What Are the Health Benefits of Catfish?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on May 22, 2022
4 min read

Catfish is one of the cheapest options when it comes to getting high nutritional value from a low-calorie meal. It provides crucial nutrients such as vitamin B12, proteins, and omega-3 while also being highly versatile. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Catfish is a game fish famous for being affordable and available throughout the U.S. However, not many people know that, like many other fishes, it possesses some fantastic nutritional benefits.

These species are known for having sensory organs called barbels that resemble whiskers, making them easily recognizable. They usually live in lakes and streams, although you can also find their nests in deep pools that provide cover for the younger catfish. At night, adults move into shallower water — which is usually when fishers catch them.

People often describe the catfish taste as being milder in flavor than other fishes, similar to sweet whitefish. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it also means that catfish can easily be adapted into your diet through various recipes.

Catfish, like most other fishes, has valuable nutritional properties that make it ideal for sustaining a balanced diet. Paired with its mild flavor and affordable prices, catfish is a fantastic alternative to more expensive meats such as pork.

Low in calories. Catfish only has about 98 calories in a 100-gram portion, making it a great choice for people looking after their weight. This also makes it ideal for replacing other, more caloric meats such as poultry in most recipes.

Fantastic protein source. Like most fish, catfish is known for providing a lot of protein — a 100-gram serving contains 13 grams, representing 26% of the recommended daily quantity. Protein is crucial for maintaining and growing cells and tissues.

High in vitamin B12. Most people don’t consume enough vitamin B12 — a compound vital to nerve function, cell metabolism, and DNA production. Catfish is an excellent source for it, surpassing the daily recommended value in a single 100-gram serving.

Provides healthy fats. While it does have a slight amount of saturated fats, catfish also provides a good amount of healthy lipids in a single portion. Plus, fish is also known to contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease, dementia, and cancer.

Fish is known for being one of the healthiest sources of protein and omega-3, two vital nutrients for a perfect eating plan. Experts recommend eating fish at least two times per week for a balanced diet. 

Omega-3 fatty acids may positively affect blood clotting and vessel constriction while also improving conditions such as irregular heartbeat. Some research also suggests that it may reduce depression symptoms along with other mental conditions brought on by age.

Even if you don’t like eating fish, you can get your recommended dose of omega-3 by getting your hands on some fish oil supplements. However, try to buy only purified fish oil in order to avoid unnecessary contaminants.

Fish is generally regarded as a healthy food source — however, in some specific cases, people may want to limit their seafood intake. For example, pregnant women may want to avoid mercury — a common contaminant in fish that can harm a child’s development.

Check with your doctor if you have any doubts. Most of the time, the nutritional tradeoff will be worth it due to the intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

A lot of people vouch for buying only wild-caught fish, but not everyone is aware of its differences from farm-raised seafood. 

Farm-raised seafood is farmed in large tanks after living their entire lives in a controlled environment. Wild-caught refers to fishes that come directly from their natural habitats.

Surprisingly, farm-raised seafood often contains higher levels of contaminants than wild-caught. Plus, they are more prone to diseases due to farming policies and have more saturated fats.

On the other hand, wild-caught fishes are lower in omega-3 fatty acids but often remain the better option due to the previous concerns. However, they are generally more expensive, so keep that in mind before you go to the store.

Many catfish products can be found on the market, each with its own pros and cons. However, before heading to your local grocer, you should define whether you’ll want dressed catfish or not. Dressed refers to fishes that have been cleaned, with some of their dangerous parts cut off.

Steaks. Some people like to go for steaks — thick cross-sections that include a piece of backbone. Most of the steak is edible, but you’ll have to remove the bone yourself. 

Fillets. Fillets are small steaks that have been separated from the backbone, making them entirely edible. Sometimes, you may also find marinated fillets that are ready to be cooked and eaten in minutes.

Byproducts. While rarer to find, catfish byproducts such as heads and mince are also nutritionally valuable. For example, they are a great source of fish oil and protein.

Whichever option you choose, remember to always check the color and smell of the fish you’re about to buy. Catfish should have a consistent color, be firm to the touch, and not have a strong odor.

Catfish is easy and quick to make and integrates well into pretty much any recipe that calls for fish. For example, you can turn common pasta into catfish pasta primavera simply by adding pepper, onions, and shallots along with a few pieces of cooked catfish.

Some people choose to make catfish the central part of the plate — perhaps by adding a simple sauce to catfish fillets. Being such a versatile food, you can easily incorporate it into your diet without having to spend much extra money.