Salmon’s Nutritional Benefits

As an addition to a healthy diet, salmon can be a great source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and essential minerals.   This balanced nutrition can be good for maintaining cardiovascular health, with its Omega 3 fatty acids, good for an active metabolism, and great for enhancing brain functions, as well as healthy vision, through helping prevent macular degeneration.   The vitamins and amino acids in salmon can also help act as an anti-depressant, and even help with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

In addition, the Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and reduce the likelihood of some cancers.   Because of these healthy fats, salmon can even help improve your skin texture, hair, and nails, and unlike many red meats, the ‘fatter’ the salmon, the more nutritious it is.   While all salmon contains these general benefits, there are important distinctions to make before you choose!

Wild or Farmed – What’s the Difference?

As the name implies, wild salmon is caught in its natural environment, whether oceans, rivers or lakes.   While it was once the primary type of salmon, recent changes reflect the high interest in the nutritional value of salmon, so production has become a major industry.   Currently, half the world’s salmon is ‘farmed’ – or raised domestically in fisheries.   As is common in other ‘industrial food production’ scenarios, the farmed salmon are fed a completely different diet, and live in a very different environment – all designed to produce bigger fish, faster.   The primary differences nutritionally:

  • Wild salmon has 32% fewer calories than farmed salmon, with about the same protein
  • Wild salmon has half the fat and about 30% of the saturated fats of farmed salmon
  • Wild salmon has more calcium, iron, and potassium, and less sodium than farmed salmon

So, while both types of salmon offer nutritional value, wild salmon is the better choice from a nutritional standpoint.   And, there are other differences as well, in the health concerns of wild vs. farmed salmon.

Health Concerns

Another reason for recommending wild salmon is that farmed salmon tends to be higher in contaminants.   The fish absorb substances from the water they swim in, and in many cases, this includes pesticides, dioxins, and PCBs, which are known carcinogens.   One study tested over 700 samples and found that in general, the PCB levels in farmed salmon were eight times higher than in wild salmon.   While contamination levels measured are acceptable to the FDA, the EPA disagrees – they recommend salmon no more than once a month.   In other studies, mercury levels were found to be higher in wild salmon, yet levels of arsenic were higher in farmed salmon.   While not very appetizing, the trace metals in either type of salmon are small enough not to be a cause for concern for human consumption, but children and pregnant women should only eat wild caught salmon, just to be safe.

However, even if you are able to focus on wild caught salmon, it’s important to know where it comes from.   Various regions have higher levels of ocean pollution, and this translates to higher levels of contaminants for even the wild variety.   In February of 2016, in Washington, the high levels of sewage-treatment wastewater in Puget Sound caused significant alarm when young salmon tissue samples were analyzed.   Researchers found ‘residues of Prozac, Advil, Benadryl, Lipitor, Paxil, Valium, Zoloft, OxyContin, and even cocaine.’    The suspicion is that the wastewater-treatment plants are ineffective at processing, so that pollution flows into the surrounding waters, and then downstream.   Toxicologists say the levels are probably too low to affect humans, but there is certainly a concern that needs to be addressed over the long term.   The State Department of Ecology is hoping for more funding to support further research.

To help make finding healthy seafood easier, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a ‘Super Green’ list of seafood, to identify choices lower in industrial pollutants.   They believe that finding wild salmon is getting easier, with large retailers like Target that have eliminated farmed salmon, and now stock only salmon products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an excellent source of verification.


So, while it’s true that all types of salmon provide a strong nutritional profile, and should be a part of a healthy diet, it’s also true that it makes sense to be an informed consumer.   By seeking out the best sources for salmon, you’ll know that you’re making the healthiest choice for yourself and your family.    As with most meats and fish, cooking can help to kill potential contaminants and is, therefore, a safer preparation step.    If you can find wild salmon from a reliable, certified source, and ideally know the waters they swam in, you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re enjoying a delicious and healthy meal!


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Mapes, L. Drugs Found in Puget Sound Salmon from Tainted Wastewater, February 23, 2016.  Retrieved March 6, 2017, from Seattle Times Website:

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