The World's Healthiest Foods

The white, mild flavored flesh of cod is available throughout the year and is a wonderful substitute for meat protein with its versatility making it easily adaptable to all methods of cooking.

Cod belong to the same family (Gadidae) along with both haddock and monkfish. It’s not surprising that the words “cod” and “cold” are so similar since cod need the cold, deep, Arctic waters to grow, reproduce and survive.


Health Benefits

Besides being an excellent low-calorie source of protein (a four-ounce serving of cod provides 52.1% of the daily need for protein for only 119 calories), cod contains a variety of very important nutrients and has also been shown to be useful in a number of different health conditions.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Fish, particularly cold water fish like cod, have been shown to be very beneficial for people with atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Studies show that people who eat fish regularly have a much lower risk of heart disease and heart attack than people who don’t consume fish. Cod, specifically, promotes cardiovascular health because it is a good source of blood-thinning omega-3 fatty acids, but is also a good source of vitamin B12 and a very good source of vitamin B6, both of which are needed to keep homocysteine levels low. This is important because homocysteine is a dangerous molecule that is directly damaging to blood vessel walls, and high homocysteine levels are associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke(homocysteine is also associated with osteoporosis, and a recent study found that osteoporosis occurred more frequently among women whose vitamin B12 status was deficient or marginal compared with those who had normal B12 status.) Cod is also a very good source of niacin, another B vitamin that is often used to lower high cholesterol levels, something else that can lead to heart disease.

Eating fish, such as cod, as little as 1 to 3 times per month may protect against ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by lack of blood supply to the brain, for example, as a result of a blood clot), suggests a meta-analysis of 8 studies published in the July 2004 issue of Stroke.

Data on nine independent groups participating in eight different studies found that, compared to those who never consumed fish or ate fish less than once per month, risk of ischemic stroke dropped:

  • 9% in those eating fish 1 to 3 times per month
  • 13% in those eating fish once per week
  • 18% in those eating fish 2 to 4 times per week
  • 31% in those eating fish 5 or more times each week
(October 11, 2004)

Eating cod that's broiled or baked, but not fried, may reduce risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, especially in the elderly, according to a Harvard study published in the July 2004 issue of Circulation. In the 12-year study of 4,815 people 65 years of age or older, eating canned tuna or other broiled or baked fish 1 to 4 times a week correlated with increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a 28% lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Eating broiled or baked fish 5 times a week lowered risk even more— a drop in atrial fibrillation risk of 31%.

Eating fried fish, however, provided no similar protection. Not only is fried fish typically made from lean fish like cod and Pollack that provide fewer omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, frying results in the production of damaged, free-radical-laden fats in the fish as well as the frying oil.

Protection Against Cancer

Fish consumption is also correlated with a reduced incidence of colon cancer. The selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D found in cod have all been shown to reduce the risk of the development of colon cancer by protecting colon cells from the damage caused by toxic substances found in certain foods and cancer-causing chemicals produced by certain gut bacteria..

Lower Your Risk of Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

Fishermen have, in epidemiological studies, been identified as having a lower risk of leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an occupational benefit that researchers thought might be due to the fact that they eat more fish. Now, a Canadian study published in the April 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention suggests that persons whose diet includes more weekly servings of fresh fatty fish have a much lower risk of these three types of cancer. Data drawn from a survey of the fish eating habits of 6,800 Canadians indicates that those consuming the most fatty fish decreased their risk of leukemia by 28%, their risk of multiple myeloma by 36%, and their risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 29%. Overall, frequent eaters of fatty fish reduced their risk for all forms of lymphomas by 30%.

Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients Reduce Asthma, Arthritis and Migraine

The selenium, vitamin D and omega-3 fats found in cod have anti-inflammatory actions that reduce the inflammation that can lead to asthma attacks, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and even migraines. Studies have shown that children who eat fish several times a week are at a much lower risk of developing asthma than children who don’t eat fish. The selenium in cod helps prevent asthma attacks by regenerating antioxidants that are used to reduce the free radical damage that can lead to severe attacks. Selenium is indirectly responsible for keeping the body's supply of at least three vitally important antioxidants intact: these are vitamin C, glutathione, and vitamin E. Although the chemistry of these relationships is complicated, it centers around an enzyme (protein molecule in the body that helps "jump start" a chemical reaction) called glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme cannot function without selenium. The vitamin D and essential fatty acids found in cod have also been shown to prevent the progression of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, in societies where fish is eaten regularly, the rate of rheumatoid arthritis is much lower than in areas where fish is not commonly eaten. Cod, specifically, may help prevent or lessen the progression of these diseases since it is a very good source of vitamin D, providing 15.9% of the daily value for this nutrient in a 4-ounce serving. The most metabolically active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, works with parathyroid hormone to maintain proper levels of calcium in the blood, and when needed, to increase calcium absorption and thus calcium, helping to ensure strong, healthy bones. The anti-inflammatory actions of the omega-3 fats found in cod reduce the inflammation that is central to the symptoms and progression of rheumatiod and osteoarthritis, and may also help prevent migraine attacks, which are triggered by an inflammatory cascade that spreads from neuron to neuron in the brain called spreading depression. A four-ounce serving of cod provides 12.8% of the daily value for these beneficial omega-3 fats.

