Wild salmon seen as anti-inflammatory superstars; Farm-raised cousins rank as inflammatory inferiors
by Craig Weatherby
We were intrigued to see these comments in a recent edition of Dr. Susan Lark’s email newsletter, concerning a new book that highlights an undesirable side effect of eating farmed salmon (key point underlined):
“Farm-raised salmon contains about the same amount of omega-3 fats as wild-caught salmon. But it also contains extremely high levels of a highly inflammatory compound called arachidonic acid. In fact, the inflammatory effect of the [omega-6 fat] arachidonic acid in farm-raised salmon more than cancels out the anti-inflammatory benefits of the omega-3 fats it contains.
“This discovery about farm-raised salmon is just one of the many revelations in an important new book called The Inflammation Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel.
Naturally, we were eager to examine the book, whose theme is well-supported by reams of recent research.
It is increasingly clear that low-level inflammation promotes heart disease, many cancers, and obesity. And this "silent" inflammation is created largely by the standard American diet, which is high in three inflammatory foods: sugars, refined starches, and the omega-6 fatty acids that predominate in the vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy, safflower, etc.) found in almost every processed, packaged, and fast food.
The author, Monica Reinagel, is an experienced medical editor and professionally trained chef whose book provides
meal plans and dozens of recipes. Adding to its credibility, she wrote The Inflammation Free Diet Plan with Julius Torellli, M.D., a board-certified clinical cardiologist and author of Beyond Cholesterol.
The Inflammation Free Diet Plan assigns ratings to more than 1,500 foods, so we could easily compare the book’s ratings for salmon against those given other foods generally considered anti-inflammatory.
And, when we turned to page 200, we found that Dr. Lark wasn’t exaggerating the height of the pedestal upon which wild salmon is put.
Wild salmon tops the charts, farmed ranks way below zero
Ms. Reinagel devised a rating system in which inflammatory foods receive an IF rating above zero while anti-inflammatory foods receive an IF rating below zero.
To highlight the difference, we’ve put negative (i.e., food is inflammatory) IF ratings in hot red, and positive (i.e., food is anti-inflammatory) IF ratings in cool blue.
Fresh Salmon (3 ounces baked or grilled)
- Farmed Atlantic -180
- Wild Sockeye +518
- Wild King +581
- Wild Silver +451
- Pacific Halibut +78
Canned fish IF ratings (3 ounces)
- Wild Sockeye Salmon +192*
- Sardines in Tomato Sauce +380
- Sardines in Oil +470
- Tuna, Light +214
*Note: We’re not sure why Reinagel ranks canned sockeye as less anti-inflammatory than fresh sockeye, since they have about the same omega-3 content. We plan to ask her.
The IF ratings for wild salmon rival those given the most antioxidant-rich, low-carb, anti-inflammatory vegetables, such as spinach. And she assigns a single teaspoon of turmeric a sky-high rating of 501. At least in her book, you can’t do much better.
It is impossible for her or anyone to know how accurate her rating system is, but it is based on what is known about the inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effects of various food components, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Ms. Reinagel assigns negative or positive points to a food, based on the relative amounts of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory constituents.
In a few cases, the proverbial preventive health baby seems to have been thrown out along with the inflammatory bathwater, as with her slightly negative (-16) rating for blueberries. While raspberries and strawberries get positive ratings, the higher per-gram sugar content of blueberries may have led to their slightly less desirable rating. However, blueberries are very high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and, in lab tests, they exert very positive effects on brain health and cancer, so one cannot judge a food by its IF rating alone.
Studies support farmed salmon’s negative rating
Last month, we reported the results of a clinical trial designed to test the effects in people of consuming salmon fed diets with differing fatty acid contents. These included standard salmon feed, which is high in that omega-6 fats the body uses to make inflammatory omega-6 arachidonic acid (see Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects).
As our article said, “Compared with the other two groups, participants who ate the farmed salmon fed only fish oil enjoyed markedly higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a higher (hence, more desirable) ratio of omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids. The fish-oil-only group also displayed significant reductions in blood levels of triglycerides (fats) and two key markers of inflammation: vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and interleukin-6.”
These findings dovetail with those of recent studies from Tulane University and Greece (see “Fish Inhibits Heart-Attacking Inflammation,” which, respectively, showed that heart disease is related to levels of inflammation and that fish consumption reduces the risk of heart trouble. They also mirror the results of several studies showing that the fish suffer inflammation and inflammation-related health problems when they eat feed containing too much omega-6 fatty acid.
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