How to Buy the Freshest Fish

Fish is a staple on the South Beach Diet for many reasons. For one thing, fish is an excellent source of lean protein. Additionally, many types of fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and most contain essential vitamins and other nutrients that can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Fish can be prepared quickly and easily, and it lends itself to a wide range of cooking techniques and cuisines. But how can you tell if the fish you buy is fresh? Follow these tips to help you purchase the tastiest fish.

  1. Look for bright, clear eyes. If you’re buying whole fish to save money (and having your fish purveyor fillet it for you), bright, bulging clear eyes are an indication of freshness. Although dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, they are past their prime and peak freshness. If the eyes are sunken or discolored, then the fish is probably not fresh.


  2. Take a whiff. Some people are turned off by the idea of eating fish because of its strong smell. If, when you first enter a fish market, you detect a strong overly fishy odor, chances are some of the fish are old or have not been properly refrigerated. A reputable fish market should not smell strongly of fish. Fish that have lighter or milder flavors (and smells) are halibut, flounder, sole, mahi mahi, sea bass, and grouper.


  3. Observe the color and texture. The flesh of fish fillets should bright and clear. For instance, white fish should really be white; fresh tuna should have a dark red color; and wild salmon will be redder than the farm-raised variety. As a general rule, avoid all fish that have any discoloration or show signs of dryness or aging. On whole fish, the gills should be deep red and the skin vibrant and unbroken.


  4. Check the placard. Most grocery store fish departments will use placards to label the fish as either fresh or frozen, farm raised or wild. Note that there’s nothing wrong with a frozen piece of fish — in fact some frozen fish are fresher because they’re frozen at sea immediately after being caught. Local fish tend to be fresher than those that have been shipped. According to the USDA, farmed salmon tend to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids but are also higher in sodium and saturated fat compared to wild salmon. Different types of salmon will have different nutritional values. That said, farm-raised fish are more economical. Ask your purveyor where and how they were raised.

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