A tasty and versatile fish, salmon’s popularity is undeniable. Delicious whether raw in sashimi or cooked on the grill, this oily fish is also supremely healthy. Packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is one of the best foods to eat for a healthy diet. From sustainably farmed Atlantic salmon to wild-caught Pacific sockeye, there are plenty of options for the health-conscious consumer looking to add more salmon to their diet.
According to registered dietitian Anna Brown from the blog Nutrition Squeezed, salmon is a powerful combination of low saturated fat and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, both critical factors for heart health. As a bonus, omega-3 acids are also anti-inflammatory and great for brain development. Salmon is considered a fatty fish and contains far more omega-3 acids than other types of fish like sole, sea bass, and cod. While these fish are healthy, they don’t pack the same level of omega-3s as salmon.
But not every salmon filet is equal. Salmon nutrition can vary depending on the species and whether it’s wild or farmed. The main issues for both farmed and wild salmon are their diet and sustainability. Consumption of farmed salmon has accelerated in recent decades as demand for the fish has increased. However, the level of omega-3s in farmed salmon will depend on the feed, a combination of grain, fishmeal, and plants. Due to their natural diet, wild salmon can have higher ratios of omega-3s along with higher levels of calcium and iron. Nutritionally, recent studies have shown that wild Pacific sockeye and chinook are the most nutritious, although farmed Atlantic salmon is also a great option due to low mercury and availability. The vast majority of Atlantic salmon will be farmed while Pacific salmon like coho or king salmon will vary depending on the year.
Regarding high-quality farmed Atlantic salmon, there are several sustainable salmon farms that produce fish with excellent levels of nutrition. An example of such a farm is Kvarøy Artic, a third-generation family farm in Norway. According to Kvarøy, their farmed salmon contains double the omega-3s compared to wild-caught coho salmon. Additionally, some studies also claim that certified sustainably farmed salmon is better for the environment due to lower levels of mercury and PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyls) when compared to wild salmon.
According to Anna Brown, the biggest nutritional difference between raw and cooked salmon is the added ingredients. Since cooked salmon generally has added fats like oil or butter and sometimes ingredients like sugar or herbs, this can affect the nutritional results. However, that doesn’t mean these added ingredients are negative.
“While these additional ingredients add a negligible amount of calories or fat, they can add a ton of great flavor so there’s no need to fear cooked salmon, just be aware of the ingredients the recipe is calling for,” said Brown.
The best thing about cooking salmon is the endless variety of techniques and recipes. For Brown, she prefers a straightforward technique — baking the fish in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. As an added benefit, baking salmon also avoids the house smelling like fish, a side effect of searing on the stovetop. For seasoning, ingredients can be as simple as olive oil, salt, pepper, and an herb mix (herbs de Provence is great). Another way to consume salmon is to utilize as much of the fish as possible. By only consuming the filets, salmon parts like the skin and trimmings are left to waste. To maximize yield, use salmon bones to make fish stock and grill the collars with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon for a delicious main course. At Kvarøy Arctic, they use their salmon trimmings for burger patties and hot dogs. Not only is this a sustainable way to enjoy salmon, but it also provides added nutrition.
In regards to raw salmon, a properly sourced, high-quality fish is perfectly nutritious to eat raw. One thing to pay attention to for raw salmon is the increased risk of food-borne illnesses and parasites. These issues can be a result of the salmon’s environment or something that’s picked up during shipping and handling. To avoid this, simply cook your salmon to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. But if you insist on eating your salmon raw, the best way to avoid any issues is to source high-quality fish.
Like any seafood, salmon is subject to questions of sustainability. Due to overfishing and environmental damage, many fish species are in danger of overconsumption. This question of balancing the health benefits of fish with sustainability is critical according to Jennifer Bushman, Chief Development Officer at Kvarøy Arctic.
“The importance of ocean food production systems in our future food and nutritional security is paramount to our future,” said Bushamn. “The effort represents a dual message of urgency and hope. Through smarter management of wild fisheries and the sustainable development of marine aquaculture (mariculture), the ocean could supply over six times more food than it does today while helping restore the health of ocean ecosystems.”
For a sustainable salmon farm like Kvarøy, this means a combination of sustainable feed, innovative techniques like Stingray lasers (for killing lice and pests on salmon), and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. This form of aquaculture is a system where fish is farmed alongside shellfish and seaweed, increasing the health of the system and sequestering carbon. To get a grasp on the most sustainable seafood options, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. This guide will provide valuable details on which species to enjoy and which to avoid along with information on fisheries and farms.
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