Virtually 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.