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FAQ: Salmon Fact Muddies the Nutritional Waters
8/13/2007
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A reader of "Martha Stewart Living" and our newsletter raised a question we often get, whose answer must be viewed in context to avoid nutritional confusion

by Craig Weatherby


According to a reader of Vital Choices, the August, 2007 edition of Martha Stewart Living contained a fact, which, taken out of context, makes farmed Salmon seem more nutritious than wild salmon.


We could not confirm the column’s precise wording, because a search of the magazine’s website did not find it.


Regardless, it’s a good opportunity to address a common question.


In the June 2005 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, the editors got the facts right when they endorsed wild salmon strongly over farmed:

  • “…farmed salmon have been found to have significantly higher levels of PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides than wild Alaskan salmon.”
  • “Salmon farms have been found to pollute surrounding waters.… When farmed salmon interbreed with their wild relatives, it can spread disease and weaken the wild-salmon gene pool.”
  • “Seafood Watch… has put Alaskan wild salmon on its "green" (best choices) list. On the other hand, it has put farmed salmon, be it from northern Europe, Canada, Chile, or the U.S., on its "red" (avoid) list.”

But there’s a good deal of confusion over the relative nutritional merits of wild versus farmed salmon.


Here’s the email we received:


Hi Craig,


In the August issue of Martha Stewart Living in their “Fit to Eat” section they inform us of the benefits of omega-3s in our diet. They go on to say that “while wild salmon is less rich in omega-3s than farmed salmon, it's lower in contaminants such as PCBs”.


They also provide a list of fish, with the approximate milligrams of omega-3s, showing farmed Atlantic salmon at 2,100 vs. wild Atlantic salmon at 1,600.


What's the deal? It was my understanding that wild salmon is higher in omega-3s even to the point where farmed salmon could be calculated to the minus in benefits.


Please give me your opinion. I only buy wild salmon and pass up the farmed in all cases when we dine out. Have I been missing out?


Thanks,

G.B.


In her email, G.B. did not say whether the magazine revealed the amounts of each salmon that contained the amounts of omega-3s cited, but we assume it was probably 3.5 or 4 ounces.

Here’s how we replied to G.B.’s email:


Dear G.B.,


It is true that farmed salmon are typically higher in omega-3s than wild salmon.


The problem is that unlike wild salmon, farmed salmon are very high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (from the grain in their diets), which compete with omega-3s for a place in our cell membranes.


Especially in the context of the average American's diet, which is too rich in omega-6 fatty acids, the overabundance of omega-6s in farmed salmon has measurable negative effects, as described in three prior newsletter articles:

  1. "Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects"
  2. "Inflammation Free Diet Book Puts Wild Salmon on a Pedestal"
  3. "New Report Finds Americans Need Far More Omega-3s"

In short, in addition to the environmental problems caused by salmon farms (search our newsletter archive), the benefits of their omega-3s are largely canceled out by their excess of omega-6s.


Regards,

Craig Weatherby


What we forgot to mention
We neglected to tell G.B. that wild Atlantic salmon is a threatened species not sold in U.S. markets, and rarely sold elsewhere.


It’s also worth noting that wild salmon provide ample amounts of omega-3s.


According to the USDA figures in our own nutrition chart, a 3.5 ounce serving of any of our wild Salmon species provides more omega-3s than the minimums recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the International Society for the Study of Fats and Lipids, which range from 260 mg to 660 mg per day. For more on this subject, see our FAQ, titled How Much Sockeye Salmon Oil Should I Take?


A 3.5 ounce serving of any of our wild Salmon species also provides more omega-3s* than the amount the American Heart Association recommends for heart patients without congestive heart failure or an implanted cardiac defibrillator (1,000 mg per day):


King2,300 mg

Silver—1,300 mg
Sockeye—1,200 mg

And recent research suggests that, for reasons still uncertain, people absorb more of the omega-3s in whole salmon, compared with the omega-3s in fish oil (See our accompanying article, “Salmon Beats Fish Oil for Absorption of Omega-3s.

*Note: Omega-3 levels in wild salmon vary by year and region, and whether the sample analyzed is raw or cooked. Cooked generally read higher due to water weight loss. The important thing to remember is that all wild salmon have very favorable omega 3/6 ratios.


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