumption and the best ways to cook delicious seafood dishes.

The American Heart Association recommends enjoying fish twice a week, while the Mediterranean Diet encourages three 3-4 ounce servings each week. Although it's clear the healthiest way to enjoy seafood is NOT battered and fried, it's less clear which types are the best and how to prepare them. Issues with fish supply, farming and sustainability, as well as concerns about toxins in our water systems, are worth consideration before including seafood in the diet. 


The recommended amount of seafood can vary based on person and seafood type. Use the Environmental Working Group's Seafood Calculator to get a custom seafood list.

Green Vegetables

Benefits of Seafood

Fish is a great option for protein on the plate. Certain types of fish, like salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel, canned light tuna, and oysters, boast heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids, Other types are very low in cholesterol and fat. Most types of fish provide some vitamin D and vitamin B2, and are rich in calcium and phosphorus. Enjoying fish also gives the body minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. 

The research is in: Those who eat fish live longer. It's been connected to lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and Alzheimer's. It also may reduce risk of depression, diabetes, and ADHD, and can positively impact the vision health of a developing fetus. 

Vegetable Plate
Grocery Shopping

Specific Recommendations for Specific Types of Fish


Wild-caught salmon is the most sustainable, lowest in mercury content and highest in healthy omega-3's. Alaskan and Pacific salmon is usually wild-caught, while Atlantic salmon is farmed. Fresh, flash frozen and canned wild salmon are all healthy options for enjoying this nutrient-packed fish. 


The most sustainable tuna to purchase is “pole-caught,” “troll-caught” or “pole and line caught". Canned-light and Albacore tuna do have a slight mercury risk, so limit to no more than 2 servings per week. Pregnant women and children should have even less. 

White Fish​

Tilapia, catfish and rainbow trout are whitefish that are low in mercury but also low in Omega-3 fatty acids. These fish make an excellent protein choice, and fit especially well on a plate with healthy fats, like diced avocado or olive oil. 

Shrimp, Clams & Oysters

The REAL Deal with Shellfish

Shellfish, which consists of crustaceans and mollusks, includes shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels.  While they are a great source of protein, omega-3's and come packed with micronutrients, there are some safety concerns to keep in mind before enjoying! 

Certain types of shellfish accumulate more heavy metals like mercury and cadmium which can build up over time. Mussels and squid tend to be highest in metal content. Stick to a 3-4 oz portion size no more than twice a week, and choose diverse seafood options to avoid accumulation of the same heavy metals from the same fish.

It is common to consume certain types of shellfish raw, which can pose a food safety concern. Prioritize seafood that has been steamed, baked or sauteed over raw or fried preparations.  

Super Health Food

Bring on the Flavor

Knowing how to pair flavors makes cooking fish a breeze. Whether you're grilling, baking, pan-searing or sautéing, use these flavor combos and skip the hassle of a recipe altogether! Try the following on salmon, shrimp, whitefish or tuna. 


Lemon, dill, black pepper

Bonus Pairing: Capers

Mediterranean Flavors

Olive oil, basil, parsley

Bonus Pairing: Sun-dried Tomatoes

Spicy Cajun

Paprika, cayenne, dried oregano, garlic

Bonus Pairing: Fresh Lemon

Image by Farhad Ibrahimzade

REAL Challenge

Adjust your meal plan to include seafood twice a week. Balance the meals with a whole grain or bean, plenty of vegetables and a bit of healthy fat.


If you're not a fan of fish, start with a mild choice like tilapia with a strong spice profile, like the Cajun seasoning above.


"RD Sarah here!

One of my favorite ways to prepare fish is simple: sear one side in the cast iron skillet on the stovetop for a couple minutes, flip, place pan in oven and bake at 350F until flakey. Works great for salmon and whitefish!"

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