Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised: Pros and Cons

Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised—How to Make the Right Choice

Where do you stand in the wild caught salmon vs farm raised debate? For some, farm raised salmon is the simple, more affordable option. (Or, the only option available in their grocery store.) For others, wild caught salmon is seen as the cleaner, healthier, and ONLY option. Or, maybe you just enjoy the taste of one more than the other! But, which is the ‘right’ choice: wild caught salmon vs farm raised?

Well, apologies up front: there’s no clear answer to this decades-long debate. (Sorry!) Both wild caught and farm raised salmon have their advantages, as well as their drawbacks. High levels of toxic contaminants have given farm raised salmon a bad reputation, but many wild caught salmon also contain these same contaminants. And, while eating wild caught fish can contribute to the growing environmental strain, many fish farms damage natural ecosystems as well.

Yes, there are some nutritional differences between wild caught salmon vs farm raised. But, those differences aren’t so massive that they’re the only factor to consider. And, many people argue that SOME superfood salmon in your diet, wild caught or farm raised, is better than NO salmon! Ultimately, the choice comes down to how you feel about: contaminants, the environmental impact, the taste, and the cost. There’s no black-and-white answer here—learn about the issues so you can make an informed choice!

The Difference Between Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised

Technically speaking, the difference is pretty simple. Wild caught salmon are caught in the wild, and farm raised salmon are raised on farms. But, the environment on a fish farm is VERY different from that in the wild. And, those different environments inevitably have an impact on the fish. On the surface, we can see these differences just in how the fish look:

Wild Caught Salmon:

  • Thinner and leaner filets
  • Darker in color, with a deeper reddish-pink-orange color
  • Fewer and smaller white stripes visible in the flesh (a.k.a. fat striations)
  • Harder to find in grocery stores, and not as common on restaurant menus

Farm Raised Salmon:

  • Thicker and fattier filets
  • Lighter in color, with more pale pink-orange color
  • More visible fat striations, that are thicker and deeper in the flesh
  • What most of us are used to seeing in grocery stores and eating at restaurants

But, the differences between wild caught salmon vs farm raised go beyond just the color and texture of the fish. WHY do these differences exist? And what do they mean—for our bodies and for the planet?

What Does ‘Wild Caught Fish’ Mean?

The label ‘wild caught fish’ refers to fish caught in their natural environments by fishermen. In their wild habitats—like oceans, lakes, rivers—fish have plenty of room to roam. After a lifetime of long-distance swimming, they tend to be leaner and less fatty than farm raised fish. And, wild caught fish have access to a diverse, natural diet, making them some of the healthiest eaters on the planet!

Generally, wild fish feed on small organisms in their environment, like smaller fish and krill. Luckily, many of those small organisms like krill eat algae, which is an incredible source of omega-3 fatty acids. Then, those superfood nutrients travel up the food chain, into the larger wild caught fish that we eventually eat. Plus, these fish consume lots of different food sources in their environment, with different nutrients. Not only does this diversity keep the fish healthy, but it also makes them a rich source of essential minerals and vitamins.

Also, the fish’s natural diet affects the color of their flesh. (You are what you eat, am I right?) For example, the deep reddish-orange-pink color seen in wild-caught salmon comes from the red-orange krill that they eat!

What Does ‘Farm Raised Fish’ Mean?

Any fish raised on a fish farm (or ‘aquaculture’) is known as a ‘farm raised fish.’ These fish live inside enclosed pens submerged in lakes, ponds, or even areas in the ocean, as well as some in large tanks on land. Unfortunately, fish pens can be small and very crowded, which is why farm raised fish are usually fattier. Plus, overcrowding can lead to problems like toxic contaminants and pollutants accumulating in pens or diseases spreading among the fish. Of course, every aquaculture is different—some are cleaner and more sustainable than others. And, while some countries (like the U.S. and Canada) enforce stricter fish farming regulations, many other areas of the world do not.

But, one of the biggest differences in farm raised fish is their less-nutritious and less-diverse diet. Most farm raised fish eat a highly-processed, high-fat feed made of corn, grains, fish oil, and fish meal (a.k.a. ground-up fish). Clearly, not-so-natural and not very diverse, but it’s a diet designed to fatten the fish up quickly and for the lowest cost. Granted, all of that fish oil and fish meal pack TONS of omega-3s into farm raised fish. But, their unnatural feed also alters the nutritional composition in other ways—not necessarily for the better.

Plus, eating the same, limited diet in an aquaculture changes the color of the fish’s flesh. Believe it or not, the pale pink-orange we recognize in farm raised salmon isn’t the fish’s true color! Naturally, that salmon and most farm-raised fish would actually be gray-ish in color. Instead, to make the fish look more like their wild caught cousins, many farmers add food dyes to their fish feed.

So, Farm Raised = Bad, Wild Caught = Good, Right? Not Quite…

I know, ‘ultra-processed, high-fat, food-dyed salmon’ doesn’t sound like a great choice… But, let me be clear: not all farm raised salmon is ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy.’ In fact, farm raised salmon can be an incredible source of essential omega-3s! And, as aquaculture practices start to improve in many countries, the quality of farm raised salmon is also improving. Most importantly, sustainable aquacultures are crucial to protecting the planet’s wild fish populations.

But, the bottom line here: before choosing farm raised fish, it’s really important to find out where the fish came from. Really, that goes for wild caught fish, too. (More on that at the end of the article!) Usually, wild caught fish are considered higher-quality, cleaner, and a safer choice. But, they come with an additional cost—both financially and on the environment.

Currently, around one-third of wild fish populations have been overfished, and two-thirds are fully-fished. That means we’re catching and removing these species faster than the fish can reproduce in the wild. Because humans eat a lot of fish! Today, the average person eats about twice as much fish as we did 50 years ago. That’s why, to keep up with the demand, now 50% of the world’s seafood stock is farm raised. And, that number is only expected to increase over time.

Pros and Cons of Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised

Again, there’s no clear ‘right’ choice here. So, let’s look at the pros (+) and cons (-) of wild caught salmon vs farm raised. And, as always, I encourage you to continue researching and dive deeper!

Taste & Cooking

Cost & Availability

  • (-) Generally, more expensive.
  • (-) Can be difficult to find in some areas and grocery stores, or not available at all.
  • (+) Much lower priced and budget-friendly.
  • (+) Available and easier to find in most areas and grocery stores.

Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised: Nutrition

The main difference: wild caught salmon is lower in calories and total fat than farm raised. On average, a 4-oz wild caught salmon filet contains 160-170 calories and 7-8 grams of fat. In the same portion of farm raised salmon, there are around 220-230 calories and 14-16 grams of fat. But, remember, salmon is chock-full of healthy fats—those anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids! (Also, important to note: there are several different species of salmon (i.e. Atlantic, Sockeye, Pacific), which can vary nutritionally.)

And, with their high-fat diet, farm raised salmon actually contain more total omega-3s (about 25% more) than wild caught. But, farm raised salmon also contain lots of inflammatory omega-6s, while wild caught contain very few. To truly benefit our health, omega-3s need to be in the right balance with omega-6s. Unfortunately, most people consume WAY too many inflammatory omega-6s, which fuel damaging chronic inflammation in the body. (Learn more about Chronic Inflammation and balancing your Omega-6 Omega-3 Ratio!) Ideally, we want foods with a lower omega-6 : omega-3 ratio—low in omega-6s, high in omega-3s.

So, this leaves farm raised salmon with a decent omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, around 1:2 or 1:3. Translation: farmed salmon contain 2 or 3 times the amount of omega-3s relative to omega-6s. But, wild caught salmon can have a ratio as low as 1:14—meaning up to 14 times more omega-3s relative to omega-6s! Granted, farm raised salmon still has a good ratio, and is a quality source of omega-3s. But, wild caught salmon’s ratio is just better, meaning it offers us even greater omega-3 benefits!


  • (+) Living in the wild and eating their natural diet, wild caught salmon have a lower risk of contamination from man-made toxins.
  • (+) Also, they’re less likely to be exposed to antibiotics, pesticides, colorings, and other harmful substances used in some aquacultures.
  • (-) Can be exposed to toxins like mercury and other trace metals in their natural environment. But, levels are generally so low in all kinds of salmon that it’s not a concern.
  • (-) Higher risk of contamination from toxic, cancer-causing chemicals, like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxins.
  • (-) Usually, raised in poor, crowded conditions, with higher rates of bacteria, parasites, and diseases.
  • (-) In some aquacultures, antibiotics are used to prevent illnesses, hormones are used to promote growth, and artificial coloring is added to the feed. Then, these substances can leach into the farm raised salmon that we eat.
  • (-) Every aquaculture is different—some enforce stricter health regulations, others do not.
  • (+) Very low risk for toxic mercury levels.

Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised: Contaminants

In the early 2000s, a series of studies comparing wild caught salmon vs farm raised found that contaminant levels were significantly higher in farm raised. So much so, researchers at the time determined that it was only safe to consume farm raised salmon at one to two meals each month—or not at all. But, other have studies found that contaminant levels were pretty much the same in wild caught salmon vs farm raised. And, more recent studies have found that contaminant levels in some areas have significantly decreased over the past decade.

So, farm raised salmon today is likely not as ‘toxic’ as it once was. Of course, more research needs to be done! Some argue that the omega-3 content of farm raised salmon outweighs the potential risks. (Others argue that contaminant levels may reduce overall health benefits.) Thankfully, many aquacultures today have dramatically improved their practices, like in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Norway.

But, so much of the farm raised seafood we eat is imported from other areas. In the U.S., we import around 90% of the fish we eat from other areas of the world, with different aquaculture practices and regulations. And, sadly, the majority of other countries don’t yet enforce strict enough regulations on fish farming. This is why it’s crucial to learn about the farm raised fish we’re buying and the aquacultures they were raised in!

Overall, one of the benefits of wild caught salmon is there’s less cause for worry about toxic contaminants!


Sadly, what you see labeled as ‘wild salmon’ on a restaurant menu or even in some grocery stores may actually be farm raised… Or, sometimes, it might even be a different fish entirely, like rainbow trout. In 2015, a study found that two-thirds of ‘wild’ salmon was mislabeled on restaurant menus. And, 20% of ‘wild’ salmon at grocery stores was mislabeled—particularly small grocery stores more so than chain stores. Be sure to ask questions and learn about the fish you’re buying!

Environmental Impact

  • (-) Due to industrial fishing, many wild fish populations are disappearing. In the last decade, overfishing has brought some species to an all-time low.
  • (-) In some cases, fishing practices contribute to pollution and can damage natural ecosystems.
  • (-) Fishing boats, trucks, etc. involved in commercial fishing have a significant carbon footprint.
  • (+) New regulations are being put into place to prevent overfishing and protect wild fish. (But, it will take a long time for natural populations to rebuild.)
  • (+) Farm raised fish can help reduce the overfishing of wild populations.
  • (+) Can build aquacultures in unused spaces and even in cities, so there’s less strain on the natural environments.
  • (-) Many aquacultures also seriously damage the environment by contaminating wild ecosystems with pollution and other poor farming practices.
  • (-) Sometimes, farmed fish escape from pens in lakes and oceans, overcrowding wild populations or even spreading disease. And, some aquacultures threaten wild species when they encroach on natural environments to use them for fish farming.
  • (-) In many cases, aquacultures use unsustainable fish feed, made from wild caught fish. This only contributes to overfishing and the same environmental strain caused by industrial fishing.
  • (+) Slowly, stricter regulations are improving aquaculture practices in some areas. (But, unfortunately, many areas of the world still use damaging and unsustainable farming methods.)

Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised: Environmental Impact

Globally, wild salmon stocks have shrunk down to just half their size over the course of the past few decades. In areas of the U.S., like the Pacific Northwest and Canada, many wild salmon populations have been depleted or completely disappeared. And, much of this is due to human activities, like deforestation and pollution, destroying wild salmon’s natural habitats. Now, with more and more people eating salmon, fishing pressure poses a serious threat to the remaining wild salmon in these depleted areas.

But, it IS possible to find sustainable, environmentally-friendly wild caught fish. In Alaska, for example fishermen have managed to preserve the Alaskan Pacific salmon populations and their natural environment. By implementing limits on fishing and pollution early on, many Alaskan salmon populations have actually increased in recent years! But, sadly, that’s just one rare area of the world where wild caught salmon come from.

All over the world, natural fish populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, making aquaculture the most viable option to protect wild fish and natural ecosystems. But, even though fish farming should ideally reduce damage to the environment, aquacultures can also contribute to environmental strain. Some fish farms contaminate natural ecosystems with pollution, as well as farmed fish that escape from netted pens. And, since fish feed often includes fish meal made from wild caught fish, some aquacultures still contribute to issues of overfishing and environmental strain.

As more fish farming regulations are put into place, aquacultures in places like the U.S., Canada, and some areas of Europe are improving. But, not all fish farms and countries enforce the same regulations. And, unfortunately, some major producers of our global seafood stock still use cheap, damaging, and unsustainable farming practices (like China, the #1 producer of farm raised fish). The key to making a smart choice with any type of fish, whether it’s wild caught salmon vs farm raised, is to find out where it came from.

How to Choose Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised

With so much conflicting information out there about wild caught salmon vs farm raised, there’s really no clear, ‘right’ choice. But, no matter which you choose, it’s crucial to buy salmon from a reputable grocery store that you trust. Or, better yet, but straight from the source if there’s a fish market in your area. And, ALWAYS look into where the salmon comes from.

Read Labels

  • Read labels carefully and look for C.O.O.L (country of origin labeling). Both wild caught salmon and farm raised should have this information on the label!
  • For wild caught fish, look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label or a ‘sustainable seafood’
  • For farm raised fish, look for labels that include words like responsibly farmed, certified sustainable, ASC Certified, and best aquaculture practices certified.
  • You can also research reputable, trusted brands that raise farmed salmon in clean, sustainable aquacultures. If you can find them, look for Verlasso (a farm based in Chile) or Skuna Bay (based in Vancouver Island).

Ask Questions

  • For wild caught salmon, ask your fishmonger which species of salmon are available, where they were caught, and what the fishing operation is like. Often, the person working at the fish counter can offer loads of helpful information and insight!
  • For farm raised salmon, ask the fishmonger which farm it came from, and in what country. They may be able to give you the low-down on the farm personally!

Do Your Research

  • If you can find out from the label or your fishmonger where your salmon came from, get online and do some further research. Look into the origins of the salmon and the area that it’s from.
  • For farm raised fish, you can often look into specific farms and brands to learn more about what the aquaculture’s practices and standards are like.
  • Get online and check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch! It’s an amazing resource with recommendations for sustainable seafood of all kinds, including salmon.

What to Look For:

In general, these tips can help you shop smarter for wild caught salmon vs farm raised (as well as other types of seafood):

Look for sustainably caught seafood. This means that the fishermen follow specific practices and regulations that are designed to prevent overfishing and protect natural ecosystems. Because sustainable wild caught fish are lower in supply and costlier to get, they do come with a higher price tag. But, it can be worth the splurge to know you’re getting a cleaner fish and the most environmentally-friendly option!

  • In terms of wild caught salmon, wild Alaskan Pacific salmon are often a sound, sustainable choice—if you can find it in your area.
  • And, keep in mind that wild caught fish, like produce, will be easier to find when they’re in season. Plus, you’ll be less likely to get a farm raised fish that’s been deceivingly labeled as ‘wild.’
  • For wild Alaskan salmon, the in season generally ranges from April to September, and the off season from October to March.
  • Also, you can make an even more sustainable choice by less popular wild fish—like trout, halibut, or mackerel—rather than wild salmon.

Be wary of farm raised fish from international farms. Different countries follow different farming practices and regulations, and most are not as strict about cleanliness, safety, or sustainability as aquacultures in places like the U.S. and Canada. Many international fish farms raise fish in polluted water, use poor farming practices, and some treat their fish with antibiotics. Unless you do your own research about the international farms you buy from, you can’t know for sure!

When looking into farm raised salmon and the aquacultures they’re raised in, it’s important to know:

  • (-) Some farmed salmon are raised in densely populated net-pen aquacultures, which are large, open nets in the ocean filled with LOTS of fish. But, these are NOT the ideal choice health-wise, and the can be pretty bad for environment.
  • (+) For a better choice, look into farmed salmon raised in low-density net pens. These pens house fewer salmon than in large net-pen aquacultures, so the fish aren’t so crowded and live healthier lives. And, these have less of a negative impact on the environment and surrounding ecosystems.
  • (+) For an option with the least impact on the environment, and zero impact on wild fish ecosystems, look for fish raised in closed tank aquacultures. These are tanks, rather than net pens, and they are completely cut off from the open ocean.

What is the difference between wild and farmed salmon?

Eating fatty fish, such as salmon every week has health benefits. The 2015–2020 American Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 8 ounces (oz) of seafood per week

Salmon is an excellent source of:

  • omega-3 fats
  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin D
  • calcium

We explore the differences between farmed and wild salmon below.

1. Wild and farmed salmon living conditions

Share on PinterestSalmon can be very crowded in fish farms.

Farmed salmon are fish stocks kept in netted pens. The farmers control breeding, feed them, and provide medicine if needed. Sometimes, the pens are very crowded and the salmon cannot swim very far.

Overfishing of the world’s fish stocks has led to an increase in fish farming. Fish farming also keeps the price of fish lower.

Wild salmon live and breed in their native bodies of water. Humans have no control over their breeding, feeding, or health. Wild salmon swim long distances with no restriction.

Environmental and chemical contaminants affect wild salmon as well as farmed salmon.

2. Nutritional differences

Typically, wild salmon have fewer calories, saturated fat and vitamins A and D than farmed salmon but contain more protein.

In both wild and farmed salmon, the omega 3 content will vary depending on what the salmon eats.

According to a 2017 review, farmed salmon have higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids than wild salmon. Both farmed and wild salmon had comparable levels of an omega-3 acid called EPA, but farmed salmon had lower levels of the omega-3 acid DHA than wild salmon.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, “Farmed salmon fillets contain as many grams of omega-3 fatty acids as wild salmon because farmed salmon are fattier than wild salmon.”

Omega-3s are important for:

  • brain function
  • eyesight
  • sperm production
  • energy production
  • reduction of inflammation

Both farmed and wild salmon contain some compounds that are not good for the body. This is because salmon can absorb some chemicals and pollutants through their diet and their environment.

3. Differences in color

Share on PinterestSalmon is a great source of protein, calcium, and omega-3 fats.

Wild and farmed salmon may differ in color due to their diet.

Wild salmon eat a lot of krill, crabs, and shrimp. These shellfish are high in a carotenoid called astaxanthin, which gives the salmon their pale pink-red color.

Sometimes wild salmon are white because of the way they process astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that is essential for the general health of the fish. Fish farmers feed the salmon with pellet foods containing an artificial version of astaxanthin. The synthetic version of astaxanthin is not as strong as the natural version but is still beneficial.

Neither the natural and synthetic versions of astaxanthin are toxic to humans.

4. Persistent organic pollutants (POP)

According to an article in Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, POPs are human-made organic chemicals that take a long time to break down. POPs can build up in animal tissue. Fatty fish can contain high amounts of POPs.

POPs are also known as:

  • persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT)
  • toxic organic micropollutants (TOMP)

POPs include:

  • pesticides
  • pharmaceuticals
  • industrial chemicals

The same article states that POPs can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans. POPs do this by affecting insulin. Insulin controls the body’s blood sugars.

Another study looking at POPs in indigenous communities where the people eat a lot of wild fish found an increase in type 2 diabetes.

POPs may also cause neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity may increase the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study found that wild Atlantic salmon contained higher levels of POPs than farmed salmon. This may be because their environment is uncontrolled and due to pollutants in the oceans.

A study looking at farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon found levels of some POPs and pesticides were decreasing.

It appears that farmed salmon may contain fewer POPs than wild salmon. However, this is dependent on the type of fishmeal that farmed salmon eat. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in 2003 farm-raised fish contained 5–10 times more of a POP called polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) than wild salmon.

If choosing farmed salmon, it is beneficial to find a reputable, responsible, and sustainably-raised source.

5. Heavy metals

Heavy metals, such as mercury can create oxidative stress in the human body. Oxidative stress can cause damage to the cells, which can, in turn, cause a variety of health conditions.

Other heavy metals in fish include:

  • arsenic
  • cadmium
  • lead
  • mercury

One study found that wild Atlantic salmon contained more mercury than farmed Atlantic salmon.

All salmon have some level of mercury in their tissues. The omega-3s in salmon may help prevent the mercury causing damage.

6. Animal drugs

Fish farmers sometimes give the salmon antibiotics and animal drugs to keep them in good health. Some people have concerns that the use of antibiotics could increase human antibiotic resistance.

Wild salmon have less exposure to animal drugs than farmed salmon.

Choosing wild salmon is the safest option for people who are worried about ingesting animal drugs.

7. Environmental and animal welfare concerns

Other concerns involve the impact of farmed salmon on the local waterways. Wild salmon fit into their natural ecosystem and do not increase environmental pollution.

Fish farms can be a pollution risk, particularly if they are located in low current areas. This is because pollution caused by fish excrement and uneaten feed can enter the local ecosystem and pollute the habitats underneath the netted pens.

When located in high current areas, the waste is dispersed by the water.

Some fish farmers stock their farms with salmon that are not native to the area. This can cause problems if the fish escape.

Escaped salmon compete with local species for food and reproduction. Escaped salmon can also introduce disease and parasites.

The intensity of fish farming is also of concern. High-intensity fish farming for profit often leads to overcrowding, which can lead to increased disease.

From an ethical and environmental perspective, wild salmon is the best option when fished sustainably.

What you need to know about farm-raised vs. wild-caught fish

WASHINGTON — Fish has become the darling food of nutritionists and home cooks in search of a quick and healthy meal. It’s high in protein, low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that help to lower the risk of heart disease and improve cognitive ability.

And while plates piled with more pink salmon and less red meat may make hearts healthier, the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers have felt the strain as nature inches closer to its limitations.

Overfished waters and a dwindling supply of some species have led to a rise in farm fishing. How does farm-raised fish stack up to wild-caught? Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine’s School of Food and Agriculture, explains the differences.

The difference between wild-caught and farm-raised fish

The difference between farm-raised fish and wild-caught fish is simple, says Camire, who is also the president at the Institute of Food Technologists. Farm-raised fish are grown in pens that are often submerged in ponds, lakes and salt water. (These pens can also be on land, but more on that later.)

Wild-caught fish, on the other hand, are caught in their natural environments by fisherman.

Some fish can be both wild-caught and farm-raised.

“Sometimes they just take the wild fish as babies and they grow them in a pen and fatten them up and then sell them at market, so there’s virtually no difference,” Camire says.

More than 50 percent of all seafood produced for human consumption is farm-raised, and this number is only expected to increase. By 2030 the World Bank estimates that nearly two-thirds of seafood will be farm-raised.

Is farm-raised or wild-caught fish better for the environment?

There is a lot of debate on whether wild-caught or farm-raised is better for the environment. Both types of fish come with their pros and cons.

Camire says a lot of species are overfished in their natural environments, and so there are a number of movements to halt traditional fishing methods among these species.

Sustainability also is a concern with traditional fishing.

