Get Wild With Your Salmon

Red salmon coupleVirtually every food on the planet can be prepared in a healthy or a not so healthy manner. Think about burgers—having a 100% grass fed organic beef burger with homemade bread, organic onions and tomatoes and non-GMO ketchup, is very different from having a burger from your favorite fast food joint. However, when it comes to salmon, the difference might not be so obvious.

Salmon can definitely be beneficial for your health and a welcome addition to your diet. It’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which are great for your heart and brain and also reduces inflammation which is beneficial for those with autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses. However, farmed raised salmon might do you more harm than good.

As you probably know, there are two types of salmon, farmed and wild. Farmed salmon, like all farmed fish, are raised in very close quarters in tanks which make them prone to an infestation of sea lice. An infestation will either kill or scar the salmon making them unappealing for consumption.

To combat this problem, farmers add antibiotics and pesticides to the fish tanks to kill off the sea lice before they attach themselves to the fish. Most of the pesticides they use fall into a class of chemicals called organophosphates which may damage our central nervous system. Low exposure to organophosphates has been linked to slow fetal brain development, chronic fatigue, learning disabilities and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and cancer.

As we consume the antibiotics in farmed fish and other conventionally raised animal protein, we are unwittingly building up a resistance to them. This means that when we have to take antibiotics during a period of illness, we could become antibiotic resistant thus putting ourselves at risk of the infection getting even worse.

In addition to pesticides and antibiotics, farmed salmon are usually contaminated with PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxins. PCBs are a family of over 200 industrial chemicals used in making electrical transformers, building materials and gas pipelines. They’re also used in paints, rubber and plastic products. PCBs were banned in the United States and other countries in the late 1970s because of insurmountable evidence that they were toxic to humans. However, they’re very hard to break down, have persisted in the soil and water and ended up at the bottom of the ocean. This means that bottom feeding wild fish are also contaminated with PCBs.

PCBs accumulate in the fatty part of the fish. Dioxins, like PCBs also accumulate in the fat tissues. Dixons are released into the environment as a by-product of industrial activities such as incineration and combustion. They travel through the air and end up in our water or on land where they become concentrated in our food supply. Dioxins have the ability to alter our DNA and can turn on the genes associated with cancers. They’re also linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, breast cancer, birth defects, developmental issues, liver damage, immune suppression and fatigue.

How do farmed salmon end up with those toxins? Salmon are carnivores—they eat other fish. The fish feed given to farmed salmon consists of ground up fish which are selected for their high oil or fat content. These fish are full of PCBs and dioxins because remember, they accumulate in the fat tissue. Therefore farmed salmon are ingesting toxins in their fish feed and the toxins build up in them as a result.

Given the antibiotics, pesticides, PCBs and dioxins present in farmed salmon, you definitely want to go wild. Of course, mercury can be a concern when it comes to wild fish because mercury is a neuro-toxin that affects the brain. However, wild salmon has a very low mercury content and contains the low toxic beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids that you want.

How can you tell whether salmon is farmed or wild?

Have you ever noticed that some salmon are pinker and look like they have more life-force energy than others? Farmed salmon are much paler and contain up to 50% more fat than wild salmon. As a result, you could be getting up to 50% more toxins in one serving of farmed salmon.

According to World Wild Life, an environmental non-profit organization, 70% of the salmon world-wide is farmed and most salmon found in restaurants is also farmed.

I know that sometimes it gets confusing when you go to the supermarket because there are many kinds of salmon, even in the wild varieties. However, there are two main types of salmon: Atlantic and Pacific.

Virtually all Atlantic salmon is farmed. Don’t be fooled if you see “Atlantic wild salmon” on a menu or at the supermarket.

There are five types of wild Alaskan Pacific salmon all of which are okay to eat and will give you the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids that you want:

Chinook (King): Largest Pacific wild salmon. Rich flavor, texture and massive size. Can be cooked using any method.

Sockeye (Red): Rich deep color and flavor and high fat (Omega-3) content. A favorite for sushi. Can be cooked using any method.

Coho (Silver): Smaller. Mild flavor and orange color. Great for grilling and canning.

Pink (Humpy): Smallest Pacific salmon. Paler in color, lighter in texture and lower fat content. Typically canned.

Chum (Dog): Not as rich and firm as the other Pacific salmon. Good source of protein and oil. Can be cooked using any method.

Although I focused on salmon in this blog post, antibiotics, pesticides, PCBs and dioxins are present in all farmed fish, therefore, you want to avoid farmed fish as much as possible.

The next time you go to a restaurant, think twice before you order the honey-glazed salmon. Better yet, ask about the source of the salmon that they offer.

Now it’s your turn. Do you eat salmon? If so, what type? Let me know whether you had any aha moments after reading this post.

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  1. I love wild salmon. In fact, that and eggs are the only “animal products” that I currently eat. Thank you this informative article. I think people need to know that Wild is so much healthier.

  2. Very informative. Marketing to consumers leaves many folks scratching their head at the supermarket. These guidelines will help many get it straight. Sharing.

