Catfish are one the oldest and most widespread fish species.

In fact, catfish adapt so well to their environment that they thrive worldwide, with the exception of a few places with extreme temperatures.

You’ll regularly see this fish on restaurant menus and at grocery stores, so it’s natural to wonder whether it’s healthy.

This article details the nutrients, benefits, and downsides of catfish.

This common fish has a terrific nutritional profile.

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of fresh catfish provides (1):

  • Calories: 105
  • Fat: 2.9 grams
  • Protein: 18 grams
  • Sodium: 50 mg
  • Vitamin B12: 121% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Selenium: 26% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 24% of the DV
  • Thiamine: 15% of the DV
  • Potassium: 19% of the DV
  • Cholesterol: 24% of the DV
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 237 mg
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 337 mg

In addition to being low in calories and sodium, catfish is packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

summary

Catfish is a low calorie, high protein seafood that’s a great source of nutrients, including vitamin B12, selenium, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Given that catfish is a good source of various nutrients but low in calories, it’s considered nutrient dense. In fact, it may provide a number of benefits.

Packed with lean protein

Protein is one of the primary sources of energy in your diet. It’s also responsible for building and repairing tissue and muscle, as well as serving as the building blocks for many hormones, enzymes, and other molecules.

One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of catfish provides 32–39% of your daily protein needs in only 105 calories (2).

For comparison, the same serving of salmon provides around half of your daily protein needs but over 230 calories.

Nutrient-dense protein sources like catfish may aid weight loss by boosting feelings of fullness. This fish is also a great option for people who are watching their calorie count but want to make sure they’re getting enough nutrients.

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating up to 8 portions of fish or other seafood each week (3).

One reason for this recommendation is that catfish and other seafood tend to provide more omega-3 fatty acids than other foods (4).

Omega-3 fatty acids are renowned for their role in brain health. Although more research is needed, they may even help treat neurological and mental conditions, including memory loss, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression (5, 6).

What’s more, omega-3s are linked to improvements in skeletal muscle strength, heart health, and even the gut microbiome — the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut (7, 8, 9, 10).

Given that your body cannot produce omega-3s on its own, you need to get them through your diet. One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) catfish fillet delivers 237 mg, or 15–20% of the Adequate Intake (AI) for adults (5).

A review of 23 studies in over 1 million people associated eating fish with an overall lower risk of death — and a 7% reduction in the chance of death for every 200 mg of omega-3s consumed daily (11).

A good source of vitamin B12

A single 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of catfish boasts up to 121% of the DV for vitamin B12, which many people are deficient in (1).

Though several fish are high in this vitamin, catfish is a particularly outstanding source.

Adequate vitamin B12 levels are tied to several potential health benefits, including improved mental health, protection against heart disease, and prevention and treatment of anemia (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).

All the same, further studies are needed on some of these benefits (20).

summary

Catfish are low in calories and nutrient dense. What’s more, they pack plenty of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12.

Catfish can absolutely be part of a balanced diet, but cooking methods greatly influence how healthy it is.

This table examines how various cooking methods affect the calorie, sodium, and fat contents in a 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving of catfish (21, 22, 23):

Dry heat without oilBaked or broiled
with oil
Breaded and fried
Calories105178229
Fat2.9 grams10.9 grams13.3 grams
Sodium50 mg433 mg280 mg

Though catfish is commonly fried, other cooking options result in lower calorie, fat, and sodium contents.

Compared with dry heat cooking, frying catfish in oil adds as many as 124 calories and over 10 grams of fat. In contrast, some healthy dry heat cooking methods include baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, and panfrying.

summary

How you cook catfish significantly affects its calorie, fat, and sodium levels. For a healthier option, stick with a dry heat method like baking or broiling.

Aquaculture, or fish farming, usually takes place in large ponds, cages, or circular tanks. Much of the world’s catfish supply comes from aquaculture operations.

Still, some people may prefer catfish caught in the wild.

Differences in nutrients

Catfish may vary in nutrients based on whether it was farmed or caught in the wild.

Farm-raised catfish are often fed a high protein diet that includes grains like soy, corn, and wheat. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and even probiotics are regularly added to their feed (24, 25).

In contrast, catfish caught in the wild are bottom feeders, meaning that they eat foods like algae, aquatic plants, fish eggs, and sometimes other fish.

These dietary differences can significantly change their vitamin and mineral makeup.

One study compared the nutrient profiles of wild and farm-raised African catfish. While mature farm-raised fish had the highest levels of amino acids, fatty acids levels varied. For example, the wild catfish contained more linoleic acid but less eicosanoic acid than the farm-raised fish (26).

A second study of the same breed of African catfish found that the wild fish packed more protein, fat, fiber, and overall calories than farm-raised catfish (27).

Furthermore, a study in Indian butter catfish noted higher fat contents in the farm-raised fish — but the wild fish had higher levels of most minerals except iron, which was significantly elevated in the farm-raised fish (28).

Labeling

A close look at the label should tell you how your fish was raised.

Governments in the United States, Canada, and European Union require that all fish be marked farm-raised or wild-caught. A packaging location may also be included. However, other nations may not have as stringent requirements (29).

Moreover, intentional mislabeling is a worldwide problem. Some studies indicate that as much as 70% of seafood is often mislabeled (30).

Thus, you should take labels with a grain of salt and try to buy from trusted fisheries.

summary

Wild-caught and farm-raised catfish may differ in their levels of certain nutrients, such as protein, fatty acids, and minerals like iron. Although some nations mandate labeling, bear in mind that some products may be deliberately mislabeled.

Many people are concerned about exposure to contaminants from seafood of any type.

Fish can easily absorb toxins from the waters in which they live. Subsequently, you may consume those contaminants when eating seafood.

The heavy metal mercury is of particular concern.

It’s a potential risk factor for certain neurological conditions, especially in children. These include autism and Alzheimer’s disease (31, 32, 33, 34).

However, fish that are larger and live longer than catfish tend to have the highest levels of mercury. On average, swordfish may harbor as much as 40 times more mercury than catfish (35).

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists catfish as one of the species that’s lowest in mercury. Thus, it’s one of the best seafood choices you can make if you’re concerned about exposure to contaminants (36).

summary

Although some species of fish are high in mercury, catfish rank as one of the lowest. For this reason, the FDA ranks catfish among the healthiest fish to eat.

Catfish is low in calories and packed with lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s particularly rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin B12.

It can be a healthy addition to any meal, though deep frying adds far more calories and fat than dry heat cooking methods like baking or broiling.

If you’re looking to eat more seafood, catfish is well worth incorporating into your routine.