“You have to send the fishing boats out into the ocean, they catch the fish and then have to come back, then take their truck to market, so are not very carbon-footprint friendly,” Camire says.

Farm fisheries, or aquacultures, on the other hand, can be built closer to cities so less transport is required from the farm to the market.

“You can take something like an abandoned factory or a shopping center that is no longer functioning and convert that into an aquaculture facility,” Camire says.

Some aquacultures are even located in urban environments. Chicago’s The Plant experiments with aquaponics — or a hybrid of hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture — in a 7,000-square-foot basement. The farm raises tilapia and uses the water system to grow salads, greens and herbs for the local restaurant industry and the city’s farmers market.

But not all aquacultures are good. Reports indicate that some aquacultures have had a negative impact on the environment. For example, shrimp farming is thought to be responsible for more than half of all mangrove loss.

Feeding farm-raised fish is another concern in matters of sustainability. Most farm-raised salmon are fed a food that’s made from ground-up fish.

“Fishing boats go out to sea, capture all these little fish, bring them back, process them and turn them into fish food, which is not sustainable,”Camire says, explaining that there is a way around this practice.

“We can do that now more sustainably by growing worms and other insects. They have that good protein, add that with the algae for the omega-3s and make a fish food out of that.”

A frequently cited study also reports high levels of PCBs, a potentially carcinogenic chemical, in farm-raised fish. Also common, although not in the U.S., is the use of antibiotics and pesticides in farm-raised fishing methods. Camire says some aquacultures in China don’t treat the fish waste properly, leading to water contamination. However, the industry in the U.S. has gotten much better.

Camire says aquaculturists in the U.S. are “very concerned with environmental issues,” and see a lot of advantages in adopting sustainable practices. In 2004, the World Wildlife Fund started to develop detailed standards, and in 2013, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council released its own set of standards, The Washington Post reports.

That’s not to say wild-caught fish are cleaner, however. Many are exposed to toxins and metals found in their natural food sources.

Is there a difference in taste and health benefits between the two?

Camire says similar to wild game or wild poultry, there may be a slight difference in taste between the two varieties.

“A wild turkey tastes very different from a farm turkey. Farm fish tend to have a little bit more fat in their diet, so they might be a little more tender or softer, compared to a wild-caught fish which might be a little leaner,” says Camire, although she says this depends on the fish.

Many fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which essentially comes from algae.

“These fish accumulate the omega-3s by eating lots of little fish who eat the algae who produce the omega-3s.”

Since farm-raised fish are exposed to fewer smaller fish than their wild-caught peers, some reports indicate they are not as rich in omega-3s. However, Camire says the aquaculture industry is cutting out the middleman and growing algae in ponds to harvest as fish food. This is a more sustainable and healthier method.

“People were concerned because there were a few studies that showed that the wild had higher levels of omega-3s, so they said, ‘We have a simple solution for that.’ In fact, a lot of humans are getting their DHA from algae now because they’re vegan or they don’t like fish,” she says.

So you’re at the store: What should you buy?

Many consumer guides say that regardless of how it is raised, some fish is better than no fish. In other words, don’t stop eating fish just because it is farm-raised or wild-caught.

However, Camire does strongly advise that consumers be leery of some international farm-raised products, mostly because other countries have different standards.

“Just because they have different practices,” she says. “There were some concerns in China, for example, they were putting the fish ponds next to pig farms and the pig manure was going into the water, and so the fish and the pig were picking up the bacteria from the pigs, so that was not a good situation,” she says, adding that to calm that scare, the farmers used antibiotics.

“And you certainly don’t want antibiotics in the food supply.”

Most stores label whether a fish is farm-raised or wild-caught, and Camire says fish should also be labeled by country of origin.

If you’re buying shrimp, expect farm-raised. She says most the shrimp you see today is grown in aquacultures. Regardless of its origin, there is not much of a difference in cost between farm-raised and wild-caught. She says the same goes for other varieties.

“More and more aquaculture is being done for mussels and oysters and I don’t think there’s that big of a difference in price between them,” she says.

However, similar to the World Bank’s prediction, Camire says to start getting more comfortable with the farm-raised labels you see at the store. You can only expect to see more of them.

“To give a good-quality protein, we’re going to have to rely more on aquaculture,” she says.

“I think we’re going to be seeing a greater variety of farmed fish. And not to displace the fisherman on our coastlines, but the stocks are depleting and we can’t keep taking without replenishing. I think the seafood industry is going to change.”

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Fish and shellfish have been important in human nutrition since prehistoric times. Fish farming is an age-old practice and the ancient Assyrians and Romans farmed fish in ponds. For thousands of years the Chinese have farmed fish using their rice fields during the periods when the fields are under water. Throughout history, fish and shellfish have been a source of economic power. During recent decades, per capita fish consumption has expanded all over the world.

In addition to eating fresh fish, techniques such as smoking and salting have been used to preserve fish, including salmon. To this day, smoked salmon is enjoyed as traditional fare in the cuisines of the Russian Federation, Britain and Scandinavia.

Varieties of salmon

As with all fish consumption, sustainability is a major issue. However, several varieties of salmon are sustainable, and you can find more information at Salmon varieties are usually classified by the ocean in which they are located. In the Pacific they are considered part of the genus Oncorhynchus, and in the Atlantic they belong to the genus Salmo. There is only one migratory Atlantic species, but five existing species of Pacific salmon: Chinook (or king), sockeye (or red), coho (or silver), pink and chum. In the UK, the main source of salmon is from Scotland. Wild Alaskan salmon is also available.

Salmon flesh is typically pink but their colour can range from red to orange. The Chinook and sockeye varieties are fattier than pink and chum, favourites for steaks and fillets, while coho falls somewhere in the middle. Pink salmon is primarily used for canned food. Chinook salmon are the largest and sockeye the smallest salmon. Due to the various species parameters, cuts and fillet sizes are variable.

Nutritional information

Fish and shellfish are nutrient dense and salmon is no exception. It is rich in a protective antioxidant, astaxanthin, and it is an excellent source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals (including potassium, selenium and vitamin B12). However, it is the content of omega-3 fatty acids in salmon that receives the most attention, and rightly so. It is this essential fat which is responsible for the reputation of oily fish as a valuable ‘brain food’.

A 100g serving of salmon (farmed, cooked weight) contains

232 calories 25g protein 14.6g fat 2.8g saturated fat

…A note on omega-3 fatty acids

The most beneficial omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are thought to contribute to healthy brain function, the heart, joints and general well-being. The idea that eating fish may reduce the risk of heart disease began in the 1970s and 1980s when it was noted that among the Inuits in Arctic Greenland (where high consumption of marine animals was the normal diet), heart disease was very low. In addition to heart disease, scientists are now investigating the role that fish consumption may have in protecting us against some cancers as well as many chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s disease , asthma, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-3 is termed as an essential fatty acid because the body cannot synthesise it, so it must be obtained from the diet. To optimise your body’s supply of essential fats rich in EPA and DHA, aim to eat oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and fresh tuna regularly. The Department of Health guidelines state that we should aim to eat fish at least twice a week with at least one portion being an oily variety, like salmon. For pregnant and breastfeeding women there is specific guidance. EPA and DHA are important for your baby’s developing central nervous system, including the brain, so they make a valuable contribution to a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy, but follow do the NHS advice with regards to quantities.

Select and store

Salmon can be purchased as either steaks or fillets and be fresh, frozen, canned or smoked. Fresh salmon should have smooth, moist skin. If it has been sold whole, the eyes should be bright and clear, not cloudy or sunken. Rely on your sense of smell to tell you if the fish is fresh. If you cannot eat the fresh salmon within a couple of days, it’s best to freeze it. Once frozen and thawed, it should not be refrozen.


Fish farms now contribute a large amount of the salmon being consumed. The wild (free range) fish are superior in many ways to their farm-raised counterparts. Wild salmon have also been found to have fewer pesticide residues than farmed, however studies fail to make a strong case that eating farm-raised fish poses a significant safety concern. Smoked salmon is seen as a safe food to eat during pregnancy.

Follow the same food safety rules for salmon as you would with raw meat or poultry. Make sure it is cooked thoroughly by measuring it at its thickest point and cook for 10 minutes per inch. Properly cooked salmon will have firm but moist flesh that will flake apart.

Recipe suggestions

Salmon lends itself to baking, barbecuing, poaching, steaming or grilling.

Simple salmon suppers with lots of veg:
Salmon & spinach with tartare cream
Spring salmon with minty veg
Sticky salmon with Chinese greens

If a salmon fillet sounds too fishy why not add other flavours in a fishcake:
Superhealthy salmon burgers
Salmon & ginger fishcakes

Or turn it into a family friendly pasta dish:
Italian broccoli & salmon bake
Hot smoked salmon with creamy pasta & pine nuts

Smoked or fresh, salmon is great in salads:
Salmon with chickpea, pepper & spinach salad
Marinated smoked salmon with poppy seeds

Or the classic fish pie:
Summer fish pie

This article was updated on 1st November 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit Ourpath where Jo is a Health Coach or follow her on Twitter at nutri_jo.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

12 Health Benefits Of Salmon For The Heart, Brain, And Much More

Salmon is one of the most nutritious types of fish that offers several health benefits. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and other essential nutrients, salmon is wonderful for hair and skin health. The great taste and excellent health benefits of salmon make it one of the most loved fish in the world.

Salmon is a popular oily fish that contains good fats. This makes it good for heart health and cholesterol. A good amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 and -6 fatty acid content contributes to overall health.

Considered a superfood, the nutrition facts of salmon include antioxidant elements like selenium and other minerals like phosphorus, zinc, and potassium, as well as the vitamin B group—riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, B6, folate, and B12. Therefore, salmon aids in good health, as it makes up for most of the mineral and vitamin deficiencies in our body if we make it a part of our diet.

12 Health Benefits of Salmon

Is salmon healthy? It is a fair question given that salmon is an oily fish with a rich amount of fats. However, this fat is completely healthy and is good for the heart and skin.

Salmon is an excellent food source for the heart and brain. Medical studies have found that taking 0.45 to 4.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids can significantly improve heart function, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. The fish also contributes to cognitive health due to the presence of DHA—a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

It is worthy to note that wild salmon contains more nutritive value than the farmed ones. The farmed salmon are raised on an artificial pellet-based diet, rather than their natural diet consisting of crustaceans, flies, and smaller fish which they would otherwise consume in the wild. As a result, eating salmon from a hatchery will not benefit you as much as consuming the wild-caught salmon.

Here are the 12 health benefits of salmon.

1. Improves cardiovascular health

Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and potassium. The omega-3 and -6 fatty acids combined with potassium greatly contribute to heart health, as they reduce artery inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, and maintain blood pressure levels. Potassium helps to control blood pressure and prevent excess fluid retention. Thus, regular salmon intake can significantly reduce heart-related medical conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides.

2. Repairs damaged tissues

Salmon is a good source of protein. In addition to essential nutrients, our body requires protein as it is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It helps the body to build and repair tissues after an injury, protects bone health, and maintains muscle mass during weight loss. It also maintains a healthy metabolic rate and improves bone density and strength.

3. Excellent vitamin B complex source

Salmon is rich in the entire vitamin B group—B3, B5, B7, B6, B9, B12, and so on. Vitamin B complex plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy balance of all bodily functions. The B group of vitamins work co-dependently to turn consumed food into energy, create and repair DNA, and reduce inflammation. Among all the B vitamins, salmon is richest in vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin B6. Vitamin B3 helps to lower cholesterol levels, whereas vitamin B6 improves brain health. Salmon also has a good amount of B12 which is vital for the functioning of the brain and nervous system, hormonal balance, and several metabolic functions.

