Next up in our Source Matters series is a guide to buying healthy seafood. Figuring out how to properly source these little monsters can be quite the ordeal. This post is an attempt to simplify the process of buying seafood for you. Check out our previous installments on beef, poultry, produce, dairy, and coffee.

With beef and poultry, it is fairly easy to lump animals into simple good vs. not good categories. Grass fed or pastured? Good! Grain fed/CAFO? Not good. Unfortunately, categorizing seafood is not as simple. The same rules do not apply to buying seafood. Wild caught sea creatures aren’t always the best option, and farmed is not always a problem.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE BUYING HEALTHY SEAFOOD

Many people know about the benefits of eating fish: the oil, right? That’s why fish oil is so popular! Seafood’s benefits go much further than just healthy omega-3s.

Other ways healthy seafood will make your body happy? Antioxidants, such as astaxanthin, can help many different bodily processes, especially neuroprotection. Micronutrients like magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc and B vitamins are often found in fish. Fish can also be a great clean source of protein as well.

WHY TO WORRY

Pollution is cause for concern in several large populations of fish.  It is much less problematic with river and stream fish, but wild ocean fish are subject to massive amounts of heavy metal toxicity. Mercury toxicity is very common problem, which gets passed along to the human that eats the fish. And when you’re a wild ocean fish, you are what you eat. Unfortunately, the larger fish do a great job of concentrating all of the small fish toxicity levels, increasing the levels found in the fish drastically.

Farmed fish can sometimes be just as polluted, if not more. Artificial feeding is a problem for some fish, but not for others.

Here is a breakdown for what to look for with each sea/water creature when buying seafood at your local market:

SALMON

Salmon is pretty much the best source of omega 3 from an animal product. However, farmed salmon is akin to farmed chicken or beef. In the past, these fish were fed pellets of fish matter. But that’s far too expensive for modern farms, where fish are often fed pellets of corn and soy – sounds familiar, right?

If the animal you eat lives off of things that make you fat and sick, then you’ll probably get fat and sick from eating that animal. In fact, farmed salmon get so sick, that up to a third of them die in the farms. They are so devoid of nutrients that their flesh is gray, and the salmon are given coloring pellets to make their flesh a more recognizable pink color. The tanks are loaded with various chemicals like PCBs and flame retardants to keep them running smoothly. No thanks.

At the store:

Stick with wild caught Alaska, California, or Oregon based salmon. These fish are going to be a much deeper pink, will have low levels of toxins, and higher concentration of omega-3 than most any other healthy fish you can find.

TUNA

Tuna is a very large fish in deep waters. This means they had to eat a lot of little fish to get to such a large size. This also means the tuna has concentrated the mercury and heavy metals in all of the fish they’ve consumed into their flesh.

If you ARE going to eat tuna,  try to avoid long line caught tuna which tend to be very large.
Pole caught tuna are smaller fish, thus typically less contaminated with heavy metals and a better option for your body.

At the store:

Even wild tuna is subject to heavy metal toxicity. There are better seafood options out there. If you’re going to eat it, choose pole caught over line caught to get a smaller, less toxic fish.

TILAPIA

Tilapia is the real chicken of the sea. Similar to chicken breast, tilapia is a good source of protein, but nothing else. It is a relatively lean fish, but because of what it is fed, the omega 3 to 6 ratio is low (bad). It is relatively tasteless and ends up mostly as a plate of mush when you cook it.

Tilapia is a vegetarian. This means it loves all of the corn and soy that gets thrown at it during farm feeding. It also enjoys all of the other garbage that other fish don’t eat. This essentially makes them bottom feeding scavengers that may be raised on sketchy diets.

At the store:

Skip tilapia if you’re just trying to eat fish and have healthy seafood be part of your diet. It was probably fed an awful diet and you’re not getting much of that healthy fish fat from it anyway. Spring for some (grass fed) steak instead.

CRAB AND LOBSTER

Who doesn’t love crab and lobster? Especially when dipped in some ghee or grass fed butter, crab or lobster can be one of the best tasting seafood options. Lucky for us, these cats are like rats of the ocean.

