Fish is a healthy, high-protein food, especially important for its omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats that our bodies don’t produce on their own.

Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in brain and heart health. Omega-3s have been shown to decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re important for prenatal development in babies, too.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish at least 2 times a week, particularly fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna, which are high in omega-3s.

Yet, there are some risks associated with eating fish on a regular basis. Contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) find their way into ground, lake, and ocean water from our household and industrial waste, and then into the fish who live there.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA have issued combined guidelines for women of childbearing age, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children.

They advise these groups avoid fish with higher levels of mercury contamination, which usually include:

  • shark
  • swordfish
  • king mackerel
  • tilefish

The following 12 superstar fish have made it onto our “best fish” list not only for having great nutrition and safety profiles but because they’re eco-friendly — being responsibly caught or farmed, and not overfished.

1. Alaskan salmon

There’s a debate about whether wild salmon or farmed salmon is the better option.

Farmed salmon is significantly cheaper, but it may contain less omega-3s and fewer vitamins and minerals, depending on whether it’s fortified or not.

Salmon is a great option for your diet overall, but if your budget allows, opt for the wild variety. Try this grilled salmon recipe with a sweet-tangy glaze for an entrée that’s easy to prepare.

2. Cod

This flaky white fish is a great source of phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B-12. A 3-ounce cooked portion contains 15 to 20 grams of protein.

Try a piccata sauce on top of cod for a nice complement, like in this recipe.

3. Herring

A fatty fish similar to sardines, herring is especially good smoked. Smoked fish is packed with sodium though, so consume it in moderation.

Jamie Oliver’s Mediterranean-style herring linguine uses the fresh version in this recipe.

4. Mahi-mahi

A tropical firm fish, mahi-mahi can hold up to almost any preparation. Because it’s also called dolphinfish, it’s sometimes confused with the mammal dolphin. But don’t worry, they’re completely different.

Try some blackened mahi-mahi tacos with a chipotle mayo for dinner.

5. Mackerel

As opposed to leaner white fish, mackerel is an oily fish, rich in healthy fats. King mackerel is a high-mercury fish, so opt for the lower mercury Atlantic or smaller mackerel choices.

Try these recipes for meal ideas.

6. Perch

Another white fish, perch has a medium texture and can come from the ocean or fresh water. Because of its mild taste, a flavorful panko breading goes well with it, like in this recipe.

7. Rainbow trout

Farmed rainbow trout is actually a safer option than wild, as it’s raised protected from contaminants. And, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, it’s one of the best types of fish you can eat in terms of environmental impact.

Try these delicious trout recipes.

8. Sardines

Also an oily fish, sardines are rich in many vitamins. The canned version is easy to find, and it’s actually more nutritious because you’re consuming the entire fish, including bones and skin —don’t worry, they’re pretty much dissolved.

Try topping a salad with a can of them for a nice meal.

9. Striped bass

Either farmed or wild, striped bass is another sustainable fish. It has a firm yet flaky texture and is full of flavor.

Try this recipe for bronzed sea bass with lemon shallot butter.

10. Tuna

Whether fresh or canned, tuna is a favorite of many. When picking fresh tuna, choose a piece that’s glossy and smells ocean-fresh. It’s easy to prepare, too — all it needs is a quick sear over high heat.

It’s recommended that people limit yellowfin, albacore, and ahi tuna due to their high mercury content. Instead of white, which is albacore, choose “chunk light” when buying canned tuna. Light tuna is almost always the lower-mercury species called skipjack.

11. Wild Alaskan pollock

Alaskan pollock is always wild-caught in the northern Pacific Ocean. Because of its mild flavor and light texture, it’s the fish most often used for fish sticks and other battered fish products.

Try this recipe for garlic butter poached pollock.

12. Arctic char

Arctic char is in the salmon family. It looks like salmon and its flavor is somewhere between salmon and trout, slightly more like trout. The meat is firm, with fine flake and high-fat content. Its flesh ranges from dark red to pale pink.

Farmed Arctic char is raised mostly in onshore tanks that create less pollution than those in coastal waters. Try this easy recipe for a maple-glazed char.

The takeaway

Consuming a variety of fish several times a week will provide many nutrients needed for a well-balanced diet.

If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a health condition, check with your doctor before incorporating any fish that contains mercury.