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How to choose seafood sustainably and healthfully

Updated: May 17

Seafood takes a starring role in many recommended diet patterns as a healthy protein choice. There are concerns regarding seafood as a choice, and with good reason. How does one make sure they are not consuming too much mercury? How can we, as consumers, choose companies that are practicing sustainable fishing to help keep our oceans healthy? These are important concerns to investigate as you make the step to including seafood in your regular diet. Let's explore these concerns and help you feel better about how to choose seafood sustainably, and then discuss how to incorporate delicious and nutritious seafood into your regular routine.

Mercury in fish

Mercury is a mineral found in nearly all forms of seafood. High amounts of mercury in your body can result in neuromuscular abnormalities, insomnia, and headaches. Sounds very concerning, but ease your mind! The amounts found in seafood are trace...meaning very small. Mercury will "bio-accumulate", meaning large fish that eat small fish will accumulate more mercury in their system over their lifetime, whereas smaller fish, or fish that don't eat other fish, will not have this same bio-accumulation effect. A nice tactic to follow is choosing smaller fish, such as anchovies, flounder, herring, salmon, sardines, trout, or light tuna, and avoiding larger species such as shark, swordfish, marlin, or orange roughy.

Research on diet patterns continuously shows there are far more benefits for our brain, eyes, and heart health when seafood is included in one's diet than not. Seafood is a good source of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids (which are known for their heart healthy properties), and important minerals such as selenium.

Want more guidance on best seafood choices in terms of mercury content? Click Here.


If sustainability has been something you have been paying attention to, you have likely heard about some of the issues with getting seafood to the dinner table. Over-fishing can lead to low populations of certain species. Unethical fishing practices can result in harm being done to many species, such as dolphins, turtles, sharks (to name a few) being caught in fishing nets and their populations being impacted. As a consumer, the dollars we spend directly support companies that either care about their fishing practices, or those that don't.

Food labels can be helpful, but also tricky to navigate. Many labels are unregulated and carry no reliable meaning behind them. Labels that have no standards attached to them can be very misleading to consumers. For seafood, labels to watch out for include:

  • Natural/All natural

  • Responsibly Farmed/Responsibly Caught

  • Sustainable/Sustainably caught

  • Pole & Line caught

This type of verbiage can be used on a food label without any regulatory inspection ensuring accuracy or that certain standards are actually being met. So while they all sound nice, they might not actually have the meaning behind it that you think it does.

There are organizations out there that are making efforts to have a label with standards, which fisheries and food companies can opt-in to. These labels will have a set of guidelines that will need to be met for that fishery or company to put that label on their product. These labels include the following:

The concern with these "opt-in" organizations is that there are many fisheries doing great work that are not able to invest in additional regulatory process due to cost. There is also no governing body over these organizations making sure the quality and integrity of their set standards are always being met. In short, it's not a perfect system. While a label on a food item sure makes it easy in a pinch, if you have a little time on your hands, I might recommend an alternative for you! It just takes a little extra research on the part of the consumer. Once you know what to look for and find the products you like, then this part just gets easier with time! The following resources will help you make more educated decisions when it comes to sourcing seafood for your dinner table:

NOAA - Learn about what makes seafood sustainable

Seafood Watch - This is the go-to resource for sustainable seafood put out by Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Search best choices for seafood that are well managed and caught or farmed sustainably, and what to avoid for now. They have pocket guides available by region, and categorize seafood by best choice, good alternatives, and avoid.

Dietary patterns

Now that we feel more confident about including seafood in our diet, how often should we be including it? How does this fit in a healthy lifestyle?

Many research-supported diet patterns include seafood, up to 2-4 times per week, as part of a healthy diet pattern.

  • Mediterranean Diet

  • MIND Diet

  • Plant Based Diet

  • Blue Zone Diets

Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend seafood intakes of 8-12 oz. per week for adults, including women who are trying or are pregnant. For children, 2-3 servings weekly is recommended with adjustments to serving size (1-3 oz per serving depending on age).

From tacos to sandwiches, seafood can be incorporated into nearly any type of meal! White fish, such as tilapia, cod, or halibut make great choices for fish tacos. Canned options, such as tuna or salmon, will be great for a snack served with crackers, made into a sandwich, or used as a salad topper. When in doubt, grilling or roasting any cut of seafood and serving with sides of sweet potatoes and roasted vegetables is also a fantastic way to go.


NIH Seafood & Health: What you need to know

FoodPrint Food Label Guide: Seafood

WHO Mercury & Health

Harvard Health: What to do about Mercury in Seafood

USDA Dietary Guidelines

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