A tasty and versatile fish, the popularity of salmon is undeniable. Delicious whether raw in sashimi or cooked on the grill, this oily fish is also extremely healthy. Rich in 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 salmon, there are plenty of options for the health-conscious consumer looking to add more salmon to their diet.
The nutritional benefits of salmon
According to registered dietitian Anna Brown of the Nutrition Squeezed blog, salmon is a powerful combination of low saturated fat and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, both essential 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 significantly more omega-3 acids than other types of fish like sole, bass and cod. Although these fish are healthy, they do not contain the same level of omega-3s as salmon.
But not all salmon fillets are created equal. Salmon nutrition can vary depending on the species and whether it is wild or farmed. The main issues for farmed and wild salmon are their diet and their sustainability. The consumption of farmed salmon has accelerated in recent decades as the demand for fish has increased. However, the level of omega-3s in farmed salmon will depend on the diet, a combination of grains, fishmeal and plants. Due to their natural diet, wild salmon may have higher ratios of omega-3s as well as 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 its low mercury content and availability. . The vast majority of Atlantic salmon will be farmed while Pacific salmon such as coho or king salmon will vary from year to year.
When it comes to 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 coho salmon. Additionally, some studies also claim that certified sustainably farmed salmon is better for the environment due to lower levels of mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) compared to wild salmon.
Cooked Salmon vs Raw Salmon
According to Anna Brown, the biggest nutritional difference between raw and cooked salmon is in the added ingredients. Since cooked salmon typically contains added fats like oil or butter and sometimes ingredients like sugar or herbs, this can affect nutritional results. However, this does not mean that these added ingredients are negative.
“While these extra ingredients add a negligible amount of calories or fat, they can add a ton of flavor, so there’s no need to fear cooked salmon, just be aware of the ingredients the recipe calls for,” Brown said.
The best thing about cooking salmon is the endless variety of techniques and recipes. For Brown, she prefers a simple technique – baking the fish in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. As an added benefit, cooking the salmon also prevents the house from smelling fishy, a side effect of cooking on the stovetop. For seasoning, the ingredients can be as simple as olive oil, salt, pepper and a mixture of herbs (herbes de Provence are excellent). Another way to consume salmon is to use as much fish as possible. By consuming only the fillets, parts of the salmon such as skin and trimmings are left behind. To maximize yield, use salmon bones to make fish stock and broil the necks 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 it a sustainable way to enjoy salmon, but it also provides extra nutrition.
When it comes to raw salmon, high quality fish from appropriate sources is perfectly nutritious to eat raw. One thing to watch out for with raw salmon is the increased risk of foodborne illnesses and parasites. These issues may be the result of the salmon’s environment or something detected 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 problems is to source high-quality fish.
Like all seafood, salmon is subject to sustainability issues. Due to overfishing and environmental damage, many species of fish are at risk of overconsumption. This question of balancing the health benefits of fish with sustainability is key according to Jennifer Bushman, Development Manager at Kvarøy Arctic.
“The importance of ocean food production systems to our future food and nutrition security is paramount to our future,” Bushamn said. “This effort represents a dual message of urgency and hope. Through smarter management of wild fisheries and sustainable development of marine aquaculture (mariculture), the ocean could provide more than six times more food than it does today while helping to restore the healthy ocean ecosystems.
For sustainable salmon farming like Kvarøy, this means a combination of sustainable feeds, innovative techniques like Stingray lasers (to kill lice and salmon pests) and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. This form of aquaculture is a system where fish are raised alongside shellfish and seaweed, which improves the health of the system and sequesters carbon. For an idea of the most sustainable seafood options, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This guide will provide valuable details on which species to enjoy and which to avoid as well as information on fisheries and farms.