4. Assists in proper thyroid function

One of the important functions of selenium is to maintain proper thyroid function. A decent portion of salmon can provide a considerable amount of selenium. This essential trace mineral protects the thyroid gland from oxidative damage caused during the synthesis of the thyroid hormone. The cells of the thyroid gland produce hydrogen peroxide which is used to make the thyroid hormone.

5. Promotes brain health

The high levels of DHA work in association with the vitamin A, vitamin D, and selenium in salmon to boost and improve brain function. In fact, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are used to treat psychological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Eating salmon during pregnancy can assist with improved fetal brain development and health.

6. May cure cancer

Based on the impressive omega-3 fatty acid content, salmon is considered as a superfood. Medically, it is proven that omega-3 fatty acids can have a profound effect on cancer cells and kill tumors. Certain cancer conditions like skin cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, UVB-induced skin cancer, and brain tumors may be treated and prevented with omega-3 fatty acids.

7. Fights joint inflammation

Again the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon help to reduce various inflammatory joint conditions including osteoarthritis. Salmon contains a group of small proteins called bioactive peptides. One such bioactive peptide, called calcitonin, is known to increase, regulate, and stabilize collagen synthesis in human osteoarthritic cartilage.

8. Builds cognitive intelligence in children

Since salmon is good for brain health, expecting mothers should eat salmon to build cognitive skills and learning capabilities in children. It should also be included in the diet of growing children, as salmon can also help to curb ADHD and enhance academic performance.

9. Antioxidant properties

The pink color of the salmon comes from the presence of astaxanthin, a member of the carotenoid family of antioxidants. Unlike other carotenes and carotenoids, astaxanthin doesn’t get converted to retinoid in the human body. It is an antioxidant by nature and is good to prevent cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative diseases.

10. Enhances eyesight

Incredibly rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A, salmon is a wonderful food source for eyes. Regular salmon consumption could help to cure dry-eye syndrome and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) symptoms.

11. Promotes healthy skin

Salmon benefits the skin owing to the presence of fatty acids and vitamin A. These healthy fats improve the skin quality and health. Omega-3 fatty acids work in collaboration with the carotenoid antioxidants of astaxanthin in salmon to tremendously reduce free radical damage that is responsible for aging.

12. May assist in weight loss

Salmon may benefit weight loss as well. The oily fish is protein-rich with a low-calorie content. Therefore, it is absolutely healthy and advisable to include salmon in your diet plan, as it will not only provide you with huge amounts of protein but will also compensate for various vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the body. The fat content in salmon is mostly good and doesn’t make you gain weight.

Nutritional facts of Wild, Cooked Salmon

As we all now know, salmon is a powerhouse of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. These are the nutrition contents present in a wild salmon that is cooked.

Can You Eat Salmon Skin?

This fish is a total package of nutrition. The skin of salmon is edible and is as nutritious as the flesh of the fish. As a matter of fact, salmon skin is richer in omega-3 fatty acid content than the flesh of the fish. It also contains a good amount of phosphorus and potassium.

The flesh of salmon lacks vitamin D. But salmon skin, and particularly the bones, are loaded with vitamin D. Therefore, consuming salmon skin helps in the absorption of calcium, and consequently promotes healthy bone development.

Salmon skin doesn’t have any side effects. Eating salmon skin will only increase the level of omega-3 fatty acid supply from the fish. The more omega-3 fatty acids are added to our diet, the better it is for our health. This is because it boosts the anti-inflammatory abilities of the body, and improves brain health by repairing brain cell damage.

However, it is advisable to eat the skin of wild-caught salmon rather than those of the farm-raised ones. This is because the skin of the farmed salmon might be contaminated with pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), pesticides, dioxins, and mercury. A study conducted by the Indiana University revealed that farmed salmon have a higher concentration of contaminants than the wild ones. Another important thing to note about salmon skin is that the cooking process doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the skin. Thus, you can have them grilled, fried, baked, or whichever way you want, salmon skin is delicious and healthy either way.

Is Salmon Fattening?

Contrary to popular belief, salmon is not fattening. As a matter of fact, salmon actually aids in weight loss. Health experts recommend to include a good amount of vegetables, lean protein like fish and chicken, and fruits in a weight-loss diet plan. Salmon contains a good amount of lean protein, which works in favor of weight loss. This is because proteins tend to keep you feeling full for a longer period, keeping the blood sugar level balanced. As a result, it keeps you satisfied, thus reducing your food intake throughout the day. you can safely eat two portions of salmon in a week to get the required amount of nutrients.

According to the studies published by the International Journal of Obesity and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (May 2007), a fish (lean protein) diet with regular exercise will provide you with improved and more rapid weight loss results than just working out in the gym. Furthermore, salmon is low in calorie content. A serving of 198 grams of salmon will provide 14% daily value (DV) of calories. A three-ounce serving of coho or sockeye salmon has only 118 and 144 calories, respectively.


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When it’s wild-caught and not farmed, salmon fish is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It’s credited with everything from extending the life span to preventing heart attacks and cancer. (1) And not only does the salmon nutrition profile possess one of the highest omega-3 contents of any type of fish, but each serving is also packed with tons of other vitamins, minerals and salmon protein as well.

In recent years, research has continued to unearth a long list of potential salmon health benefits. Studies show that it can do everything from help boost brain function to improve bone and skin health. Plus, it’s delicious, easy to add to the diet and can fit into just about any recipe.

What Is Salmon? Types of Salmon

Salmon is a term used to refer to any type of fish in the Salmonidae family, including species like trout, whitefish and grayling. These fish are ray-finned and native to the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Most species are also anadromous, meaning they hatch in fresh water, move to the ocean, and then return to the fresh water again to spawn and reproduce.

Salmon can be divided into two main categories based on where they originated: Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon. From there, they can be further broken down into several main species, including:

  • Atlantic Salmon
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Chum Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Masu Salmon
  • Pink Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon

Wild-caught salmon is often considered one of the healthiest fish available. In fact, take a look at the sockeye salmon nutrition profile or the grilled salmon nutrition facts, and you’ll notice that each serving supplies a good amount of protein, heart-healthy fats, and important vitamins and minerals for a low amount of salmon calories. For this reason, most health organizations and experts recommend including one to two servings of this nutritious ingredient in your diet each and every week.

Salmon Nutrition Facts

Although there are some minute differences between different types of salmon, such as smoked salmon nutrition vs. canned salmon nutrition, salmon is considered one of the top nutrient-dense foods. This is because, even though there are a low amount of calories in salmon nutrition, there’s a good amount of heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and protein in salmon.

One three-ounce serving (about 85 grams) of cooked wild-caught salmon contains approximately: (2)

  • 155 calories
  • 21.6 grams protein
  • 6.9 grams fat
  • 39.8 micrograms selenium (57 percent DV)
  • 8.6 milligrams niacin (43 percent DV)
  • 2.6 micrograms vitamin B12 (43 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligram vitamin B6 (40 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligram riboflavin (24 percent DV)
  • 218 milligrams phosphorus (22 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram thiamine (16 percent DV)
  • 1.6 milligrams pantothenic acid (16 percent DV)
  • 534 milligrams potassium (15 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligram copper (14 percent DV)
  • 31.5 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
  • 24.6 micrograms folate (6 percent DV)
  • 0.9 milligram iron (5 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)

In addition to the nutrients listed above, salmon nutrition also contains some vitamin A and calcium.

Related: Mackerel Fish: The Cholesterol-Lowering, Bone-Strengthening Omega-3 Powerhouse

Benefits of Salmon Nutrition

  1. High in Vitamin D
  2. Improves Bone Health
  3. Boosts Brain Function
  4. May Prevent ADHD in Children
  5. Promotes Heart Health
  6. Enhances Eyesight
  7. Optimizes Skin Health
  8. May Fight Cancer Development

The wild-caught salmon fillet nutrition profile makes it one of the world’s healthiest foods. High in a number of important vitamins and minerals, wild-caught salmon boasts many benefits for the entire body, largely thanks to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Here are eight proven wild-caught salmon health benefits:

1. High in Vitamin D

Containing more than a day’s worth of vitamin D in just one serving, eating wild-caught salmon fish helps maintain optimal health in a variety of ways, and it’s important to note that wild-caught salmon nutrition contains up to 25 percent more vitamin D than farmed salmon nutrition, according to research out of Boston. (3)

This is important as vitamin D deficiency is linked to everything from cancer to multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. According to the 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, approximately 90 percent of people with darker skin pigments in the United States suffer from vitamin D insufficiency. (4) This stresses the need for all of us to get plenty of sun exposure, supplement or eat vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, on a regular basis.

2. Improves Bone Health

Recent research suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish or fish oil could help enhance bone health to keep conditions like osteoporosis at bay. (5) In fact, using records spanning 15 years from the Women’s Health Initiative, Ohio State University researchers observed that women with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood experienced fewer hip fractures. (6)

Inflammation contributes to bone resorption, a process in which bone tissue is broken down. (7) Since omega-3-rich salmon is a natural anti-inflammatory food, eating this delicious fish on a regular basis is a great way to keep your bones strong.

3. Boosts Brain Function

Omega-3-rich foods have been shown to increase the efficiency of various brain functions, including improved memory. (8) Omega-3 fatty acids can also relieve inflammation to protect the nervous system from oxidative stress and age-related damage, and they may possibly act as an antidepressant as well. (9) Plus, some animal studies even suggest that long-term omega-3 supplementation can help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s symptoms. (10, 11)

4. May Prevent ADHD in Children

Research shows that children who regularly eat salmon also experience the same brain-boosting benefits as their parents. Specifically, various studies suggest that feeding salmon to children helps prevent ADHD symptoms and can boost academic performance. (12) So, the nutrition in salmon helps children focus better and remember more.

5. Promotes Heart Health

Because salmon nutrition is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, regular consumption can help reduce systemic inflammation and the risk of developing atherosclerosis, hypertension and stroke. (13) Regarding dosage, a study published by the School of Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Western Australia reports: (14)

Health authorities currently recommend an intake of at least two oily fish meals per week for the general population which equates to approximately 500 mg per day of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid . In patients with coronary heart disease the guidelines recommend 1 g daily supplements and in hypertriglyceridemic patients up to 4 g per day.

6. Enhances Eyesight

Eating salmon could help relieve dry eye syndrome and age-related macular degeneration symptoms, the No. 1 cause of irreversible blindness in the United States and European Union. (15, 16) Omega-3s are also thought to improve the drainage of intraocular fluid from the eyes and decrease the risk of glaucoma and high eye pressure. (17) The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon are also essential for eye development in infants. (18)

7. Optimizes Skin Health

Because of its exceptional levels of omega-3 fats, consuming wild-caught salmon may help provide glowing and more supple skin. Also, the carotenoid antioxidants of astaxanthin found in salmon can greatly reduce the effects of free radical damage, which contributes to skin aging. (19) For this reason, dermatologists around the world frequently recommend consuming more wild-caught salmon to keep skin bright and healthy.

8. May Fight Cancer Development

Any discussion about the health benefits of omega-3-rich salmon would not be complete without mentioning the evidenced-based effects this superfood can have on cancer. Of the 2,500+ peer-reviewed scientific papers discussing omega-3 fatty acids and cancer, one point is clear: Omega-3 fatty acids can have a profound effect on not only preventing cancer, but helping fight tumor growth and development.

In fact, there are in vitro, human and animal studies to support this correlation between omega-3 fats and many types of cancer, including:

It’s also noteworthy to mention that some of these studies suggest that cancer patients typically experience measurable benefits when omega-3-rich fish like salmon are consumed even just once per week, making omega-3 foods like salmon some of the top cancer-fighting foods on the planet.

