Choose Safe: The Salmon Shopping Guide


Salmon has emerged as one of the “super-foods” encouraged by health professionals as a highly nutrient-rich food. But while there are many benefits associated with it, there are also many important facts to know about the salmon that shows up on your dinner plate.

Health Benefits of Salmon

From a nutrition perspective, salmon is chock full of protein, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, while containing very little saturated fat (2 grams per cooked 3 oz. serving).  A 3 oz. cooked portion clocks in at 155 calories, 21 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  The nutrients in salmon (especially the omega-3 fatty acids) have been proven to positively impact heart health, arthritis, headaches, vision, depression and even protect skin from sun damage.  Not to mention that the healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids promotes satiety and help to stabilize blood sugar levels. Babies and children also benefit from omega-3 fatty acids since it is critical to brain, nerve and eye development.  As long as there are no fish allergies, salmon is a great food to introduce to your baby as early as six months old.

Choose Wild Salmon vs Farmed Salmon

Currently, farmed salmon makes up 90 percent of salmon sold in America.  Farmed salmon are raised in crowded waters and are therefore more susceptible to infection from parasites, which can then contaminate nearby open waters. Their food consists of fish meal and plant-based foods, which results in a less desirable fat profile of more omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, while wild salmon has a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6.  Wild salmon, on the other hand, live and grow in open waters and feed off other living sea creatures in their natural habitat.  Another difference to note is that farmed salmon have been found to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (a pesticide known as PCBs), antibiotics and other drugs.  Aside from the effects this has on the environment, these toxins can also be harmful to salmon consumers who eat the salmon.  These toxins are stored in the fat and since farmed fish are fatter than wild fish, there is more likelihood that farmed fish contain more toxins.  Note that when looking for fish at the grocery store or a restaurant, if it is not labeled as wild salmon, you should assume it is a farmed variety.

Imported Salmon Is Not Regulated

It is also important to know the origin of your salmon since some countries have lax enforcement of health and environmental norms.  Fish from Asia in general and China in particular should be avoided as the FDA only inspects 1 percent of these imports for contaminants (antibiotics, pesticides and carcinogens).  Also, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation mandates that consumers know where their food comes from so examine your labels to ensure your salmon is coming from a place you feel comfortable with.

To minimize safety concerns, enjoy salmon in the healthiest way possible:

  • Look for Alaskan wild salmon for the safest, most environmentally friendly form of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Trim the skin and the visible fat from your fish since PCBs are stored in the fat portion
  • Grill or broil farmed salmon to reduce a significant portion of fat
  • Try canned salmon as an affordable and sustainable way to enjoy salmon (almost all varieties are wild salmon)
  • Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket guide to determine safe varieties of salmon
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