Farmed, Wild, Alaskan or Atlantic… What’s The Best Salmon?

We get many questions about salmon. Recipes, the best type to buy, the difference between types… Health.com did a great job of breaking it all down for us, and we had to share. So we present everything you ever needed to know about this popular fish!

Most everyone loves salmon. It’s rich in protein and healthy fats, it’s good for your health, and it tastes delicious. But sometimes it seems like you need a marine biology degree before you hit the market. Should you choose Atlantic, Alaskan, or sockeye? Which has more heart-healthy omega-3s and fewer toxins—farmed or wild salmon? And in addition to your own health, how does your choice—whether wild salmon from Alaska or farmed salmon from Chile— affect the environment?

Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re stumped in the seafood aisle.

U.S. Atlantic salmon

Other names: U.S. farmed salmon

Should you buy it? Yes

It wasn’t long ago that buying U.S. Atlantic salmon was out of the question. Although wild populations are still nearly extinct, farms off the coast of Maine that grow U.S. Atlantic salmon are expanding. Nutritionally, they are just as good as wild. “I lump wild and farmed salmon together,” says Charles Santerre, PhD, a professor of food toxicology at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. Farmed Atlantic salmon often contain at least as many omega-3s as wild salmon because they’re raised on a diet of other omega-3-rich fish.

Imported Atlantic salmon

Other names: Farmed salmon

Should you buy it? It depends

Most Atlantic salmon come from farms in Chile, Norway, and Canada, and they have elicited a litany of environmental complaints. Chilean farms, in particular, pollute the waters where fish are raised with antibiotics and waste. On the other hand, farms in Maine and Eastern Canada are government regulated to keep their impact low, says Barry Costa-Pierce, PhD, professor of fisheries and aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, in Narragansett. Supermarkets in the U.S. are required by law to label the country of origin of many foods, including seafood.

Alaskan or wild salmon

Other names: Chum, keta, king, pink, red, sockeye, sake

Should you buy it? Yes

Wild salmon are caught off the coast of Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. If you have the choice between those two areas, opt for Alaskan salmon because the populations are not as depleted, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Either way, Costa-Pierce says U.S. salmon fisheries are kept in close check so they don’t take too many fish from the ocean. By going wild, you’ll get a firmer, less fatty fish. While it is still just as healthy as farmed, Santerre says the wild variety is a slightly gamier-tasting fish.

Coho salmon

Other names: Silver salmon

Should you buy it? Yes

You may not know if your store has coho because, like other species of wild salmon, it’s just labeled wild. Coho are smaller and eat less than other salmon, resulting in fewer polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which may cause cancer. (Mercury is not a concern in either wild or farmed salmon.) Many experts say the risk posed by PCBs is outweighed by salmon’s omega-3 benefits. But David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at University at Albany, in New York, says people should have only one meal a month of most salmon. But with coho, he says, you can have an “almost unlimited consumption.”

Canned salmon

Brand names: Bumble Bee, Wildcatch, Chicken of the Sea

Should you buy it? Yes

What happens if you can’t find environmentally friendly farmed salmon where you shop? And wild salmon costs about twice as much, plus it isn’t always available between October and May. Then what? Canned salmon is a good way to get wild salmon cheaper and year-round (most brands use wild Alaskan salmon), along with all the same nutritional benefits of salmon, Santerre says. But you might have to taste-test a few brands to find the flavor and texture you like best.

Genetically modified salmon

Other names: AquaBounty salmon

Should you buy it? Not yet

If the FDA approves genetically modified salmon, you could see a new type of farmed salmon within several years. (The genetic change doubles the growth rate.) Its nutritional benefits, such as omega-3 levels, are similar to Atlantic salmon’s, but some people say we don’t know enough about its healthfulness. There are more debates on the environmental side; some say that AquaBounty’s salmon would be an improvement (the fish grow faster and consume fewer resources) and others say the farming in inland tanks would be hard to manage.

Arctic char

Other names: Alpine char

Should you buy it? Yes

Americans should eat 8 ounces of seafood a week, according to USDA Dietary Guidelines. “But it shouldn’t be just salmon,” says David Love, PhD, from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “People should look at all oily fish.” A member of the salmon family, arctic char is a good substitute with a flavor and omega-3 content similar to salmon. Most of it comes from clean, sustainable farms, says the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Small, oily fish like sardines, Atlantic mackerel, and herring are also good options; they are caught wild from an ocean full of them, and they’re just as healthy as salmon, Love says.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Wayne Muse
    Posted July 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Finished the 30 day cleanse, and lost 18 pounds. Happy with the results, and I know that I could have done better… but I cheated a few days on my food choices, and did not exercise like I should have. I feel much better and my blood sugar levels are all coming in as normal. I’ve been told several times that my skin looks better… it feels strange hearing that. Planning to follow up with a 10 day cleanse and I will add exercise and some of the recipes from the website.

  2. Wayne M.
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Well… didn’t like the Salmon, hope Haylie doesn’t mind me substituting Sashimi (Tuna). Morning of Day 6, I stepped on the scale and didn’t believe it, stepped off and back on again… Wow, down over eight pounds. Can’t think of anything sweeter than progress!

  3. Wayne M.
    Posted June 4, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Looks like your chances of getting a healthy catch of salmon is good. I’m on day 5 of the 30 day diet… love the fact I actually get to eat some real food. I really have learned to love Salmon on a bed of Spinach… always seems like the Spinach cooks down to nothing, so I end up piling a few more raw leaves on top. Seems like I am eating more than before. I am definitely eating more often. So far the results have been promising… I have dropped more than four pounds (219 down to 214) in the first five days. Can’t wait for dinner… going to look for some Salmon at the local grocery store.

  4. Maggie Hanson
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    This is great! My family was not very big on eating fish, so getting this information has educated us when trying something new! Thanks!

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