Two fish are in focus.
There is no shortage of approaches if you’re looking to add fish to your diet—you just have to figure out what works for your taste. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

As we continue to see growing awareness about the substantial benefits of the Mediterranean diet and fish consumption, some people may inevitably struggle to figure out exactly where to start.

When it comes to seafood, it can be particularly challenging to sort the good fish from the not-so-good, not to mention learning the best way to cook it and how to get past that “fishy” smell.

It is widely known that seafood—more specifically, fish—contains a high amount of omega-3 fats, essential fats that help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, contribute to brain development in babies and improve mental health, among other benefits.

They are called essential fats because your body cannot make them. You have to get them from your diet.

The American Heart Association recommends having two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week, equivalent to about 3/4 cup flaked fish per serving.

So where should you begin if you want to incorporate fish into your diet once and for all? Or what if you’re simply trying to navigate all the confusing information that’s swirling about?

Follow these tips for a smart start on your expedition:

1. Aim for Omega-3

Seek fish with the highest omega-3 content, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.

2. Cut contaminants

Avoid fish with high levels of mercury and other chemicals such as PCBs and dioxins. Culprits include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, carp and tilefish. Children and pregnant women should completely avoid these contaminated fish and limit total fish intake to 12 ounces per week. For a more complete guide on lower-contaminant fish, the Washington State Department of Health is a great resource.

3. Time for tuna

Tuna gets its own line, given its low cost, popularity and ease of use. While albacore tuna is the highest in omega-3, it is also higher in mercury and should be kept at three to four servings per month. Light tuna, however, is lower in mercury and can be enjoyed more often. Just keep in mind it is much lower on the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Know your limits

For the most part, limit your consumption of local fish to one to two times per month. A few statewide safe fish include bluegill, suckers and sunfish, while some Lake Michigan fish to avoid would be carp, brown trout, large lake trout, lake whitefish and large walleye. Use the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services fish consumption guide for more specific information on the safety of local fish.

5. Mild appeal

If the fishy smell really puts you off but you still want to incorporate more fish, start with a more mild-tasting option such as cod, trout, flounder or tilapia.

6. Wild or farmed?

Wild-caught fish versus farm-raised fish? Most farmed fish are salmon, catfish, tilapia and cod. The nutritional benefits are based on what the fish eats. In the wild, they are getting their natural diet. In a farm, it varies depending on the feed. Some can be high in omega-3s and some not. Neither variety is immune to contamination from chemicals and mercury—it all depends on the practices of the farm and the location where the fish is caught. The ideal choice is wild-caught fish, then farmed fish that comes from responsibly farmed sources. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for the latest on responsibly farmed fish sources in your area.

7. Get grilling

For cooking, fish is a great go-to fast meal that doesn’t take long to prepare and cook. Healthiest options for cooking are to bake, grill or lightly sauté. Be sure you do not overcook it, as it will get tough. Mix it in with curries or soups or use it in your tacos or burgers in place of meat. Many grocers have pre-seasoned fresh fish burgers or fillets in the seafood section, or you can also find them in the freezer section if you are short on time or skills.

For those who just cannot get past the thought of eating fish every week, the next best option would be to incorporate a fish oil supplement of 1 gram per day.