When it comes to protein-packed dinners, your mind probably goes straight to juicy steaks and lean chicken. But there’s a whole sea of nutrient-dense dinner options—literally. “Many people often overlook the health benefits of fish,” says registered dietitian Manuel Villacorta, R.D., founder and author of Whole Body Reboot. And in fact, certain swimmers offer as much protein, ounce-for-ounce, as both chicken and beef.
Okay, we know you’re not a total aquatic novice—you’ve probably grilled a slab of salmon before. But there are so many different species of fish, each with a different flavor and levels of nutrients, Villacorta offers. “I often tell my clients that simply adding two servings of fish within a week can give you a burst of nutrients that you might otherwise not get,” he adds.
The healthiest aquatic options are fatty fish—species high in omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamin D. “These fatty acids are crucial for your body and brain to function optimally, and are strongly linked to reduced risk of many diseases, including heart attack, stroke, and heart disease,” he adds.
Aside from nutrition, you should also to consider whether to buy farmed or wild—a factor that influences not just the species’ sustainability but also its nutritional value. All Villacorta’s suggestions are not only the heaviest hitters in protein and beneficial nutrients, but are also approved for consumption by governing sustainable bodies like the Marine Stewardship Council.
Here are the top 10 fish you should be eating for optimal nutrients.
You’ve heard it before, but the pink fish’s power is worthy of repeating: Loaded with healthy fats and packed with vitamins and minerals (including 50 percent of your daily vitamin B6 and 90 percent of your daily vitamin B12 needs), salmon is hands down one of the best proteins you can add to your diet. Throw it on the grill or in the oven and pair with pretty much anything from rice to salad to soup—you really can’t go wrong with salmon’s distinct flavor.
Trout is jam-packed with pretty much all the nutrients you could want or need. It has all essential minerals—calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, just to name a few—in varying amounts and six ounces delivers 38 percent of your daily B-3 (Niacin) needs and a whopping 220 percent of your daily B-12. Try oven-roasting a fillet with a little lemon, salt, and pepper on top.
These tiny fish are low on the food chain, which means the wild-caught variety are generally more sustainable and less likely to have mercury contamination. Opt for fresh if you can find it, but most stores only carry canned, which still packs a strong nutritional punch with 60 percent of your daily calcium and 240 percent of your daily vitamin B12. (Try this Quinoa Salad with Sardines & Kale.)
This meaty fish is one of the best for buff guys. The texture of fresh tuna is satiating like a steak and it offers a ridiculous amount of both protein (50 grams!) and vitamins (84 percent daily vitamin A, 306 percent daily vitamin B12, 40 percent daily vitamin B6). But the species is wildly overfished, so opt for farmed steaks or even sustainable canned brands (like these). Learn How to Sear the Perfect Tuna or try one of these 6 Easy Ways to Eat Tuna.
When was the last time you had mackerel on the menu? This nutrient king is one of the most underappreciated underwater powerhouses. It offers a healthy dose of minerals like magnesium and vitamin B6, but it’s bursting with the uber-healthy vitamin D (152 percent of your daily value) and vitamin B12 (246 percent). Try Atlantic Mackerel, one of the best choices by Seafood Watch. A staple in India, the fish pairs well with local cuisines like curry, but it's also delicious sauteed plain and simple with just lemon, salt, and pepper.
This white, mild fish is the best option for guys who are new to aquatic eating. And with a low calorie count and high protein and vitamin B levels, you can score nutrients without the fishy flavor. Because it’s so bland on its own, pair the fish with strong flavors like lemon and parsley or olives and limes.
Similar to cod, haddock offers a mild, delicate flavor at low calorie cost and a solid dose of both protein and B vitamins. While the British prefer it fried in fish and chips, a healthier dinner would be haddock baked with strong flavors like lemon, parsley, tarragon, and paprika.
This flatfish is a great source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorous, which means it helps keep you energized and your teeth and bones healthy. Flounder does have low-levels of mercury so shouldn't be eaten more than once, maybe twice a week. Try it baked or in fish tacos.
Grab your rod and head out for guys weekend—this freshwater fish is not only a common catch, but a low-calorie, high-protein reward for your hard work. With over half your daily vitamin B12 needs, perch is also great for regulating your metabolism. Spend those extra calories on the rest of the dish, as perch lends itself nicely to being pan seared with butter.
The largest of all flat fish, halibut is also one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids, delivers over half your daily vitamin D needs and almost half your B-6. Halibut also has moderate mercury levels, so keep your weekly servings below two. You pretty much can’t cook this flaky white fish in any way but appetizing, but we suggest pan-roasting a few fillets.