Salmon in Ayurveda and TCM

Salmon is appreciated for its impressive nutrient profile and health-promoting properties in several types of holistic medicine, including Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

On an Ayurvedic diet, salmon is considered heavy and satisfying. It’s said to have a tamasic effect, meaning it can help promote rest, and is thought to satisfy and warm the stomach.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, meanwhile, salmon is believed to be warming and can help tonify the blood and the qi, which is the flow of energy through the body. Salmon is also used to help fertility by nourishing the yin, which is considered the female principle of the universe.

Salmon vs. Tuna

Salmon and tuna are two of the most popular fish varieties available, especially when it comes to flavor, convenience and health benefits.

Much like salmon, tuna fish is low in calories but jam-packed with protein and healthy fats. And much like the wild-caught Atlantic salmon nutrition facts, tuna also contains a concentrated amount of selenium, vitamin B12 and niacin as well.

In terms of taste, tuna is more mild and less fishy while salmon is considered more juicy, rich and tender. Both are available in fresh and canned form and can be cooked and used similarly in your favorite recipes. In fresh form, however, there are some differences in the parts that are commonly consumed. For instance, many people wonder: Can you eat salmon skin or tuna skin? While salmon skin can be used to add a crunch to dishes, the skin of the tuna fish is often too tough to consume.

Salmon Sourcing: Wild-Caught vs. Farmed

According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “There’s a bit of a grey area here … some ‘wild-caught’ seafood actually starts its life in a hatchery.” (28)

This should raise some serious eyebrows because it could be that, like most shellfish, a significant amount of wild-caught salmon is raised in hatcheries and is then released to the wild to be caught. Essentially, this negates the term “wild-caught.” We see the same protocol with farm-raised yellowtail, which are caught as juveniles in the wild and then raised to maturity in captivity.

So in a nutshell, just because the package says “wild-caught” doesn’t mean that it’s good for you.

This is why I recommend true Alaskan wild-caught salmon. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, Alaskan salmon is the least contaminated species. Other salmon varieties that are known to contain minimal to no toxins include:

  • Southeast Alaskan chum
  • Sockeye
  • Coho
  • Pink
  • Chinook
  • Kodiak Coho

Bottom line: As long as your salmon is from a true wild-caught source, it is one of the best sources of omega-3s there is. Plus, it is an amazing powerhouse of many other vitamins and minerals.

Dangers of Farmed Salmon

But wait, didn’t I read somewhere that salmon is highly toxic and contaminated with mercury and dioxins? It absolutely depends on where you get it. Salmon is marketed as one of nature’s most potent superfoods, yet most salmon (and other fish like tilapia) on the market today is farm-raised. And let me be clear: Farmed salmon is on my list of fish you should never eat.

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there in terms of safe salmon sources. Some claim that only 50 percent of the fish in our markets are farm-raised, while others state that it could be much more. But one thing we do know: More than 80 percent of all the fish we eat is imported. (29) The problem with imported sources is that foreign manufacturing standards are not monitored and have been linked to having dangerous levels of:

  • Mercury
  • Pesticides
  • Dioxins
  • Dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) (30)
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Also, because of the poor nutritional feed they are sometimes given, compared to their wild-caught counterparts, farm-raised salmon:

  • Contain just a fraction of heart-healthy omega-3s (31)
  • Contain a significant level of toxins, pesticides and antibiotics
  • Are fed a dangerous reddish-pink dye in their food to make their flesh an unnatural red color

A 2011 study published in PLoS One found that mice eating farmed salmon actually showed weight gain and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes symptoms. (32) This is a result of persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, that tend to be high in farmed salmon. The study looked specifically at organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and PCBs.

Additionally, in November 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon and does not require any labeling, leaving consumers in the dark. (33, 34)

Despite the numerous health benefits of wild salmon nutrition, farmed salmon is not only less nutritious, but it’s actually dangerous for your health.

Where to Find and How to Shop for Salmon

Salmon is widely available in the seafood section of most grocery stores as well as fish markets around the globe.

It’s important when shopping for salmon that you also pick a healthy, fresh fish. You should ask your fishmonger when they got the fish in or even find out when they get their fish in advance before you go shopping. Some things to look for are:

  • Clear eyes
  • Consistent coloring, no dark spots
  • Firm flesh that springs back to the touch
  • Flesh intact with bone
  • Free of cuts on belly area or other parts of the body
  • Free of discoloration
  • Fresh smelling (not fishy)
  • No slime in gills
  • Red gills bright in color

When you do select a healthy salmon to eat, be sure to store it properly. Salmon should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, such as the meat drawer or the lowest shelf in the back of the fridge.

Salmon Recipes and Uses

From baking to grilling to sautéing and roasting, there are plenty of methods for how to cook salmon and enjoy it in your daily diet. Salmon works well as a main course served alongside some roasted veggies, but it can also be added to salads, burgers, pizzas, sauces and omelets as well. There are plenty of easy salmon recipe ideas out there, and with a little creativity, you can easily find limitless options for how to enjoy.

Need a little inspiration? Here are a few of the best salmon recipes for you to try at home:

  • Teriyaki Baked Salmon
  • Avocado Salmon Salad
  • Blackened Salmon
  • Salmon Omelette with Potatoes and Herbbs
  • Grilled Honey Glazed Salmon


Salmon has been consumed throughout history and can even be traced back 5,000 years ago to remnants discovered from the Nisqually Indian tribe. Not only did humans depend on salmon as an important source of food, but many wildlife species did and still do today.

Additionally, salmon has also played a central role in many aspects of spirituality and religion as well. It was considered sacred to Native American tribes and is thought to have guided the native people toward developing a strong respect for the balance of the delicate ecosystem. The flesh of the salmon was commonly consumed, but they were also careful to not let any parts go to waste, using the skin to make clothing and the bones for toys. Salmon is also often featured in mythology and can be found in many ancient Celtic, Irish, Norse and Welsh stories.

In recent years, researchers have gained a renewed interest in salmon and the potential health benefits that it can provide. It has been studied extensively for its powerful ability to promote heart health, boost brain function and reduce inflammation while improving overall health with just a few servings per week.


If you have a fish allergy, you should avoid salmon and any other types of seafood. If you experience any food allergy symptoms like itching, swelling or hives after eating salmon, discontinue use immediately and talk to your doctor.

Additionally, while wild-caught salmon can be a healthy and delicious part of the diet, farmed salmon can be highly toxic and contaminated with unhealthy ingredients and contaminants that can harm your health. Opting for Alaskan wild-caught salmon or other healthy wild salmon varieties is the best way to ensure you’re getting your salmon from a safe source.

Also, it’s important to enjoy salmon as part of a healthy diet and enjoy it in your favorite nutritious recipes to maximize the potential health benefits. Frying it up or adding it to unhealthy foods like sushi can diminish the health-promoting properties of this powerful superfood.

Finally, although salmon is considered a low-mercury fish, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should keep intake in moderation and stick to just a few servings per week to minimize mercury exposure.

Final Thoughts on Salmon Nutrition

  • Salmon is any type of fish belonging to the Salmonidae family. Some of the most common kinds include Atlantic salmon and sockeye salmon.
  • Each serving contains a low amount of salmon calories but packs in tons of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and important vitamins and minerals.
  • Studies show that eating salmon may offer a variety of benefits, including better brain health, improved vision and stronger bones.
  • However, farmed salmon can be high in toxins and contaminants, plus lower in certain nutrients, making it crucial to pick from a safe source and opt for wild-caught salmon whenever possible.

Read Next: Essential Fatty Acids: What Makes These Healthy Fats So Essential?

Updated: 26. May 2016

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are essential for a healthy and balanced diet. The fatty acids have been shown to have a positive effect on blood count levels, infant development, cognitive health and the immune system. The main source of omega-3 fatty acids in the Norwegian diet is fish and seafood.

Why does salmon contain less omega-3?

Fishmeal and fish oil, which are sources of omega-3 in salmon, are made from wild fish. In order to increase salmon production when access to fishmeal and fish oil is limited, some of the marine ingredients in the feed are replaced with plant ingredients. More plant ingredients in the feed for farmed salmon means that the feed contains less marine omega-3 now than was the case before. Nevertheless, farmed salmon is still a good source of omega-3. One meal with farmed salmon covers a week’s recommended intake of marine omega-3 for healthy people. A dinner portion of farmed salmon (150 grams) will provide an average of 1.8 grams of EPA and DHA. DHA accounts for well over half of this.

Read more about why there is less fishmeal and fish oil in feed.

The salmon itself produces omega-3

The salmon’s unique biology means that it is able to produce omega-3. There is therefore more omega-3 in salmon meat than there is in the feed that the salmon eats. According to the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, when the feed is properly constituted, the salmon can convert plant omega-3 into marine omega-3.

Useful links

Article about essential fatty acids (in Norwegian only)

Salmon is still a good source of omega-3 (in Norwegian only)

5 Reasons to Avoid Farm-Raised Salmon – and Why Wild Salmon Is Better

  • Farm-raised salmon is more likely than wild-caught to contain contaminants, like carcinogenic dioxins and PCBs.
  • Wild caught salmon has a healthier ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats to inflammatory omega-6 fats, as well as an overall better nutritional profile.
  • Farmed salmon is not sustainable and may harm the environment by spreading disease to wild-caught fish and encouraging overfishing.

Salmon has sealed its superfood status with its sky-high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, so picking up a few filets on your next grocery run should be a no-brainer. But when you arrive at your fish counter, you may face a choice. Do you pick up the more affordable farm-raised salmon, or shell out for the slightly pricier wild salmon?

“While there are pros and cons to wild and farmed fish, you will be getting a more nutritious end product with wild salmon,” says nutritionist Kelly Schmidt, RD, author of “What’s the Deal With Paleo and Primal Eating?” And wild-caught salmon’s nutritional advantages are just the beginning. Keep reading to find out why you should avoid farm-raised salmon and eat wild salmon instead.

Farm-raised salmon has more dangerous contaminants than wild salmon

When you eat fish, you’re also consuming all of the pollutants the fish is exposed to, including a pollutant known as dioxins. Dioxins are a type of toxin that’s commonly released by incinerating trash. They tend to be stored in the fat tissue of animals, which is why 90 percent of human dioxin exposure is through food. While dioxins are found in wild salmon too, research indicates that dioxin and dioxin-like compounds are found in higher concentrations in farmed salmon than wild-caught salmon to a potentially dangerous degree. Dioxin exposure has been linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, infertility, immune system and hormonal issues.

Another particularly pernicious contaminant found in farm-raised salmon is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a chemical used in paint and plastics. The levels of PCBs were nearly 10 times higher in farmed fish than wild-caught fish, Schmidt says, referencing widely cited research from 2004. Too many PCBs are bad news for several reasons. One study found a correlation between dietary exposure to PCBs and increased stroke risk in women. Other literature has pointed to a connection between the persistent organic pollutants like the ones found in farmed salmon, and insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Wild salmon has a better ratio of good-to-bad fats than farmed salmon

Healthy fats are essential fuel for our bodies and minds, but not all fats are equal. Both farmed and wild salmon are excellent sources of disease-preventing omega-3s. While farmed salmon is higher than wild salmon in overall fat and calories, it’s also higher in inflammatory omega-6 fats, Schmidt says. “Wild fish has a far better fatty acid ratio of omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory fats) to omega-6 fats (pro-inflammatory fats).” Here’s a quick refresher on omega-3 fatty acids vs. omega-6 fatty acids.

Farmed salmon isn’t as nutritious as wild salmon overall

“Wild salmon has a more robust content of vitamins and minerals per calorie compared to farmed fish,” Schmidt says. “The difference in the nutrition breakdown between farmed and wild fish is due to the diet the salmon is fed. Wild salmon eats other organisms found in its natural environment, where farmed fish are fed a higher-fat processed diet to produce larger fish.” Wild salmon tends to pack more calcium, iron, zinc, and potassium than farmed salmon.

