What is the Healthiest Fish and Why is it Not Salmon?

When we think about healthy fish, salmon often comes to mind due to its high omega-3 fatty acid content and rich flavor. However, while salmon is undoubtedly nutritious, it is not necessarily the healthiest fish available. Let’s explore some other fish that offer exceptional health benefits and might even surpass salmon in certain areas.

The Nutritional Powerhouses


Sardines, small and oily fish often found in the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas, pack a powerful nutritional punch. Here’s why they might be considered the healthiest fish:

Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Sardines are incredibly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health, reducing inflammation, and supporting brain function. A single serving of sardines contains more omega-3s than the same amount of salmon.

High in Essential Nutrients: Sardines are a great source of essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12. These nutrients are crucial for maintaining strong bones, a healthy immune system, and proper neurological function.

Low in Contaminants: One of the significant advantages of sardines over larger fish like salmon is their lower position in the food chain. Being small and having a shorter lifespan means sardines accumulate fewer toxins like mercury and PCBs. This makes them a safer choice for frequent consumption.

Sustainable Choice: Sardines are considered one of the most sustainable seafood choices. They reproduce quickly and are abundant, which makes them a more environmentally friendly option compared to some types of salmon, particularly those that are farmed under less sustainable practices.

Protein-Packed: Like salmon, sardines are an excellent source of protein. Protein is essential for muscle repair, hormone production, and overall cellular health. Including sardines in your diet can help meet your daily protein goals.


Mackerel is another oily fish that offers impressive health benefits:

Omega-3 Rich: Mackerel provides a substantial amount of omega-3 fatty acids, promoting heart health and reducing inflammation.

Nutrient Dense: This fish is rich in vitamin D, selenium, and vitamin B12, which are vital for immune function, thyroid health, and energy metabolism.

Low in Mercury: Like sardines, mackerel has lower mercury levels compared to larger fish, making it a safer choice for frequent consumption.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout is a freshwater fish known for its mild flavor and health benefits:

High Omega-3 Content: Like salmon, rainbow trout is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, supporting cardiovascular health.

Lean Protein: This fish provides high-quality, lean protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair.

Good Source of B Vitamins: Rainbow trout is packed with B vitamins, particularly B6 and B12, which are important for energy production and brain health.


Herring is another small, oily fish that offers numerous health benefits:

Rich in Omega-3s: Herring contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for heart and brain health.

High in Vitamin D: This fish is an excellent source of vitamin D, essential for bone health and immune function.

Sustainable Choice: Herring populations are generally well-managed, making them a sustainable seafood option.


These tiny fish pack a big nutritional punch:

Omega-3 and Protein: Anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and high-quality protein, supporting overall health.

Calcium and Vitamin K: Anchovies are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin K, which are important for bone health.

Low in Contaminants: Due to their small size, anchovies accumulate fewer toxins, making them a safer choice for frequent consumption.

Why Not Salmon?

While salmon remains a highly nutritious choice, it has some downsides compared to other fish:

Contaminant Levels: Salmon, particularly farmed varieties, can contain higher levels of contaminants due to their larger size and longer lifespan.

Environmental Impact: Farming practices for salmon can sometimes lead to environmental issues, such as water pollution and habitat destruction.

Price and Accessibility: Salmon can be more expensive and less accessible than other nutrient-rich fish like sardines, mackerel, or herring, making these alternatives more cost-effective options for many people.

While salmon is a valuable addition to a healthy diet, considering a variety of other fish can provide even greater benefits without some of the drawbacks associated with salmon. Sardines, mackerel, rainbow trout, herring, and anchovies each offer unique nutritional advantages, from higher omega-3 fatty acid content to lower contaminant levels and better sustainability. Diversifying your seafood choices can enhance your diet and support overall health. Next time you’re planning a meal, don’t overlook these nutritious options – your body (and the planet) will thank you!