It’s increasingly considered a delicacy. It’s the choice to make if you have one, the option to go for in a restaurant. But wild salmon is such a rarity, and expensive with it, that the chances are if you eat salmon regularly, it’s the farmed variety (assuming you’re not eating the tinned kind). And that is nowhere near as good for you. ‘It’s just not worth eating’ is the line. Or at least that’s a widely held belief, an instance of the misguided thinking that automatically privileges the organic over the farmed, the ‘natural’ over the ‘man made’. The thing is, it’s not true.
The main reason for eating salmon – aside from the protein – is that it’s packed with essential long-chained omega-3 fatty acids – they’re the ones our bodies need to quell inflammation and shift the membrane composition of our cells. And farmed salmon actually has more of this than the wild Atlantic variety – typically around 4.4 grams per six ounce portion, versus 2 grams. As for omega-6 fats – which our bodies also need, in balance with those omega-3s… Yes, farmed salmon has 3.3 grams versus 0.3 grams of omega-6, but the ratio between the two in each instance is exceptionally good, and it’s the balance (you want more omega-3 than 6 in your diet) that matters.
IN THE PINK
So what about astaxanthin? What about it indeed? That’s the carotenoid that gives salmon its pink hue and which is believed to have neuro-protective benefits. In the wild salmon obtains astaxanthin from eating krill, and farmed salmon from the feed they’re given. The only benefit to wild salmon here is that the astaxanthin is thought to have great bioavailability – which is to say that it enters the circulation more readily. And how about contaminants? Surely farmed salmon is loaded with those? Not so. Or, at least, the jury is out. One study last year found higher levels of persistent organic pollutants in wild salmon…
Indeed, study after study is showing that, from a health perspective, the snobbery surrounding wild salmon is misinformed, and that farmed salmon is every bit as good, and sometimes better. A 2016 study showed that overweight men who ate farmed salmon twice a week for four weeks have an overall improved cardiovascular risk profile. Other studies have shown other health benefits.
Of course, you’re probably eating salmon first and foremost because you like the taste. But it’s good to know you’re not sacrificing anything by picking one variety over another. Whatever some people might tell you.