8 Fish You Should Avoid Ordering in Restaurants
Fish is considered one of the healthier foods out there—but not all fish are created equal. To make sure you're making the best choices, avoiding ordering these types of fish when eating out at a restaurant.
Yellowfin tuna caught closer to more industrialized locations off North America and Europe can carry 36 times more pollutants than tuna caught in more remote locations, found a recent study from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. These pollutants include pesticides, flame retardants, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Instead of ordering yellowfin tuna, opt for albacore or skipjack tuna, which contain lower levels of pollutants. If you’re going to have yellowfin, make sure it was fished from somewhere in the West Pacific Ocean rather than the northeast Pacific Ocean or the northeast Atlantic Ocean. These are the best fish to eat—and five you should avoid.
You might be tempted to order some bluefin tuna at a Japanese restaurant, but you might want to think again. “Bluefin have become very overfished, and so we need to give this species time to recuperate,” says Duncan Berry, co-founder of Fishpeople. Pacific Bluefin Tuna especially is threatened with extinction, but Atlantic Bluefin tuna is also endangered, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Avoid bluefin tuna, and instead look for albacore tuna belly instead, which still has a rich flavor but is much more sustainable.
Vietnamese catfish (Pangasius)
“This is an inexpensive white fish starting to creep up on a lot of menus in American restaurants,” says Berry. “These farmed fish produce large volumes of waste that pollutes local waters, and they often receive a lot of antibiotics.” A study from the Journal of Food Science and Agriculture also found that between 70 to 80 percent of the pangasius fish sampled were contaminated by Vibriobacteria, which is what causes most cases of shellfish poisoning. To make matters worse, this fish is often labeled sole or grouper on the menu when it’s actually Vietnamese catfish, so you don’t always realize you’re eating it. If you have to have catfish, order one that’s domestic-raised. It’s still farmed, but it won’t be as contaminated as catfish that’s imported. If you’re making fish at home, make sure you avoid these common mistakes people make when cooking fish.
Farmed Atlantic salmon
Farm-raised fish are raised in conditions that are dirty, and they are given a processed high-fat feed in order to produce larger fish. “The fish are given antibiotics to resist infections pervasive in their crowded environments along with the addition of fungicides and herbicides,” says Lori Shemek, PhD. “Farmed salmon has been found to contain toxic chemicals such as methylmercury and dioxins.” One study published in the journal Science even found that the PCB concentrations in farmed salmon were eight times higher than in wild salmon. Always make sure your salmon is wild-caught, not farm-raised. It is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, has less saturated fat, and contains much less toxic chemicals.
Like tuna, larger fish such as swordfish tend to be high in mercury. Because swordfish is a large predatory fish, it consumes other smaller fish that are also tainted with mercury. Instead of fish like swordfish or shark, opt for smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout, which tend to have the lowest mercury levels. These facts about seafood will change how you eat fish forever.
When eating cod, you have to make sure you’re careful about where the fish comes from. “The stock of Atlantic Cod is dwindling, and to preserve it, we want to stop purchasing it so the supply can be replenished,” says Shemek. Avoid Atlantic-raised cod and look for Pacific cod instead, especially Alaskan Cod, which is more abundant and well managed. “It has a mild taste the whole family will enjoy, and when caught with hook & line, the fillets are less bruised and remain thicker, creating a crab-like texture,” says Berry.
When it comes to fish fraud, red snapper is usually one of the victims. “Research has found that 74 percent of sushi places and 38 percent of restaurants mislabeled seafood, and snapper topped the list,” says Shemek. In addition, overfishing has caused the Gulf’s red snapper population to plummet in recent years. If you want to actually get the fish you’re ordering, avoid red snapper and choose something like Atlantic Sea Bass which is Seafood-Watch recommended.
Many people eat fish to get in their share of omega-3 fatty acids, but tilapia’s not a great choice if you’re eating fish for health reasons. Unlike salmon, which is high in omega-3s, tilapia is low in omega-3s and high in omega-6 fatty acids, especially the farmed variety which is fed a diet of predominantly corn and soymeal. Unlike omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart disease, omega-6 fatty acids can increase your risk of heart disease and heart-related conditions. If you’re a fan of white fish, choose Rougheye Rockfish (also called Red Rockfish) instead. “These fish are caught in a well-managed fishery and the stocks are plentiful,” says Berry. “They’re also great in fish soups/stews or sautéed on the stove.” Next, read about the foods that chefs never, ever order at restaurants.