What Are the Healthiest Cold-Water Fish to Eat in 2024?

When it comes to healthy eating, fish is often touted as a nutritional powerhouse. But not all fish are created equal. In fact, the type of fish you choose can make a big difference in terms of the health benefits you receive.
The Benefits of Cold-Water Fatty Fish
Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines, are considered some of the healthiest options when it comes to seafood. These fish are rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to offer a wide range of health benefits.

Omega-3s are essential for human health, as our bodies cannot produce them on their own. They play a crucial role in brain function, heart health, and inflammation reduction. Consuming cold-water fatty fish can help increase your intake of these important nutrients.

In addition to omega-3s, cold-water fatty fish are also a great source of other essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, and protein. These nutrients are important for maintaining overall health and supporting the immune system.

Compared to their leaner counterparts, such as bass, tilapia, cod, and shellfish, cold-water fatty fish tend to have higher levels of these beneficial nutrients. This makes them a particularly valuable addition to a healthy diet.

The Healthiest Cold-Water Fish to Eat in 2024
When it comes to choosing the healthiest cold-water fish, a few varieties stand out:


Salmon is one of the most popular and well-known cold-water fatty fish. It’s an excellent source of omega-3s, with a 3-ounce serving containing around 2 grams of these healthy fats. Salmon is also rich in protein, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients.

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Mackerel is another cold-water fatty fish that is high in omega-3s. In fact, it contains even more omega-3s than salmon, with around 1.5 grams per 3-ounce serving. Mackerel is also low in mercury, making it a safe choice for pregnant women and young children.


Herring is a Nordic Diet staple that is packed with omega-3s. A 3-ounce serving contains over 1.4 grams of these healthy fats, making it one of the richest sources among cold-water fish. Herring is also a good source of vitamin D and selenium.


Sardines are small, oily fish that are an excellent source of omega-3s, with around 2 grams per 3-ounce serving. They are also a good source of calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients. Sardines are a sustainable and affordable option, making them a great choice for those on a budget.


Tuna is a versatile cold-water fish that is high in omega-3s. However, it’s important to be mindful of the type of tuna you choose, as some varieties, like albacore (or “white”) tuna, can be high in mercury. Opt for canned light tuna or fresh tuna steaks to get the health benefits while minimizing mercury exposure.
Fish to Limit in 2024
While cold-water fatty fish are generally considered the healthiest options, there are some fish that should be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether due to concerns about mercury contamination and sustainability.


Swordfish is a high-mercury fish that should be limited, especially for pregnant women, infants, and young children. The FDA recommends avoiding swordfish altogether due to the high levels of mercury it can contain.

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Like swordfish, shark is also a high-mercury fish that should be consumed with caution. The FDA advises limiting or avoiding shark, as well as other high-mercury fish such as marlin and king mackerel.


While tilapia is a lean, low-mercury fish, it is not considered one of the healthiest options. Tilapia is low in omega-3s and high in omega-6s, which can contribute to inflammation in the body. It’s best to choose other cold-water fatty fish over tilapia whenever possible.


Much of the catfish consumed in the United States is imported from other countries, where it may be raised in contaminated waters and treated with potentially harmful chemicals and antibiotics. For this reason, it’s best to limit your consumption of catfish or choose domestically-raised, farm-raised varieties instead.

Farmed Salmon

While salmon is generally considered a healthy choice, there is some debate about whether wild-caught or farmed salmon is the better option. Farmed salmon may contain fewer omega-3s and vitamins and minerals than its wild-caught counterpart, depending on the feed used. If your budget allows, opt for wild-caught salmon whenever possible.
By understanding the differences between cold-water fatty fish and their leaner, higher-mercury counterparts, you can make more informed choices about the seafood you include in your diet. Incorporating a variety of healthy cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines, can help you reap the many benefits of omega-3s and other essential nutrients.

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