Have you ever noticed that salmon in the supermarket can vary in color from a dull pink to a bright red? That is why most health-conscious people go for wild salmon over farmed salmon in the supermarket.
It’s commonly thought that bright red salmon is fresher and healthier.
However, some companies use dye to achieve this bright look. That’s why you should always pay attention to where your fish comes from and how it was harvested.
What Makes Salmon Red?
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in microalgae, fungi, complex plants and seafood (1). It’s a bright red cartenoid that gives salmon it’s distinct color.
It is said to (2,3,4) :
- Improve blood flow
- Protect mitochondria by strengthening their cell membranes
- Enhance mitochondrial energy production
- increases strength endurance by more than 50%
Wild salmon eat astaxanthin-rich plankton, a luxury that farmers cannot afford. Instead, farmed salmon eat pellets containing synthetic antioxidants.
Nowadays, most of the commercial astaxanthin for aquaculture is produced synthetically from toxic petrochemical sources, like coal (5).
Here are some other differences between wild and farmed salmon.
1. Nutritional content
According to USDA data, wild salmon has fewer calories (about 130 cal less when comparing small cuts) and half the fat content of the same amount of farmed salmon (6,7).
CTV News Investigation that compared wild and net-cage farmed salmon and found that wild salmon are more nutritious than farmed with eight times more Vitamin D and three times more Vitamin A per 100 gram serving. (source)
2. Toxic Pollutants
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. They are absorbed and ingested by wildlife and pose a health threat to humans as well (8).
POPs have been linked to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity (9). They can also increase the risk of stroke in women (10).
A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that in some regions “farmed salmon contain levels of 13 fat-soluble persistent organic pollutants that are on average ten times higher than those found in wild salmon.”(11)
3. Cancer-Causing Chemicals
Farmed fish are exposed to more environmental and chemical pollutants than their wild cousins (12).
A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the rate of cancer risk from consuming farmed salmon from certain regions is three times higher than wild salmon (13).
4. Unsafe Contaminants
The FDA and EPA have both extensively studied mercury contamination in fish.
Wild salmon was consistently found to have a very low risk of causing mercury contamination in humans, even if eaten multiple times a day (14,15).
However, because farmed salmon is fattier, it can accumulate higher levels of fat-soluble toxins such as PCBs, a banned substance found in the carcinogen asbestos (16,17).
Farmed salmon live in overcrowded nets, making them a high risk environment for infection and parasites. These quickly spread throughout the net and can cause massive death and illness, meaning a huge loss of profit for farmers.
And so, these fish are exposed to large doses of antibiotics to ensure that they are healthy enough to be sold on the market (18).
Wild fish, on the other hand, aren’t exposed to humans or human-made substances until they are caught and killed by fishermen, so they do not carry antibiotics in their system.
These antibiotics don’t just affect the fish, they also promote antibiotic resistance of the bacteria they try to kill off.
In fact, the FDA has said that it has “concerns about the improper use of medically important antibiotics in food products derived from animals, as this practice is one factor that can contribute to antimicrobial resistance in humans.” (source)
A Few Wild Salmons To Try
Sockeye salmon has higher levels of vitamin D and cholesterol than other wild salmon varieties (19). Red Salmon eat only krill and phytoplankton as opposed to fish, so they have the most Astaxanthin, giving them a deep orange hue (20). These fish are very hard to farm, so sockeye is almost always wild, which is reflected in their prized taste (21).
Chinook (king) salmon has nearly twice as many omega-3s as the other fish on this list (19). Chinook salmon can be farmed, so you should always check the source of your fish to make sure it’s wild.
Pacific coho salmon is the most low-calorie and low-fat variety of salmon (19). It contains decent levels of omega-3s and vitamin D, so it’s a great option for people on a restricted diet. Coho salmon can also be farmed, so always check the label (21).