This means there is no reason to farm them, so the crabs or lobsters you buy in the grocery store are wild. What’s more is these little sea monsters have organs called a hepatopancreas, which filters out and concentrates toxins and heavy metals, leaving the meat of the monster untainted. They are rich in magnesium, zinc and antioxidants.

At the store:

Grab any crab or lobster, and some ghee or grass fed butter to dip it in.

COD

Cod is another type of seafood that is rarely farmed. However, cod fishing is destroying habitats and has placed them onto endangered lists. Cod is similar to tilapia in the form of the flesh, meaning you’re getting mostly protein out of the fish. There are certain cod that are a little better, like wild black cod, but still a disruptive practice.

At the store:

If you’d like some cod, go for it. If you’re interested in sustainability, probably best to skip on this one.

ANCHOVIES, SARDINES, MACKEREL

These tiny fish have very short lifespans, meaning they have very little time to concentrate any sort of heavy metals or toxins. They also rank exceedingly high on omega-3s, making them the common source for very high end fish oils. Canning/tinning these little fish does nothing to destroy their fatty acids, but go for fresh if you can.

At the store:

Fresh or canned. Great sources of omega-3 with low levels of heavy metals and contaminants.

SHELLFISH (MUSSLES, CLAMS, SCALLOPS, OYSTERS)

Shellfish are the king of healthy seafood. The good things about this group of seafood is you can’t force feed it any garbage. Farming does not matter in this group. You can throw all the corn and soy in the water you want and shellfish will filter it out and take only the nutrients out of the water that it needs. It doesn’t concentrate anything in the water as it just keeps passing what can’t be used through the filtration system. Furthermore, shellfish is extremely high in magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron, B12 and has about a 15:1 omega 3 to 6 ratio.

At the store:

Go crazy on this stuff, no matter the source. Very nutritious and very low in contaminants

SHRIMP

Shrimp are a pretty complicated seafood to purchase. Shrimp are the most eaten sea creatures in America by a long shot. There are plenty of varieties from many countries, making it tricky to choose the right shrimp.

Nearly 90% of the shrimp consumed in this country come from Asian or Latin American farms. These farms are entirely disruptive to ocean ecosystems and are chock-full of antibiotics and chemicals. The shrimp marinade in these chemicals and concentrate them pretty heavily. If the shrimp aren’t marked at the supermarket, assume that you’ll be consuming this kind

Generic wild caught shrimp are no better. They are caught by a technique that bulldozes the ocean floor collecting (and destroying) the delicate ecosystems. Think of this as pulverizing underwater rain forests. Bycatch is the term for the wasted and unusable animals that get caught by this method. It is estimated that up to 20-30 sea creatures die for every one shrimp caught.

Domestically wild fish are generally caught by trap, which is far less destructive and produces far fewer bycatch deaths. These are smaller shrimp, like bay shrimp and cocktail shrimp. Domestically farmed shrimp are also regulated and can’t use the antibiotics and chemicals that other foreign farms are getting away with. This makes both domestic wild and farmed an okay choice.

Gulf of Mexico is technically considered domestic, but because of the little spill BP had not too long ago, we recommend staying clear of these waters for awhile. The cleanup efforts are still underway.

Also worth mentioning- shrimp isn’t all that nutritious to begin with. It has some B vitamins and a little protein, but you’re really not gaining that much out of eating them. They aren’t full of micronutrients like shellfish, and don’t have a lot of omega-3s like salmon or sardines.

At the store:

Go for US farmed shrimp, or domestic wild bay shrimp, cocktail shrimp or trap caught shrimp. Avoid imported farmed or wild and Gulf of Mexico shrimp.

Those are the most common types of fish that you’ll see at the supermarket. General rules don’t always apply here, so do some research before you go buying seafood in massive quantities. If there are two different types of the same fish, there’s probably a reason one is more expensive. Unless you’re dealing with some local surplus, stay away from extremely cheap seafood.

Any seafood not listed above that you’re interested in? Drop us a line below and I’ll do some research and update this list as we go along.

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