A few weeks ago, I discussed the topic of dietary fats and which type of fat is best for our bones. If you recall, the research suggests that monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids, are most beneficial to bone health. The healthiest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and salmon. Click here to see previous article on what fats are best for bone.
Salmon is the favored choice for many people, and for good reason!
Salmon is not only high in omega-3 fatty acids, but also provides bone building vitamins and minerals, is a good a source of protein and has recently been found to contain beneficial bioactive peptides. Bioactive peptides are protein fragments that may provide protection for joint cartilage, improve insulin effectiveness and help control inflammation in the digestive tract.
However, finding a healthy source of salmon can be tricky!
Not only does the debate over farmed vs wild salmon continue, but we are now facing the inception of genetically-engineered farmed salmon. Let’s start by taking a look at the differences between farmed and wild salmon and then I will give you some tips on how to purchase the healthiest source of salmon.
Most of the salmon consumed in this country is farm raised, imported to the United States primarily from Norway, Chile and Canada. (1) Many people have concerns about farm-raised seafood because over the years poorly manged seafood farms have done a lot of harm to the environment and produced less nutritious salmon. When the industry was new, salmon farms were accused of polluting the oceans, spreading sea lice, fostering disease, and raising salmon on unnatural feed However, the industry is now better controlled and farming practices are improving. The farming of salmon is becoming more sustainable and farmed fish are being fed healthier diets in an effort to improve their nutritional profiles. The most commonly farmed salmon in the US is the Atlantic salmon.
Although fish farming is improving, raising fish in small pens and feeding them a man made product can’t compare to the natural habitat of the wild salmon. Wild salmon is born in fresh water rivers and streams. They migrate to the ocean where they mature and spend much of their adult life and then return to the streams and rivers to spawn and then die. Wild salmon eat a natural diet of algae, plankton, and krill which gives them their deep orange color. Farm raised salmon are fed pellets containing a range of ingredients including vegetable oil, fish oil, fish meal, plants, essential nutrients, wheat byproducts, and sometimes carotenoids to give their flesh a pleasing color.
The biggest differences in nutritional content between wild and farmed salmon is their fat content. Wild salmon, because they eat a more natural diet and also get more exercise through migration, are leaner than farm raised salmon. Farmed raised salmon is fattier and actually contains greater amounts of both omega-3 fatty and omega 6 fatty acids per serving than wild salmon. (2) The increased fat content of farm raised salmon comes from the oils, both vegetable and fish, found in their feed. Although omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are essential to health, they need to be in balance for optimal well-being. Excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio can actually contribute to many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory diseases. Inflammation is also a known cause for osteoporosis. Therefore, because of the higher level of omega 6 fatty acids, farmed raised salmon has less favorable ratio of these essential fats than wild caught salmon.
Other concerns with the consumption of farm raised salmon include the use of vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious disease and the use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Similar to the desire to consume poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products that come from free-range animals that haven’t been given excessive hormones and antibiotics, it is also preferable to choose wild salmon over farm raised.
However, not all wild salmon is created equal either! Wild Alaskan salmon is the healthiest salmon available. Wild Alaskan salmon spend most of their lives in open oceans feeding on natural prey and generally have very low levels of toxins. Salmon from coastal waters may have higher levels of contaminants.
But what if you can’t find wild salmon in your grocery store, or can’t afford the higher cost of wild salmon?
Here are some tips to help you find the healthiest sources of salmon, be it wild or farm raised.
What to Look for when Buying Salmon
- It is important to know whether the farmed salmon you are purchasing comes from a reputable farm. Certain merchants have implemented strict quality standards to ensure they’re sourcing farmed seafood from strictly regulated farms. Such merchants include:
- Whole Foods: buys only from farms that meet its detailed requirements, which specify strict policies on antibiotics, hormones, parasiticides, contaminant levels, environmental impact and other factors
- Costco: states that it will also only buy from farms that prohibit the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poutry by-products in the feed. In the past they have not carried genetically modificed or cloned seafood.
- Verlasso: a salmon farm in Chile, has been a leader in responsible fish farming for years. Verlasso states their farmed salmon is among the purest found anywhere, its PCB content is ranked among the lowest worldwide of any farmed salmon. However, there is recent concern that Verlasso is now using genetically modified yeast in their feed. www.verlasso.com
- When shopping keep an eye out for the following labels
- When purchasing farm fish, look for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Certified label which ensures that the salmon farm adhered to specific requirements for feed and for clean sea bed
- When purchasing wild salmon, look for The Marine Stewardship Council blue sticker which certifies the fish was caught using sustainable fishing practices
- One of my favorite places to buy wild Alaskan salmon is from Trader Joe’s. Although, frozen, the salmon is reasonably priced and very tasty!
- Canned salmon is a great, inexpensive alternative to fresh salmon. Most canned salmon is wild caught and regular canned salmon, with skin and bones, is a great source of omega-3 fats as well as other nutrients. It is a good source of calcium and vitamin D if you eat the soft, chewable bones!
- In 2015, the FDA approved a genetically-engineered farmed salmon (AquAdvantage Salmon) as safe for consumption, and noted that it will not require this type of salmon to be specially labeled. However, in 2016, the FDA reversed course, announcing that the sale of this salmon will not be permitted just yet (3)
The bottom line is to keep eating salmon! Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids that provide well documented benefits for the heart, brain and bones! Wild salmon is the best choice but quality farmed salmon is a good alternative as well as canned salmon.
Looking for a new salmon recipe? Check out my Pesto Salmon Salad Recipe!
2. Merdzhanova, A., Ivanov, I., Dobreva, D. A., & Makedonski, L. (2017). Fish Lipids as a Valuable Source of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Acta Scientifica Naturalis, 4(1). doi:10.1515/asn-2017-0011
3. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/is-it-better-to-eat-farmed-or-wild-salmon/farmed_or_wild_salmon/