Plus, wild salmon contains the antioxidant astaxanthin (it’s what makes salmon meat appear dark pink). This anti-inflammatory molecule has a host of benefits, including possibly improving muscle endurance. Wild salmon get their fill of the antioxidant by chowing down on astaxanthin-rich plankton, while farmed salmon only get a knockoff version that’s created from petrochemicals like coal.

Farmed salmon is more likely to be affected by pollution, parasites, and disease

The densely packed nature of a fish farm can breed a lot of nastiness. The more salmon that are packed into the close quarters, the more excrement and uneaten food accumulates, upping the potential for parasites and disease to spread. This is exacerbated by the fact that farms operate in low current areas. And of course, disease means more antibiotics are potentially introduced in the mix, and with that, the risk of giving rise to antibiotic-resistant organisms.

Farmed-raised salmon are bad for the environment

While you might think that farmed salmon helps solve the problem of overfishing, consider this: Farm-raised salmon feeds on meal and oil from smaller wild-caught fish, which may result in more fish being removed from the ocean overall. In addition, escaped farmed salmon also disrupt the ecosystem by threatening to spread pathogens, like sea lice, to wild salmon population. Another consequence is the alarming disappearance of British Columbia’s salmon population, which experts believe can be attributed to the spread of a virus stemming from Norwegian salmon farms. Worse, the negative impact farm-raised salmon has on the wild salmon population may echo well into the future. As escaped fish breed with wild-caught fish, they may genetically alter future generations of wild salmon. In other words buying wild salmon over farmed salmon could have a ripple effect that extends well beyond your own health.

Don’t have time to read the article? Give it a listen instead.

The Question

What is the difference between wild, farmed, canned and smoked salmon when it comes to omega-3 fat content? What about other nutrients? I want to get the most nutrition possible.

The answer

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Deciding which type of salmon to eat isn’t always a straightforward choice. While all types are a good source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, some species store considerably more in their cells. Farmed Atlantic salmon, it turns out, outranks wild Pacific salmon, with 20 per cent to 70 per cent more omega-3 fat per serving.

Omega-3s aside, there are other nutrient considerations when choosing fish. If you want fewer calories and more protein, wild salmon comes out the winner.

There are environmental concerns, too, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Harmful effects of industrial-scale fishing include overfishing, habitat damage from fishing gear, pollution from salmon pens and transfer of diseases from farmed to wild fish. You’ll want to ensure fish has been caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.

Health Canada recommends eating fish – especially oily fish such as char, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and trout – at least twice a week for its heart-protective benefits. The two omega-3 fatty acids in fish, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are thought to guard against heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac death.

The benefits of DHA and EPA are also tied to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. They also promote healthy eye and brain development in infants.

Gram for gram, salmon delivers more omega-3 fatty acids than most types of oily fish. Omega-3 fats in fish come from the food it eats. In wild-caught salmon, omega-3s come from the algae, plankton and smaller fish (e.g. herring) in their diet. Species of wild salmon include Chinook, sockeye (red), Coho, pink and chum. Chinook, chum and Coho salmon may also be farmed.

The vast majority of farmed salmon (over 90 per cent) are Atlantic salmon, which are hatched, raised and harvested under controlled conditions. The omega-3 fat content of farm-raised salmon depends on the type of feed they eat, which consists of a combination of plants, grains, fishmeal and fish oil.

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There is no official recommended daily intake for DHA and EPA, but many international health authorities and expert scientific organizations advise healthy adults consume 250 to 500 milligrams each day.

Based on cardiovascular research, many experts recommend 1,000 milligrams per day for people who have coronary heart disease, an amount supplied by eating 12 ounces of Atlantic salmon per week. Since omega-3 fats store in the body, it isn’t necessary to eat fish every day.

According to 2015 data from the United States Department of Agriculture, farmed Atlantic salmon contains more omega-3 fatty acids than wild-caught salmon. That’s not too surprising since farmed salmon is also higher in total fat than wild salmon.

Three ounces of Atlantic salmon has 175 calories, 10.5 grams of fat and 1,820 milligrams of DHA plus EPA. The same serving size of sockeye salmon contains 133 calories, 4.7 grams of fat and 730 milligrams of omega-3s.

Less fat means more protein. Six ounces of sockeye salmon (cooked) contains 45 grams of protein compared with 38 grams in the same amount of farmed salmon. That might not seem like a big difference but it’s the protein equivalent of two large egg whites.

How you cook salmon can affect its omega-3 fat content. Omega-3 fatty acids can be destroyed by excessive heat. Baking, broiling, steaming and poaching fish will cause minimal loss of beneficial omega-3’s. Deep-frying and pan-frying fish at high temperatures can destroy omega-3 fats.

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Canned salmon is typically pink or sockeye salmon (both wild), with sockeye salmon having the edge in higher omega-3 levels (1,080 milligrams versus 920 per three ounces).

Most smoked salmon is cold-smoked, meaning it’s smoked at a low temperature that’s not hot enough to cook the fish. That also means that cold-smoked salmon is usually higher in omega-3 fatty acids than its cooked counterpart.

Smoked salmon has a downside, however: salt. Three ounces of smoked salmon contains 570 milligrams of sodium, one-third of a day’s worth. The same serving size of cooked fresh salmon has 50 milligrams (naturally occurring).

Bottom line: Whether you choose farm-raised, wild-caught, canned or smoked, salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also packed with protein, B vitamins (especially B12), selenium and potassium.

And salmon is one of the few foods naturally high in vitamin D, delivering 350 to 715 international units (IU) per three ounces. (Health Canada recommends 600 IU per day for children aged one to adults aged 70, and 800 IU daily for adults older than 70.)

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.

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Fishing for facts and doing the math

Research suggests healthy adults consume at least 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA + EPA) a day to guard against coronary heart disease. Omega-3 fats store in the body, so you don’t have to eat them every day to reach this target intake. For example, three ounces of Atlantic salmon supplies 260 mg a day (the math: 1820 mg DHA+EPA/7 days = 250 mg a day).

Milligrams of DHA + EPA

(combined) per three ounces, dry cooked (e.g. baking, grilling), unless stated otherwise:

*High in mercury; women of childbearing age and young children should avoid these species.

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database, 2015

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The Difference Between Farm-Raised and Wild-Caught Salmon

Fans of salmon know just how versatile the fish is. Whether you enjoy it best smoked and in thin strips sandwiched between a plump bagel with scallion cream cheese and capers, or prefer to grill an entire filet and pair with asparagus and halved red skin potatoes, it can spruce up a variety of dishes. In recent years though, the discussion between wild-caught and farm-raised has piqued many people’s interest, but what’s the verdict when it comes to farm-raised vs. wild-caught salmon?

Well, the conversations behind each aren’t always very clear. In an attempt to get a more concise answer on the farm-raised vs. wild-caught salmon debate, we did some research and consulted Jeremy Woodrow, the executive director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, to lend more insight on what types of salmon are wild-caught.

What is the key difference between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon?

Salmon that is farm-raised is typically sourced from the Atlantic Ocean and then are hatched, raised, and harvested in a controlled environment. Wild-caught salmon, on the other hand, is harvested from the Pacific Ocean primarily during the summer months. As a result, farmed salmon is available fresh throughout the year and oftentimes cheaper than wild salmon, which can typically only be bought fresh from June through September, unless frozen. Because the habitat of each type of salmon differs, the flavor of each is notably distinguishable, too.

Wild-caught salmon lends a more robust salmon flavor and is often a firmer, less fatty fish. Farm-raised salmon has visible striations of fat in the filet, which allows it to fall apart more easily as you sink your fork into it, and offers a more mild fish flavor.

Between 90 and 95 percent of all wild salmon harvest in the U.S. comes from Alaskan waters. Woodrow says there are five different species of fresh salmon that are harvested in Alaska.

  1. Sockeye—Also known as red salmon, Alaska sockeye is one of the most popular salmon species due to its deep red color and rich salmon flavor.
    Available: Fresh from mid-May through mid-September and frozen year-round.
  2. King—Championed for its size and succulent flavor, king salmon, also known as chinook, and is the largest of the five Alaska salmon species. It also bears the highest fat content.
    Available: Mostly caught in the summer, but some are harvested year-round.
  3. Coho—Also known as silver salmon, Alaska coho lends itself to a host of preparation styles. Coho salmon is the second largest Alaska salmon species and is known for its orange-red flesh, delicate flavor, and firm texture.
    Available: Mid-June through late October and frozen year-round.
  4. Pink—True to its name, Alaska pink salmon has rosy pink-colored flesh. The most abundant and affordable of the five Alaska salmon species, pink salmon is known for its delicate flavor and tender texture. This species is often available canned but is also great for smoking.
    Available: June through September and frozen year-round.
  5. Keta—Keta, also known as silverbrite or chum, features a mild flavor and tempting pink color. This extremely versatile species is good for smoking, and due to its firm texture, it is a great choice for grilling or roasting.
    Available: June through September and frozen year-round.

RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.

Is wild-caught salmon healthier for you than farm-raised?

As far as which one is healthier, research is muddied. Some make the argument that the feed given to farm-raised salmon is high in fat and protein, making farmed salmon higher in calories, fat, and protein as well. Older studies also suggest that antibiotics may be used among groups of farm-raised fish to prevent disease and that contamination levels may be higher in this group as well.

However, there doesn’t appear to be enough consistent (and current) research that concludes farm-raised salmon is an unhealthy or less sustainable option. The key is to do your research on who you are purchasing salmon from, no matter if it’s wild or farmed.

Salmon is chock-full of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which Americans tend to not get enough of. Whether you choose to buy wild-caught or farm-raised, the focus should be more on flavor and texture rather than trying to decide based off of health and sustainability reasons.

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Farm-Raised Salmon vs. Wild Salmon

Production Process

Farmed salmon is generally raised in two stages. First, the eggs are hatched and raised on land in freshwater tanks for 12-18 months, producing smolt (juvenile salmon). The smolt are then transferred to floating nets or pens in the ocean, where they are fed pellets and grow for another year or two. A single large sea pen can hold up to 90,000 fish. Modern harvesting techniques involve using wet-well ships to transport the fish to the processing facility, and fish are usually killed by a blow to the head with a pneumatic piston, and bled at the gills. This tightly-controlled harvesting process ensures that the quality of the meat is not needlessly degraded once the fish is dead.

The video below explains how salmon raised is with aquaculture:

Most wild salmon are caught in purse seine nets and gill-nets from their natural ocean habitat, usually as they swim along the shoreline to return to their home streams to spawn. Most commercial salmon boats have refrigerated sea water systems to keep the fish near-freezing until delivery to a processing facility or tender. Quality control varies by region and individual vessels. Most fish freeze to death or suffocate in the fish holds. A single vessel in Alaska may catch more than one million pounds during a productive summer, the season when salmon spawn.

Fish processing plants may produce fresh and frozen fillets, smoke, or can the fish. The entrails/bones/skin of the fish are often turned into fishmeal. In some species of salmon, the eggs are of particular value.

A salmon farm in Norway


Many of the wild stocks of salmon are at times “enhanced” with hatchery fish. Just as fish farms are supplied with smolt, some streams and lakes are artificially supplied with smolt – this is called ranching. These juveniles mature in the wild and naturally return to the streams where they were stocked. These fish are essentially ranched fish, but are considered wild by the USDA and processors. Enhanced fisheries have been highly productive in Alaska, Russia and Japan.


Salmon swimming upstream in natural waters

Wild- caught salmon are considered the fish-industry equivalent of organic produce and are said to be more nutritionally and chemically pure than farmed salmon.

