Confused about what kinds of seafood to buy? What the healthiest seafood choices are? Which ones are free from toxins? Which ones are sustainably caught?
You aren’t alone.
Without a doubt, our oceans are polluted and over-fished. Our streams are thoroughly saturated with mercury — a deadly poison. This has led many to throw up their hands in despair and swear off seafood altogether.
That’s not a good choice.
Seafood is an incredibly nutrient-dense food — arguably the best source for fat-soluble vitamins A & D, omega-3 fatty acids, and more. We know from anthropological studies that traditional people groups around the world prized seafood above every other food and went to great lengths to obtain it, regardless of their location.
But, you say, what about mercury in fish? Isn’t that a good enough reason to stop eating it?
Research indicates that if you have good gut flora, you are protected from the mercury in fish and other environmental toxins! So, if you are eating a diet rich in lacto-fermented foods and/or taking a good probiotic supplement, the mercury content of fish is less of an issue. (For sources of lacto-fermented vegetables, starter cultures, and probiotic supplements, see my resources page.)
So, what are the healthiest seafoods you can buy?
BEST CHOICE: Mollusks are the most nutrient-dense of all seafood (source). Oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, octopus, and squid are the most commonly available mollusks in your grocery store. And these days, many of these foods are farmed using such sustainable practices that the farmed versions are actually better for you and the environment than their wild-caught counterparts thanks to the heavy pollution and over-fishing of the wild. Depending on where you live, you can find these fresh, frozen, or canned.
SECOND: Other shellfish such as lobster, crayfish, shrimp, and crabs are also significantly more nutrient-dense than fish, though less so than mollusks. As with mollusks, many of the farmed versions of these sea foods are now so sustainably farmed that they exceed their wild counterparts in sustainability & healthfulness. Also included in this second list are fish roe (eggs), available fresh or canned. They’re an essential part of most native fertility diets — and for good reason!
THIRD: Fish — any fish. Oily fish are among the most nutrient-dense, but also among the ones to be most cautious with regards to sustainability and toxicity. Sticking to small, oily fish like sardines and anchovies can virtually eliminate any risk of toxicity. In general, wild-caught carnivorous fish are significantly more nutrient-dense than their farmed counterparts, mostly because of the unnatural diets fed to the farmed fish. According to Nina Planck — definitely a lady in our camp — if the fish are herbivorous (like tilapia), then it’s easy to feed them their natural diet. Plus, with sustainable management practices, the farming of the fish can be much better for the environment than capturing the fish in the wild. But, as always, the choice between wild and farmed fish needs to be made on an individual case by case basis. (For example, U.S. tilapia farms are held to a higher standard than international farms. They’re fed a natural diet, and they’re farmed sustainably. So, in this case, it’s best to get U.S. farmed tilapia rather than Costa Rican farmed tilapia.)
So, how do you balance the nutrient-density of these foods against their sustainability and toxicity?
The folks at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium have put together the most comprehensive database of sea food, farming and harvesting practices, and toxicity levels available today. And, they’ve conveniently condensed all this information into a handy pocket shopping guide which is broken down according to region. The pocket guides (which you can download here) are divided into three categories: Best Choices, Good Alternatives, and Avoid. I personally shop from this guide for my region, choosing mollusks, shellfish, and fish (in that order) according to what’s best and what’s on sale.
What should I feed my kids?
Believe it or not, kids generally approve of the most nutrient-dense foods of them all. If you’re looking for safe seafood to feed to kids, this list takes into account nutrient-density, sustainability, and toxicity and narrows it down 6 prime seafood choices:
- Wild Alaskan Salmon
- U.S. Farmed Tilapia
- Farmed Blue Mussels
- Northern U.S. and Canadian Shrimp
- U.S. Farmed Crayfish
- Farmed Bay Scallops
You’ll note that with the exception of the U.S. Farmed Tilapia, these fall into the nutrient-dense recommendations I made above.
Finding Sustainably Caught Seafood
Want more like this? Here’s the ever growing list of Healthy Foods: What to Buy:
- Healthy Eggs: What To Buy
- Healthy Milk: What To Buy
- Healthy Cheese: What To Buy
- Healthy Meats: What To Buy
- Where to Buy Butter from Grass-fed Cows