Sure, the classic hot dog and hamburger make for good grillin’, but they aren’t always as friendly to the waistline as they are to the taste buds. For a heart-healthy alternative, try protein-packed salmon, the newest addition to our list of superfoods.

One Fish, Two Fish — Why It’s Super

Like walnuts and flaxseeds, salmon contains a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One study found that women who ate omega-3-rich fish twice per week significantly lowered their chances of heart failure later in lifeFatty fish, marine omega-3 fatty acids, and incidence of heart failure. Levitan, E., Mittleman, M.A., Wolk, A. Department of Epidemiology, University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 June; 64(6): 587-594.. Another study found that eating just 3 oz of salmon twice per week can increase levels of HDL (the good cholesterol), compounds important in maintaining a healthy circulatory systemWalnuts and fatty fish influence different serum lipid fractions in normal to mildly hyperlipidemic individuals: a randomized controlled study. Rajaram, S., Haddad, E.H., Mejia, A., et al. Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009 May; 89(5): 1657S- 1663S .

But this fish may help more than just the heart. Salmon (along with a host of other foods) has also been credited with aiding in sun protection. Research suggests one of the omega-3s in salmon may help protect against UV-induced skin damageEicosapentaenoic acid inhibits UV-induced MMP-1 expression in human dermal fibroblasts. Kim, H.H., Shin, C.M., Park, C.H., et al. Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea. Journal of Lipid Research. 2005 august; 46(8): 1712 – 1720.. This doesn’t mean, however, it’s necessarily a good idea to substitute salmon for sunscreen anytime soon.

And for a boost of brainpower, another omega-3 fat found in salmon— DHA— has been linked to improved cognitive function, specifically in middle-aged adults. One study found people with higher levels of DHA scored better on tests involving nonverbal reasoning and mental flexibilitySerum phospholipid docosahexaenonic acid is associated with cognitive functioning during middle adulthood. Muldoon, M.F., Ryan, C.M., Sheu, L., et al. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. The Journal of Nutrition. 2010 April; 140(4): 848-853.. Looks like this fish has got the brain and heart covered— if only it could cover courage, too!

Go Fish! — Your Action Plan

Salmon is rich in omega-3s, but it also packs a whole lotta’ protein— 17 grams per 3 ounce serving. But before going belly-up to the fish counter, take heed of some seaworthy warnings. Although salmon has lower mercury levels than many other sea-dwellers, it can still be risky for certain groups of people. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should avoid eating more than 12 oz of fish and shellfish per week and should opt only for fish lower in mercury, like canned tuna, catfish, or salmon. Farmed raised salmon is also reported to have a higher toxicity level than the wild variety, so opt for caught over grown when available.

For the sushi and tartare lovers of the world, there are some important food safety tips to keep in mind. When eating the raw stuff at home, make sure to purchase previously frozen seafood— the cold temperatures will kill most, though not necessarily all, harmful microorganisms. Prefer dinner fully cooked? Salmon can also be prepared with virtually any cooking method and also pairs well with a range of flavors, from the sweetness of brown sugar to strong, savory flavors like garlic and lemon.