Health Benefits of Fish

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on September 18, 2022
3 min read

Fish are an overlooked food source for many people. There are dozens of varieties of fish, with a variety of flavors and cooking styles to suit any taste.

Eating fish is a great alternative to eating red meat, potentially providing a broad range of health benefits — from heart health to improved symptoms of depression.

The vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in fish can provide significant health benefits. The vitamin B12 found in fish is crucial for the growth of healthy red blood cells, DNA reproduction, and nerve function. Consuming enough vitamin B12 is linked to a lower risk of dementia and heart disease. A lack of vitamin B12 is also connected to problems like chronic fatigue and anemia.
Other health benefits of fish include:

Improved Brain Health

Fish are rich in a type of fat known as omega fatty acids. These fats are important for maintaining brain health. Having a low blood level of omega-3 fatty acids has been connected to accelerated brain aging, including symptoms like memory loss and cognitive impairment. In fact, these low levels of omega fatty acids have been linked to brain shrinkage during aging.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Omega fatty acids have also been connected to a lower risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be connected to preventing and reducing coronary heart disease when consumed regularly. These fatty acids minimize coronary plaque, lower triglyceride levels, and can even help reduce blood pressure.

Decreased Risk of Depression

Mental health can also benefit from omega fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been firmly linked to a reduction in symptoms of depression. Omega fatty acids have been associated with the increased effectiveness of some anti-depressant medications, possibly because these fats help your brain function more efficiently.

Fish are a great source of protein, which is critical to maintaining healthy muscles, organs, and blood vessels. Protein helps support cell division, hair growth, and even hormone signaling. It’s used by every system of the body in one way or another. 

Fish is also rich in iodine, which is a vital mineral that the body can’t produce on its own. Iodine is important to the function of your thyroid, which controls things like your appetite and your immune system. Fish in general are also a good source of nutrients like:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Phosphorous
  • Niacin

Nutrients per Serving 

Depending on the species, fish can have varying levels of nutrients. The most significant difference is fat content: species like salmon and tuna are considered fatty, while cod and catfish are lean. This leads to variation in the calories you can expect. A standard 3 ounce serving of baked herring contains the following:

  • Calories: 173
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Fat: 10 grams
  • Carbohydrates: Less than 1 gram
  • Fiber: Less than 1 gram
  • Sugar: Less than 1 gram

Things to Watch Out For

While fish itself is typically healthy for you, it’s important to check where the fish you eat was caught. Many ocean-caught fish are high in mercury, which can be toxic in large quantities. These fish store the mercury found in their own diets in their fat, which can build up over time.

Farmed fish and low-fat fish are more likely to be low in mercury, while albacore, swordfish, and mackerel are known to be high in mercury. It’s considered safe to consume up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish weekly, and up to 6 ounces of unknown fish weekly.

Like all animal products, it’s important to make sure you cook fish appropriately before you eat it. All animals can have parasites or harbor bacteria under the wrong conditions. Getting your fish fresh or thoroughly frozen is the best way to ensure your fish is safe to eat. 

Sushi, which includes fish that are raw, requires the fish to have been frozen to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours before serving. Otherwise, fish must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to guarantee it is safe to eat.

Fish is a tasty way to add protein and healthy fats to your diet. Here are some ideas for enjoying fish:

  • Bake salmon fillets with ginger and lemon
  • Make homemade fish fingers
  • Try a fish fry
  • Sear tuna steaks on the grill
  • Add fish to pasta for a Mediterranean meal
  • Roll your own sushi
  • Substitute fish for chicken in a chicken bake