The primary benefit of farmed salmon to consumers is in price and availability. The large-scale production achieved by fish farms makes salmon available to more consumers and drives down the price of wild-caught salmon.


While farm-raised salmon is certainly a healthy food, USDA nutritional data shows wild-caught salmon to be a healthier choice than farm-raised. Wild-caught salmon has less calories, less fat and saturated fat, more minerals, and less sodium than farm-raised salmon. Farm-raised salmon also contain higher concentrations of foreign chemicals, and without artificial dye, the meat would be a pale grey color. However, farm-raised salmon are often known to have more omega 3 fatty acids.

This Daytime talk discusses the farmed vs wild salmon as food:

The general consensus among ocean and nutrition experts certainly lands on the side of wild-caught salmon as a healthier and more environmentally viable choice than farm-raised salmon; however the aquaculture industry is taking steps to address the issues that plague the process. In other words, if farmed with extremely stringent quality conditions like in Norway, farmed salmon may be a better choice as it contains more omega 3.

Environment and Health Concerns

The inherent density of biomass in fish farming leads to common problems with parasites and disease among farmed fish, problems which often spread to nearby wild stocks. To combat these threats, farmed fish are often doused with antibiotics and drugs to control outbreaks. Sea lice and bacterial diseases have been found to wipe out significant portions of wild fish passing by. Even a relatively nascent bacterial development, when gone undetected, may be of serious health concerns to the consumer, especially when eaten raw. A major concern among critics of aquaculture are the fish that escape from pens during storms or accidents. If the fish are non-native species, they will compete with wild stocks. If they are native, they can breed with wild stocks are reduce genetic diversity. Farmed fish are often fed fishmeal and fish oil, which puts pressure on worldwide fisheries, as 1/3 of all commercial fishing production goes towards fishmeal and fish oil. Watch this eye-opening video about salmon when not farmed under proper conditions:

While progress has been made in the aquaculture industry to address the pollution and contamination issues associated with fish farms, such as the development of antimicrobial copper alloys for netting, the consensus among ocean advocates remains that consumers should avoid most farmed salmon.

In many areas of the world’s oceans, commercial fishing has been poorly managed and has led to depleted stocks. While most Pacific salmon fisheries are well-run (2013 was the most productive commercial salmon season in Alaska’s history), there is always the risk of mismanagement and depletion of wild stocks. Commercial fisheries also inevitably lead to small and large oil spills, and other environmental pressures that come with operating so many vehicles on the ocean. By-catch (catching non-targeted fish and mammal species) is another issue, although by-catch tends to be a relatively small issue with salmon purse seining and gillnetting. Animal rights activists have taken issue with the slow death that many commercially caught fish face, however recent research suggests that salmon might lack an adequate nervous system to feel pain.


The wild-caught salmon industry supports many Pacific coastal communities and provides a fairly wide spread of the profits in the industry. The commercial salmon industry remains largely based on small and family-run boats (most fish farms, on the other hand, are owned by large agricultural conglomerates and corporations).

The current worldwide production of farmed and raised salmon would provide about one serving of salmon per year to each person on earth, and sixty to seventy percent of that meat comes from aquaculture. If the various issues associated with aquaculture are mitigated, farmed salmon could fulfill its theoretical promise of easing pressure on wild stocks and providing an affordable and healthy source of protein around the world.

Recent News on Farm-raised and Wild Salmon

  • Which is Healthier? –
  • Wikipedia: Aquaculture of salmon
  • Fish Oil in Farmed Salmon – Washington Post
  • The Salmon Handbook – Marine Harvest
  • Fish Cannot Feel Pain –
  • Salmon: ‘Nature’s Earliest Convenience Food’ – KUOW

To be fair, organic fish are less tightly packed than their conventional equivalents. A conventional farmed salmon cage contains up to 70,000 fish. The Soil Association imposes no upper limit on the numbers of organic fish that can be kept in a cage, a departure from its standards for other farmed animals where flock and herd sizes are capped on welfare grounds. In practice, organic-fish farmers keep up to 30,000 fish in one cage, the equivalent of a bathful of water per fish, hardly the wild salmon’s total freedom to roam the oceans. Nevertheless, the Soil Association is ‘satisfied that these densities optimise the health and wellbeing of the fish’.

A detailed examination of organic aquaculture standards might dismay shoppers who believe that the word ‘organic’ stands for the avoidance of pesticides, additives and veterinary medicines. Organic salmon farmers do use colouring – albeit only for their juvenile fish – in the form of phaffia, an industrially produced yeast that contains naturally high levels of astaxanthin, the colouring used by conventional fish farmers. They also feed added vitamins and minerals, (both natural and synthetic are currently acceptable), and ‘binders’ such as wheat flour, none of which figure in the diet of a wild fish.

Uncanny similarities to conventional salmon farming don’t stop there. Organic fish farmers are at liberty to use many of the same chemicals routinely employed by their conventional equivalents such as the pesticide-based, commercial anti-sea lice treatments, cypermethrin and emamectin benzoate. These can be used up to twice in the organic salmon’s 30-month life even though there is a body of research to show that such treatments can have negative effects on sea creatures and the marine ecosystem. Organic salmon farmers can also treat their fish with up to three courses of veterinary medicines in this same period. Indeed the lifespans of organic and non-organic salmon are remarkably similar. A conventionally farmed salmon fattened in a cage will be slaughtered at two years old, its organic equivalent at two-and-a-half years. At the same age, a wild salmon will be only six inches long and weigh a few ounces. Typically a wild salmon spends at least three years in a river and two-and-half-years at sea before it reaches maturity. In the wild, salmon live for up to 16 years.

Another unusual feature of the Scottish organic salmon scene is that inspections to ensure adherence to the Soil Association’s aquaculture standards are carried out by Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd, an organisation set up by conventional salmon farmers which also polices the conventional salmon-farming industry. In land-based agriculture, the Soil Association has been punctilious about using either its own or outside inspectors whom it regards as being rigorously independent of the conventional farming industry. Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd currently has 10 members on its governing board, five of whom used to be, or still are, involved in the conventional salmon-farming industry. Peter Bridson insists that since Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd is a professional, independent body there is no reason why there should be any conflict of interest in the Soil Association using it.

Environmentalists who worry about the release of toxic chemicals in the marine environment may also be concerned to learn that, to limit or prevent the fungal growths that are likely to attack large concentrations of fish, organic-fish farmers can use the chlorine-based Chloramine-T and formalin. Formalin is a preservative and disinfectant, commonly used in fish farming worldwide, and approvated in Britain by the government’s Pesticides Safety Directorate, despite being described as a ‘known human carcinogen’ by the World Health Organisation. But, like many commonly used treatments to limit or prevent disease among large concentrations of farmed animals, the chemicals don’t always work. This is why sea lice from fish farms settling on passing wild fish continue to adversely affect wild-salmon stocks. Major General Seymour Monro, executive director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, a body that works to stem the decline of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout says: ‘They shouldn’t be calling these fish organic. From the point of view of escapees from salmon farms interbreeding with wild fish, and the potential of farmed fish to carry infestations of sea lice to wild fish, then there is no big difference between organic and conventionally farmed fish.’

The organic salmon farmers do appear to have cleaned up the conventional salmon-farming act by insisting that their fish meal comes not from stocks of endangered fish such as sand eel and blue whiting, but from the filleting waste (blood, guts, tails, heads) of fish harvested for human consumption. However, the Soil Association’s Peter Bridson admits that, at present, ‘we don’t have much control over where this waste comes from’, and so the Association has established a partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council and Aquascot, a long-established salmon-farming company, to ensure that, by 2010, all fish meal and oil used is produced from waste products of fisheries independently certified by the MSC as sustainable.

This doesn’t alter the fact that the stocks of fish to make oil and meal are running out. One solution to this thorny problem currently being considered by the Soil Association is that organic fish farmers could use feed containing up to 25 per cent of organically grown oil seed. This proposition has received a stormy reception from some organic growers, who fear that productive land will be planted with monocultures of organic oilseed rape, a notoriously disease-prone crop.

The Soil Association’s ambitions for organic aquaculture don’t stop with redesigning the salmon’s diet. Until recently, it has been unable to come up with an answer to the argument that salmon farms, organic or otherwise, pollute the sea bed by forming a thick layer of undigested feed and faeces under the cages. Peter Kindersley, another respected organic farmer who resigned as a trustee of the Soil Association over its certification of organic salmon, calculates that an organic salmon farm can produce a quantity of untreated sewage equivalent to the population of a small town.

In response, the Soil Association is touting the solution of ‘integrated aquaculture’, of growing edible seaweeds and bivalve shellfish, such as oysters, scallops and mussels, under the cages where they will fatten up on the effluent. To shellfish growers, who see clean, high-quality water as indispensable to their continued existence, this is an outlandish, even reckless idea. Bivalves easily become contaminated with pathogenic bacteria that can cause serious, even fatal food poisoning. Peter Bridson is nevertheless upbeat and optimistic about integrated aquaculture, portraying it as the marine equivalent of land-based mixed farming. ‘In Canada, research has shown that mussels grown using salmon-farm waste were preferred in taste tests because their meat had a richer quality,’ he insists. But selling consumers the idea of seafood fattened on salmon farm effluent, organic or otherwise, is surely going to be a hard one.

The Soil Association tries to justify its involvement with the farming of carnivorous fish like salmon, sea trout and cod by saying that wild-fish stocks have collapsed and that aquaculture is ‘environmentally the better option’. For refusniks like Iain Tolhurst, this amounts to writing off the sea as a food source. ‘It’s like saying, “We’ve made a mess of the planet, so let’s move to the moon,”‘ he says.

Most environmentalists believe all efforts should first be channelled into protecting and supporting stocks of wild fish through schemes monitored by bodies like the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries it deems to be sustainable. Long-standing fish-farming critics such as the leading angling writer and expert Bruce Sandison, also believe that fish farms, organic or otherwise, will have to be closed down or moved onshore into closed containment systems if wild fish are to flourish. ‘On the east coast of Scotland and on rivers like the Tweed and the Spey where netting has been stopped and there are no fish farms, wild salmon stocks are reasonably healthy. On the west coast, rivers and lochs that once teemed with wild salmon and sea trout are now virtually devoid of wild fish because the salmon farms have devastated them.’

Where does all this leave consumers who want to keep on eating salmon? The product known as ‘organic salmon’ is definitely preferable to the conventional fish-farmed equivalent, but that’s not saying much. A better alternative is to buy the reasonably affordable wild salmon from Alaska that is certified by the MSC, or the more limited, and necessarily more expensive stocks of Scottish and Irish wild salmon when available, viewing them as a very precious and special rare treat. As a rough price guide, for fresh fillets you can expect to pay around £13 a kilo for conventional farmed, £15 a kilo for wild Alaskan, £15-18 for Scottish organic and £20-30 for wild Scottish or Irish in season. In search of health-giving oily fish that are cheaper and reasonably plentiful, then we must turn our attention to other species like mackerel and herring. One way or another, if we want to eat truly sustainable fish, then we must face up to the fact that the days when we routinely ate cheap salmon as a staple food are numbered. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Salmon are kind of like onions. No, not because they make you cry. Hopefully salmon don’t make you cry. They’re similar because you can buy onions that are grown on a farm, but you can also find and harvest onions in the wild, too. Both onions, both very different things. The same goes for salmon. When you buy fish at the market, you will most likely see some labeled “farm-raised” and some labeled “wild” or “wild-caught.” Sure, they’re both salmon, but they’re very different things. What is the difference, you ask? Great question. Here’s what to expect from salmon, whether you go the farm-raised or wild-caught route:

Farm-Raised Salmon

What does that even mean? That’s a good question. In the broadest sense, it means that it was raised in some kind of aquatic farming operation, not the wild. But salmon farms vary in size, location, breeding practice, and just about everything else. Farmed salmon will differ in the same way that a carrot farmed in New Jersey differs from a carrot farmed in California.

What does farm-raised salmon taste like? Farm-raised salmon is what people tend to think of when they think of salmon. It’s generally fatty, mild in flavor, and a soft pink-orange hue. It has plenty of stripe-y striations of fat, which creates those big fleshy flakes that separate easily with a fork.

How do I cook this stuff? The beautiful thing about farm-raised salmon is that it can take a beating. It’s a lot harder to overcook than wild salmon, thanks to that high fat content. You can cook farm-raised salmon to medium rare (maybe slow-roast it), but you can also take it further, without being concerned about the fish drying out quickly.

How do I buy this stuff? As far as sustainability is concerned, buying farm-raised salmon can be tricky because there aren’t rigorous standards that regulate salmon farms. If you can, ask the person selling you fish what kind of farm it came from. Salmon raised in densely populated net-pen aquacultures (large, open nets in the ocean) are generally pretty bad for the surrounding environment. Look for salmon raised in low-density net-pens (fewer salmon than in a large net-pen), which have less of an impact on surrounding ecosystems and on the salmon themselves. Closed tank aquacultures (completely cut off from open ocean) have zero impact on the environment, so we like those too. Look for sustainably-raised brands like Verlasso or Skuna Bay Salmon.

Some fatty salmon collars on the grill.

Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Wild-Caught Salmon

What does that even mean? Well, wild salmon, as you’d probably expect, is caught in the wild. Fisherman take their boats, usually in places on the Pacific ocean like Alaska or New Zealand, and head out to catch these fish in their natural habitat. This means that when you buy wild salmon, you’re (usually) supporting smaller fishing operations in smaller towns around the world. We’re into that.

Recently, a Harvard Heart Letter subscriber emailed us a question: Is there a difference between farm-raised and wild-caught salmon in terms of omega-3 fatty acid content?

I’ve wondered about this myself while standing at the fish counter at my local grocery store. I can often find farm-raised Atlantic salmon for about $6.99 a pound, while the wild-caught salmon may be nearly twice as expensive. Salmon and other fatty fish are the main dietary source for omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower the risk of heart disease.

It turns out that you probably won’t shortchange your heart if you choose the less-costly farmed salmon, as both types seem to provide similar amounts of omega-3s per serving. But that’s likely because farm-raised salmon tend to have more total fat — and therefore more omega-3 fat — than wild ones.

How the total fat content of salmon measures up

As Dr. Bruce Bistrian, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained to me, fish are what they eat. “In the wild, salmon eat smaller fish that are high in EPA and DHA — the beneficial, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.” Farm-raised salmon eat high-protein food pellets. While location and environmental changes can affect the diet of a wild salmon, the flesh of a farmed fish reflects the farmer’s choice of pellets. In particular, farmers often feed the young salmon pellets made from plant and animal sources, then add the more expensive fish- and fish-oil–enriched pellets later in the fish’s lifespan.

A study that measured fatty acids in 76 different fish species from six regions of the United States found big variations in the omega-3 content in the five different salmon species tested — especially the two farm-raised varieties. The omega-3 content ranged from 717 milligrams (mg) to 1,533 mg per 100 grams of fish (equal to a “standard” 3.5-ounce serving). Compared to the wild-caught varieties, farmed fish tended to have higher levels of omega-3s, but they also contained higher levels of saturated and polyunsaturated fats. But the amount of saturated fat isn’t alarming. For comparison, a serving has about 1.6 grams, which is about half as much in the same amount of flank steak.

The best choices for salmon — and the rest of your plate

Bottom line: Don’t stress too much about your salmon selection. Follow the American Heart Association’s advice to eat two servings of fish a week, letting affordability and availability guide your choices. As for me, I often opt for farmed salmon for dinner once a week or so, but I’ll splurge on wild salmon if it looks especially good. When I have canned tuna, I look for the “chunk light” variety, which is lower in mercury than other varieties. (For more on that topic, see one of my previous blogs). Other good fatty fish choices include sardines, herring, bluefish, and mackerel.

And don’t forget to keep the big picture in mind when choosing what to eat. Nutrition experts like Dr. Bistrian stress that much of the most compelling evidence about a heart-healthy eating patterns comes from studies of the Mediterranean diet, which includes fish as well as lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and olive oil but minimal amounts of meat and dairy. “If you eat more fish in the context of other changes in your diet, that’s more likely to confer a benefit,” says Dr. Bistrian.

Wild vs. Farm Raised Salmon

Wild vs. Farmed Raised Salmon

With all the media hype about getting more Omega 3’s, consumers have been advised that fish could be a good source of these helpful fats. What are Omega 3’s? Well, they are unsaturated fats that have anti-inflammatory properties. This is important because inflammation in our bodies has been shown to contribute to the formation of disease. So why the big push for these helpful fats now? Our modern American diet has a very unbalanced ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 (somewhere around 15:1). This is due to the processing of foods and the high levels of grain/corn fed to the meat we eat (which is high in Omega 6). We really need to bring this ration closer to 2:1 for optimal health. Fish contains EPA and DHA Omega 3’s. These are the usable form of Omega 3, and provide big benefits internally for us.

Health Aspects

So if fish is so healthy, why the debate of farmed vs. wild? Wouldn’t it all be the same? More than 80% of the fresh salmon eaten in the U.S. is farmed, so it should be a healthy option. Unfortunately this is not the case. Although both farmed and wild fish (in this case we will refer to the salmon studies) contain Omega 3’s, wild fish provided much more usable Omega 3 (33% more). The reason for this discrepancy is that both Omega 3 and Omega 6 use the same enzymes for conversion into usable form. So when a food has high levels of Omega 6 (pro-inflammatory agents), as farmed salmon does, they use up the available conversion enzymes to produce pro-inflammatory agents, while preventing the usable form of Omega 3 to be produced. Yikes.

Farm-raised salmon also has much higher fat content than wild fish. Why? Because wild fish swim more. Simple as that. Farmed fish get big and fat because they are marine couch potatoes.

Disease and parasites should exist in relatively low levels with fish simply scattered about in the ocean. However, they can run rampant in salmon farms. The fish are packed densely together which encourages the spread of disease. In order to survive, the salmon are vaccinated as babies and then given antibiotics or pesticides later in life to prevent infection.

Sea lice, in particular, are a real problem. In a recent L.A. Times story, Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist and critic of salmon farms, found that 78 percent of farmed salmon were covered with a fatal load of sea lice. Younger salmon that she caught further away from the farmed salmon were pretty much lice-free. At the first sign of a sea lice outbreak, farms add emamectin benzoate, a pesticide, to the salmon’s feed.

A study published in Science reported that some varieties of farmed salmon also contained high levels of cancer-causing chemicals called PCBs. The PCBs come from the fish meal and fish oil the salmon is fed. Farmed salmon in US grocery stores was tested, and because of the higher fat content of farmed fish (fat stores toxins really well), 16 times more PCB’s were found in the farmed salmon than in wild. (September 8, 2003)

Also coming from the fish feed are PBDEs. These are actually flame-retardant additives used widely in electronics and furniture. Unfortunately they are appearing in increasing amounts in fish, and farmed salmon contain significantly higher levels of these polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) compounds than wild salmon, according to research published in the August 11, 2004 issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

PBDEs are endocrine disrupters that have been shown to have reproductive toxicity, and are also suspected to play a role in cancer formation.

One other important issue in the farmed vs. wild fish debate is the addition of color to farmed salmon. Have you noticed when you go to the seafood section of the grocery store, a lot of what you see says “color added”? Salmon get their color in the wild from eating pink krill. Farmed salmon are fed canthaxanthin, a synthetic pigment manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche. Fish farmers can choose just what shade of peach their fish will display from the pharmaceutical company’s trademarked SalmoFan, a color swatch similar to those you’d find in a paint store. Without help from Hoffman LaRoche, the flesh of farmed salmon would be a pale halibut grey.

Ecological Impact and Sustainability of Wild Alaskan Salmon

The increase in the farming of salmon has been an ongoing concern to researchers who study the ecological impact of farmed salmon. This concern includes the impact of farming on the wild salmon population. Some researchers have raised the question of whether sustainable salmon farming is even possible, given the natural habits of salmon and the unique habitats that have historically supported their vitality.

So now that we have established the risk and environmental impact of farmed salmon, we present a healthy solution – Wild Alaskan Salmon.

Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has recently determined Alaskan salmon to be the only low-risk salmon in terms of four sustainability criteria: the inherent vulnerability of the fish, the effects of fishing on the overall habitat, the status of wild stocks, and the nature of the by-catch (the other types of fish that are caught unintentionally during salmon fishing).

The human population in Alaska is among the smallest of anywhere else in the US and even most places in the world. Alaska also has very little heavy industry. There are strict regulations for development activities such as road building, logging, mining, and sewage treatment.

The State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) has a regulatory section dealing specifically with water quality. Sewage and other potential pollutants are closely regulated to ensure high water quality. In addition, Alaska’s Anadromous Fish Act requires prior approval for any in-stream construction activities.(Alaska Statute 16.05.870). Alaska also has a Forest Practices Act requiring buffer zones from logging along salmon streams to prevent erosion and protect spawning and rearing habitat.

Effective, precise management assures Alaska’s fisheries are productive, sustainable, clean, and healthy-as mandated by the Alaska state government. Alaska has served as a model of fishery management around the globe since admittance into the Union in 1959. Alaska is the lone state in the nation with a constitutional mandate stating that all fish “be utilized, developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle”, which is one main reason they have been able to accomplish such sustainability.

Wild Alaskan Salmon lead the low-risk category for wild-caught salmon. Southeast Alaskan chum, sockeye, coho, pink, and chinook salmon, together with Kodiak coho, pink, and chum salmon have all been evaluated for contaminant consumption risk involving many POPs (including dioxins, dioxin-like compounds, or DLCs, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs) and have been found to be the lowest risk category of wild-caught salmon for regular consumption. This lower contamination risk amongst all wild-caught salmon is one of the reasons why wild-caught Alaskan salmon is the recommended salmon of choice.

Based on a combination of sustainability and potential contamination concerns, it is recommended that you select wild-caught Alaskan salmon above all other forms of salmon currently available.

The World of Wild Alaskan Salmon

When you purchase or consume Wild Alaskan Salmon, you are supporting small, family operations. Instead of of consuming low-quality, mass produced food, you can eat salmon that has been individually picked out of Alaska’s pure, icy waters. Someone had to work very hard to get that fish to you. A lot of fishermen leave their families for weeks each summer just to work harder and longer than they do at home. The result is that you have the opportunity to purchase this fish, in its healthy, unadulterated form, and eat it in your home or at a restaurant.

We are so disconnected from where our food comes from. Purchasing and consuming Wild Alaskan Salmon directly from the fisherman who caught it, reconnects you to a healthy and delicious food option, while supporting the hard-working people who make it possible. And not only are you supporting those individuals, you are investing in your health and that of your next generations. Pass on good food sense to your children. We should be picky of what we choose to eat. It is important to become educated on the health effects of our choices.

We must stand up for our food rights. We must demand to know where our food comes from, what it is made of, and who is benefiting from our choices. Only when we decide to do this will we see the landscape of food and the food industry change. This is your chance to take a stand. When it comes to your salmon choice, choose non-GMO, chemical and dye-free. Choose Wild Alaskan Salmon.

Written by Angela Echo-Hawk, 2013

Fish Oil Omega 3s written by Joyce A. Nettleton, DSc, RD, ScienceVoice Consulting, Denver, CO The Immune System written by Joyce A. Nettleton, DSc, ScienceVoice Consulting, Denver, CO

Farmed or wild salmon

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