Is Salmon Healthy?

Salmon…we are told to eat more of it as it contains an important essential fatty acid, omega 3 (essential here refers to the fact that our bodies cannot manufacture this and must take it in).  Salmon today is readily available in any supermarket, year-round.   Current health recommendations generally suggest eating fish at least two times a week.  But let’s take a look at the nutritional profile of salmon, in its farmed and wild versions (figures are from Nutrition Data):

 Atlantic salmon, farmed, 198 g serving (about 7 ounces)

  • 27 grams of fat, of which 6 grams are saturated
  • 40 grams of protein
  • 412 calories
  • Good source of vitamin E, thiamine, niacin, vitamins B6 & B12, selenium, phosphorus and potassium
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: 4961 mg
  • Omega 6 fatty acids: 1944 mg

Atlantic salmon, wild, 198 g serving (about 7 ounces)

  • 13 grams of fat, of which 2 are saturated
  • 39 grams of protein
  • 281 calories
  • Good source of riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, vitamins B6 & B12, selenium, phosphorus and potassium
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: 3996 mg
  • Omega 6 fatty acids: 341 mg

What is going on here…salmon is salmon, right?  In some ways the two look similar ~ same amount of protein, essentially the same vitamins and minerals, high omega 3 counts…and yet the farmed salmon has twice the amount of fat (and as a result more calories) and higher omega 6 counts.  Well, just as we have taken cattle that used to roam freely and graze on grass and have confined them to feedlots, so we have done with fish.  Here is a quote by Jane Houlihan from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group:

Nearly all salmon Americans eat are farm-raised — grown in dense-packed pens near ocean shores, fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic PCB chemicals, awash in excrement flushed out to sea and infused with antibiotics to combat unsanitary conditions. Some salmon are raised on farms that use more sustainable methods, but you can’t tell from the packaging.

Eating farmed salmon occasionally is not a great health concern, but risks can add up if you eat salmon often. But the long-term environmental damage caused by the industry is substantial. We recommend wild salmon over farmed whenever possible.”

Just like we have done with cattle, we have done with salmon.  Farmed salmon is being fed a diet of ground fish (which is the source of the elevated PCB’s), artificial coloring (otherwise it would not be pink, but rather gray) and genetically modified corn and soy (because, as discussed in my blog post King Corn, it is cheap and readily available ~ these products also serve to increase the omega 6 fatty acids, which we do not need more of ~ the Western diet is already plentiful in omega 6, which has been linked to inflammation).  Salmon’s natural diet is primarily krill.  Like cattle, the close confinement breeds disease, so the salmon are fed antibiotics.  Once again we are taking an inherently good food and making it less good.  And we are doing the same thing with shrimp.  Here is a quote from a great article by Jim Carrier, titled All You Can Eat:

A shrimp farm is a saltwater feedlot. There can be as many as 170,000 shrimp larvae in a 1-acre pond that is 1 to 2 meters deep. So-called intensive ponds can yield 6,000 to 18,000 pounds of shrimp in that acre in 3 to 6 months. (A good wheat yield is 3,600 pounds per acre.) Because of this density, the waste they swim in, and their susceptibility to disease, most farmed shrimp are treated with antibiotics, only some of them legal in the U.S. A wide array of poisons is used to kill unwanted sea life and cleanse ponds for reuse, creating what Public Citizen calls a “chemical cocktail.” In random sampling of imported shrimp, health officials in the U.S., Japan, and the European Union have found chloramphenicol, a dangerous antibiotic banned in food.

Today 90% of the shrimp consumed in the US is farm-raised, most of it coming from Southeast Asia and South America.  When shrimp arrives in port, customs officials are more concerned with duty issues, not food safety.  As one enforcement officer admitted “We don’t look at that much shrimp.”  And the FDA samples less than 1% of the 1 billion pounds of shrimp that enters this country every year. 

One final consideration when choosing your fish…in the future it could be genetically modified and you might not even know it.  From a New York Times article titled “Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table,” :

The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies and would be raised in fish farms. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon.

The fish are genetically altered to grow at twice the normal rate.  So now you could have genetically altered fish raised on farms…yum (sorry, couldn’t resist adding the picture of Blinky, the 3-eyed fish from the Simpsons). 

My purpose here is not to sound alarmist or make you feel that you cannot eat anything without being fearful.  Instead, my goal is to present information that maybe you were unaware of.  It is yours to do with what you like.  Maybe you will change what you eat, maybe you won’t, but at least you have the information with which to make a more informed decision.

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About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college football...my teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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2 Responses to Is Salmon Healthy?

  1. Anne says:

    That looks delicious! I may go get some wild salmon for tonight!

    • I thought so too! Now all we need is a recipe. I have been buying frozen wild salmon from Whole Foods ~ it has been very good. I brush it with some garlic flavored olive oil, sprinkle some salt and pepper and throw it on the grill. Easy and delicious. The best thing about salmon is it actually tastes good cold/room temp in a salad.

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