Protection against Sunburn

Another benefit of omega-3s anti-inflammatory effects may be their ability to protect our skin against sunburn, and possibly, skin cancer.

Although our increased susceptibility to skin cancer is usually blamed on damage to the ozone layer, dietary changes over the last 75 years, which have resulted in excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids and insufficient consumption of omega-3 fats, may also be causing human skin to be more vulnerable to damage from sunlight.

Research by Dr Lesley Rhodes, Director of the Photobiology Unit at the University of Manchester, UK, suggests that eating more omega-3-rich fish, such as cod, could lessen the inflammation induced by UV-B radiation and help prevent not only the damaging effects of sunburn, but possibly skin cancer as well.

In a paper published in January 2005 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Rhodes explored the ability of omega-3s to protect epidermal and dermal skin cells against UV-B-induced triggering of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, a molecule that induces the production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, IL-8. Both EPA and DHA significantly suppressed TNF-α-induced IL-8 secretion—by 54% in the case of EPA and 42% by DHA. In an earlier one of Dr Rhodes studies, published in the May 2003 issue of Carcinogenesis, 42 healthy volunteers were given a measured dose of ultraviolet light, then divided into two groups. One group was given a daily 4 gram omega-3 fish oil supplement, while the other group received olive oil. After three months, when their responses to ultraviolet light were again measured, the skin cells of volunteers receiving fish oil experienced significantly less DNA damage, leading Rhodes to suggest that increasing consumption of omega-3-rich fish might reduce skin cancer in humans.


It’s not surprising that the words “cod” and “cold” are so similar, just differing by one letter. It’s not surprising since cod need the cold. They need to live in deep, artic temperature water to grow, reproduce and survive.

Although there are a few varieties of cod that are generally consumed, North Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is the most reputed and well known type. It has a light color and a noble taste. Other types of cod that are eaten throughout the world include ling cod, saithe cod and zarbo cod.

Cod belong to the same family (Gadidae) as both haddock and monkfish.


People have been enjoying cod as a food ever since this beautiful fish appeared in the Earth’s waters, basically since time immemorial.

Like other fish, in addition to being consumed fresh, preservation techniques such as salting, smoking and drying were used to preserve the cod. This allowed it to be easily transported and stored and made it one of the most commercially important fishes during the Middle Ages in Europe. Salted and dried cod is still very popular today in many countries including Norway, Portugal and Brazil.

Ever wonder where Cape Cod, Massachusetts, got its name? The answer: from this fish that used to be abundant in the coastal waters of this seaside town as well as the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, over-fishing during the past few decades has greatly diminished the amount of cod in these waters. In addition to North America, much of the cod available in today’s market comes from Norway, Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Plan on cooking Cod for about 7 minutes per inch thick for perfect doneness. This can vary some depending on the individual fish, and temperature of heat source.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine cod, broth, healthy sautéed onions and garlic, and your favorite vegetables and seasonings in a stock pot to make a delicious fish soup.

Cod braised with tomatoes, olives, garlic, and Italian herbs is delicious.

Poaching cod is easy. Just cover it with water or broth, add a little lemon juice, parsley, and simmer until the flesh becomes opaque and flakey.

Serve steamed cod in a large shallow bowl over a thin layer of miso soup. Garnish with chopped scallions, daikon and shiitake mushrooms.

Bake cod in the oven covered with fresh chopped herbs, such as chives, tarragon, chervil, and a little fresh lemon juice and broth.


Cod and Purines

Cod contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as cod.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Cod, Pacific, Fillet, Baked, Broiled
4.00 oz-wt
119.07 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.29 g 90.6 13.7 excellent
selenium 53.07 mcg 75.8 11.5 excellent
protein 26.03 g 52.1 7.9 excellent
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.52 mg 26.0 3.9 very good
phosphorus 252.88 mg 25.3 3.8 very good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 1.18 mcg 19.7 3.0 good
potassium 586.28 mg 16.8 2.5 good
vitamin D 63.50 IU 15.9 2.4 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 2.82 mg 14.1 2.1 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.32 g 12.8 1.9 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


  • Dhonukshe-Rutten RA, Lips M, de Jong N et al. Vitamin B-12 status is associated with bone mineral content and bone mineral density in frail elderly women but not in men. J Nutr. 2003 Mar; 133(3):801-7.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fritschi L, Ambrosini GL, Kliewer EV, Johnson KC; Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiologic Research Group. Dietary fish intake and risk of leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Apr;13(4):532-7.
  • He K, Song Y, Daviglus ML, Liu K, Van Horn L, Dyer AR, Goldbourt U, Greenland P. Fish consumption and incidence of stroke: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Stroke. 2004 Jul;35(7):1538-42.
  • Mozaffarian D, Psaty BM, Rimm EB, Lemaitre RN, Burke GL, Lyles MF, Lefkowitz D, Siscovick DS. Fish intake and risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Circulation. 2004 Jul 27;110(4):368-73.
  • Rhodes LE, Shahbakhti H, Azurdia RM, Moison RM, Steenwinkel MJ, Homburg MI, Dean MP, McArdle R, Beijersbergen van Henegonwen GM, Epe B, Vink AA. Effect of eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, on UVR-related cancer risk in humans. An assessment of early genotoxic markers. Carcinogenesis. 2003 May;24(5):919-25.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2005-08-17 21:36:07
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation