Should You Avoid Farmed Fish?
Is Wild-Caught Salmon Actually Healthier Than Farm-Raised Salmon?
At the grocery store, you have a bajillion decisions to make. Hopefully, one of those is: What type of fish am I making tonight? And knowing that salmon is a superb source of omega-3s, which have been associated with all sorts of health perks like a stronger ticker, a healthier brain, and less risk of depression, it may seem like an easy choice to make. Except for one factor: choosing between wild or farmed.
First, two-thirds of the salmon eaten in the United States is farm-raised (a.k.a. raised in tanks) and imported largely from Norway, Chile, and Canada, according to Seafood Health Facts, an online database created by the Universities of Oregon State, Cornell, Delaware, Rhode Island, Florida, and California, and the Community Seafood Initiative. The other third is wild salmon, which simply means commercial fishermen go out and catch them. In terms of wild, you’ll find varieties from the Pacific like sockeye, coho, and king—often these have a darker pink or even red flesh. Most Atlantic salmon is farmed.
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As for health stats, wild fish tend to be more nutritious, says Amy Gorin, RDN, a New Jersey-based dietitian and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. According to the USDA, a three-ounce serving of contains approximately 124 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat, while a three-ounce serving of contains 177 calories, 17 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat. “They tend to be less fatty and higher in protein, possibly due to what they eat—like other fish or plankton—and they may get more exercise compared to farmed fish,” Gorin says. And while farmed salmon often contains slightly more omega-3s than wild-caught salmon, there are studies that say the quality of omega-3s in farm-raised salmon may not be as high.
MORE:How Much Fish Is It Safe To Eat Per Week?
Another consideration: Due to the fact that farmed salmon are often fed ground-up fish in their food (yep, you read that right), they may contain more of a contaminant called PCBs, which animal research links with an increased risk of cancer, notes Gorin. However, use and production of PCBs in the United States have been banned for decades, per the FDA. The EPA says that while levels of PCBs are declining in the environment, consumption of contaminated fish over an extended period of time can still pose a health risk. To limit your exposure, look for sustainably-farmed salmon and/or trim the skin and fat off the fish before eating it (PCBs accumulate in the skin and fat, according to the Environmental Defense Fund).
Now a bit of bad news: There are imposters everywhere. So while you might shell out a bit more for wild salmon, a 2015 report from Oceana found that 43% of wild salmon taken from restaurants and grocery stores was mislabeled. (The majority of offenders? Farmed Atlantic salmon masquerading as wild-caught.) Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s for a comprehensive listing of salmon choices based on sustainability practices and potential contamination when farmed or caught from around the world. And trust your gut—if you're seeing an insane discount on wild-caught salmon, it's probably too good to be true.
Now that you know which salmon is better for you, here's a delicious way to eat it:
Bottom line: The recommends eating two fish meals per week. Choose wild salmon if it’s available, but if it’s not or you’d rather choose farmed because it's more affordable, that’s okay, too. Taking the opportunity to get the health-boosting omega 3s you need is a win.
Video: Farmed Salmon vs Wild Salmon
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