Fish is a great source of heart-healthy lean protein. Dining on one or two servings of fish as your protein every week can lower risk of heart attack by almost one-third. That’s because it contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglyceride levels as well as help reduce inflammation throughout the body and support brain health.

The omega-3 you get from fish – also known as long-chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA — are extremely beneficial. But that doesn’t mean including fish in your diet doesn’t have a downside. Many fish species carry high levels of the metal mercury — a dangerous contaminant that can affect the nervous system. Pollution has only raised mercury levels in our oceans, lakes and streams, and this mercury is consumed by fish and converted to a toxin known as methylmercury. Fish that are high on the food chain consume other contaminated fish, thus compounding their mercury levels, which is why it’s best to choose smaller fish, lower on the food chain, to eat. Farmed fish, which you think would be safer, are also fed the same diet of growth hormones, antibiotics and other foods that are not found in their natural habitat and therefore should be avoided.

The primary concern with fish and mercury is in infants and young children, as their developing nervous systems are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s effects. That’s why pregnant women and those nursing are advised to be extremely careful about choosing the types of fish to eat. Experts recommend pregnant women avoid sea-water fishes like swordfish (myli meen), tuna and shark and choose fish that are found in local ponds like rohu, hilsa, surmai (kingfish) etc instead.

Adults who have high exposure levels (which is an unlikely outcome of eating a few servings of fish) can experience significant central nervous system damage as well.

Methylmercury poisoning is just one concern; fish can also contain a toxicant called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a manmade chemical disposed in water bodies.

Several organizations keep track of which fish are low in mercury and other toxicants, aren’t endangered and still manage to benefit your heart and brain health. Bangada (mackarel), hilsa, tilapia and pomfret (butterfish) are your best picks. Here’s a list:

Fish low in mercury

  • Anchovies (Nethili in Malayalam)
  • Butterfish (Pomfret)
  • Catfish (Singhara)
  • Clam
  • Crab
  • Herring (Hilsa)
  • Mackerel (bangada)
  • Oyster
  • Salmon (Indian salmon is rawas)
  • Sardine
  • Scallop
  • Shrimp
  • Sole
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Moderate mercury (Eat six servings or fewer per month; pregnant women and small children should avoid these)

  • Bass
  • Carp (Rohu)
  • Cod (Gobro)
  • Lobster
  • Snapper
  • Tuna (Canned Chunk light)

High mercury (Eat three servings or less per month; pregnant women and small children should avoid)

  • Bluefish
  • Grouper (Kalava in Malayali)
  • Sea Bass (Asian seabass is bhekti)
  • Tuna (Canned Albacore, Yellowfin)

Highest mercury (avoid eating)

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna (Ahi)

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Written by Ritu Puri

Ritu Puri

A fruit a day keeps the stress away, says Ritu Puri who has a simple philosophy about good living – a healthy diet equals a happy life.
Puri, who battled weight issues, acne and other feminine health issues as an adolescent, managed to overcome these problems through changes in diet and lifestyle. Her success prompted her to pursue the subject professionally, leading her to a BSc in Home Science followed by an MSc in Food and Nutrition from Lady Irwin College, Delhi University. A training programme with All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), a year at Fortis Hospital and work experience with the Nutrition Foundation of India (NFI), the dietician hopes to one day cure or control serious diseases and disorders with a healthy diet.
Like HealthifyMe, her goal is to keep her clients fit and healthy, and to get started on that path, she recommends choosing natural foods over processed ones. Healthy living is when a person is mentally, socially and physically fit, she says. So reach out to Ritu if you’re looking for wholesome makeover.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ritu, as a person who has lived all his life in the coastal belt, I certainly understand the nutritious aspect of eating fish. Truly brilliant article! Thanks a lot for posting this article. 🙂

  2. I always knew how beneficial fish is for humans. This blog is written in the most informative manner. There are so many fish that I got to know after reading the blog. Now, I will surely include the fish in my routine diet and gain huge benefits. Impressive blog!

    • Rohu and Catla belong to the carp family. The article states that this fish contains moderate mercury and one can eat six servings or fewer per month; however, pregnant women and small children should avoid these.

    • Hi Ritesh,

      Basa is another name for Bass. This fish contains a moderate amount of mercury and can be consumed in 6 or fewer servings per month. However, pregnant women and children should avoid consuming this particular fish.

    • Yes, your child can have black pomfret. But give it in moderation, that is, twice a month. Since a child’s immune system gets stronger from the age of 10 years, consuming black pomfret or any other saltwater fish will help strengthen the liver.

  3. The taste of fish excites me, but I had no idea that there are some fish that we should avoid. I thank the author to give readers such information about the mercury content in fish. I shall be careful while eating fish now. It seems to be an informative blog for everyone.

    • Hello Preetam,

      It is a freshwater fish with good protein and minerals like iodine. Murrell has been claimed to help in treating many diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, strokes, asthma etc.

      Hope this helps you.

  4. Very informative article. I live in Chandigarh (Punjab)
    I would like to incorporate fish into my 5 years old daughter diet. Could you suggest me based on availability and safety, which fish should I go for ?

    • Hi Arun,

      From the different kinds of fish that have been listed in the article, the best pick would be to start off with salmon, if you want to introduce fish into your daughter’s diet.

    • Hi Arpitha,

      MahiMahi, also known as Dolphin fish, is a healthy low-fat fish taht you can add to your diet. It has been listed as low in mercury, and thus serves as a healthy alternative for fish that have high levels of mercury. This fish also gives your nutrient intake a healthy boost. It would be a very good idea to add this fish to yor diet.

      Hope this helps you!

    • Hi Medo,

      You may eat tuna, but in limited quantities, since it is high in mercury. Consuming tuna on a regular basis is not recommended.

    • Hi N.J.Das

      Chital fish can be consumed 2-4 times a week, however it is not to be consumed by lactating mothers and infants.

      Hope this helps you!

  5. Hii, dear Shruti…first of all blessings from all of us for the wonderful information you have provided here…I am a 47 yr old male with high bp problem….I had a stroke also…can I eat “ola bombil”? “pomfret? or any other sea fish?

    • Hi Prashant,

      You may consume all the three kinds of fish you have mentioned, however, please make you restrict your consumption to twice a week.

      Hope this helps!

  6. highly informative article. Thanks for the same. I live in New Delhi and don’t know much about fish dishes. But would love to add this to my diet plan. I have just entered club of high bp and diabeties. What would be best for me as I am first time taker of fish

    • Hi Rakesh,

      To start with, you can begin with Salmon. Do let us know if you have any other queries, we will be more than happy to assist you.

  7. Hi,
    I am 28 yr old my vitamin b12 and vitamin D values are low, I m a veggie since last 5yrs , Dr had advised me to take suplimemrsand include fish and other diary products, or the beginner which one do you prefer which is rich in above nutrients..

    • Hi Raghu,

      The vitamins you have mentioned are found predominantly in non veg sources so supplementation is vital as veg sources will only provide minimal amount and may not correct the deficiencies. Sunlight exposure will help to a certain extent for Vitamin D levels. You can start with fatty fish like Salmon. Start consuming it in small portions and watch out for any reactions. But as of now supplements will be wiser. Once you get accustomed to the taste of fish you can maintain the intake of the required vitamins with rich sources.

      Hope this helps you!
      He sd start with small portion and watch for any discomfort

  8. Could you please tell me how frequently we can have Surmai fish? does it contains high mercury content?
    we’ve started having it on daily basis as our dinner (2 to 3 tava fry slices), is it going to put any adverse effect if we intake Surmai fish daily?

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