    • Yes Jodi! You’re absolutely right. You really have to learn on your own because most of the signs and labels at the supermarket aren’t there to inform you, but to market to you. Thanks for sharing :-)!

  3. I love salmon…..never knew the difference. Thanks sooo much for the info. Will definitely be looking out for wild pacific salmon. I’m sure they will come up with some marketing gimmick to confuse us…..

    • You’re most welcome! Well, one marketing gimmick is “Atlantic wild,” so look out for that. Make sure to read the labels and always ask questions! And keep enjoying wild salmon 🙂

  4. I have learned NOT to buy ANY ‘FARMED” fish after viewing a few very scary YouTube videos. I actually live in a town on Long Island that once brought FRESH fish into the docks every Friday but after a while that even seemed to stop and the fish appeared to be encased in boxes of ice then placed on the display shelves for you to choose from, have cleaned, etc.. I’m beginning to feel as if the only way to get REALLY fresh fish is to catch it myself! Great article…thank you for sharing the info.

    • Ha, Nina! If there is a place that you’ve watched for a while and trust, it should be fine to get wild caught fish from them. I hear you though. Just continue to educate yourself and ask questions. I’m happy that you enjoyed the article.

      Make sure that you’re signed up for my newsletter so that you can get my latest updates about clean eating and other aspects of Clean Body Living. If you’re not on the list, here’s the link to get my Free Guide “Five Ways to Makeover Your Kitchen and Reset Your Health” and that will also give you access to my newsletter:

  5. Hey AmiCietta! Excellent educational article on Wild Salmon. I have really been duped by Atlantic Wild Caught salmon. I have recently been paying attention to farm vs wild salmon, but this information is priceless. Thanks so much for sharing with such great detail. I very rarely see Wild Alaskan Pacific Salmon advertised on any packaging or at the fish market, but I sure will start to ask about the source. In your local neighborhood, where would you recommend the best places to get Wild Alaskan Pacific Salmon that you have been shopping at? I have been to the supermarkets and my 1 local fish market…not much selection.

    • Thanks Karima! Wow, it’s sad when I hear that people are victims of false marketing claims! I’m glad that you learned something new from this article. I usually buy salmon from my local Whole Foods. Whole Foods definitely sells both farmed and wild, but they’re clearly labeled. I would recommend Whole Foods or another natural food store, but definitely ask or carefully read the labels, because everything at natural foods stores isn’t natural, haha! Is there a Whole Foods or a natural food store near you?

  6. Very informative. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information. I love salmon but hate the price tag of the more expensive varieties. But after reading your article I am definitely going to make an effort to purchase wild caught Pacific Salmon (did I get that right)? I was listening to an NPR discussion recently about an organic restaurant and in response to a comment a listener said about how much more expensive organic food is than conventional food, the chef responded with something that really resonated with me. She said the price you pay for organic food is the true cost of producing food. We have gotten used to a deeply discounted price/cost of food production – obviously for many of the reasons (and with many of the repercussions) that you so nicely explained in your article about Salmon.

    • Thanks so much Soundia! That comment really resonates with me too. There are many subsidies available for conventional food for many reasons to make it more appealing and affordable to customers.

      Yes, that’s right. You should be looking for Wild Pacific Alaskan salmon. The words Pacific and Alaskan could be used interchangeably, so for example, you might see Wild Pacific Sockeye or Wild Alaskan King. If you’re not sure, make sure to ask. Also, the smaller salmon are generally a little cheaper – Pink is usually cheaper than Coho, Coho is usually cheaper than Sockeye and Sockeye is usually cheaper than Chinook (King).

  7. This is informative about buying wild caught versus farmed, but I can tell you from having been in Alaska during salmon season (which is only a short 3 months of the summer) Alaskans love eating King Salmon exclusively, mostly ignoring the other 4 species. Furthermore they like eating it rare, but they can do so because only minutes ago it was alive and flipping – when you take a sniff, the meat smells beautiful and clean (how many of us can say that about the fish we eat). The freshest salmon would only be available for 3 summer months in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest, which is where the fish migrate/spawn. In the lower 48 (states) with added transport it’s that much harder to get fresh wild caught, which is why most of us buy whatever is available – frozen and/or farmed.

    If you’re really lucky and want your fish fresh, you know someone who fishes AND cleans the fish for you. My dad catches rainbow trout from state-stocked lakes and bass from the Potomac while his buddies catch catfish, but there’s a lot of noise/debate about that practice; in fact, you’re more likely to hear about pollution in the Potomac River even though statistically it’s probably never been cleaner. Anyway, each food item seems to be wrought with issues such as price, taste/texture, distance traveled, availability, health issues with farm stock and environmental conditions. This makes consumer choice difficult and sometimes it’s simply an economic decision.

    Discount goods, not people….

    • Thanks for the information about Alaskan’s preferences for salmon. I’m not surprised that they prefer King Salmon given it’s versatility and flavor.

      You’re right, most food items in general are wrought with issues, all we can do is continue to educate ourselves and make the best choices that we can.

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