The Health Benefits of Salmon

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on August 08, 2023
10 min read

Salmon -- that tender, pink, firm fish -- is one of the most popular fish choices in America thanks in part to its rich, buttery flavor.

And that's a good thing for your health.

You can choose from a handful of different Pacific salmon, including:

  • Sockeye
  • Pink
  • Coho
  • King (Chinook)

Many of these come from the wild.

Atlantic salmon is also an option. The U.S. prohibits fishing for it, so the ones you’ll find in American supermarkets are farm-raised.

Salmon pronunciation

Salmon (/ˈsæm.ən/) is pronounced with a silent "l." The first part is said like "sa," while the last part sounds "muhn."

Salmon color

Salmon can come in different colors based on the type:

Coho. This type is larger and has fewer spots. It has a green head and a maroon flank (body) when it's mature.

Chinook. Mature versions tend to be brownish green with large peanut-shaped or 'W' spots.

Steelhead. These types of salmon have pink cheeks and flanks and smaller spots on their bodies and tails.

Wild salmon vs. farmed salmon

There are some differences between wild and farmed salmon:

Fat content. Three ounces of wild salmon has fewer calories and half of the amount of fat than that of farmed salmon. Farmed options also have more saturated fat. But wild salmon has less omega-3 fatty acids than farmed salmon.

Pollutants. PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) is a type of persistent organic pollutant (POP). There's 16 times more of this POP in farmed fish compared to wild fish. This is important because POPs are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the risk of stroke in women.

Contaminants. Experts say that there are usually more contaminants in farmed salmon than in wild salmon. While the FDA considers the contaminant levels safe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don't consider farmed fish safe to eat too often.

Children, people of child-bearing age, and pregnant people should opt for wild salmon instead of farmed fish. And it's best to take off the skin of all types of fish to avoid as many contaminants and pollutants as possible.

Chemicals that may cause cancer. You may feel that you need to eat a lot of fish to get in your omega-3 fatty acids. But doing so, whether it's farmed or wild, could cause you to consume too many dangerous chemicals.

Wild salmon may come from polluted waters, while farmed fish get higher levels of PCB from their food. To be safe, eat fish in moderation and make sure you also get omega-3 fatty acids from other sources (like hemp seeds, soy, or chia seeds).

Antibiotics. In the 1990s and 2000s, Chilean salmon that was imported to Japan had a higher amount of antibiotics than regulations allowed. People were concerned that too much of this could cause antibiotics to lose their beneficial effects. While it seems that farmed fish now have lower amounts  of antibiotics, it's still unclear how much is used on them. To avoid the confusion, wild salmon may be the better option for this situation.

A serving of salmon -- 3 to 4 ounces -- is about 200 calories. It's very low in saturated fat and a good source of protein. It's also one of the best sources of vitamin B12. It's also bursting in potassium and other nutrients like iron and vitamin D.

Although most states have their own fish consumption advisories and recommended consumption levels, eating at least two servings of fish per week is generally considered part of a healthy diet.

  • Salmon is an excellent source of: 
  • Vitamin B12 
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium 
  • Vitamin D
  • Selenium
  • Phosphorous
  • Iodine
  • Choline
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Biotin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon calories

The calories in salmon will differ based on the type and the way you cook it. In 100 grams of cooked farmed salmon, there's about 200 calories. Wild salmon, on the other hand, has fewer calories. There are only about 180 calories in 100 grams of cooked wild salmon.

Other nutrition facts

One 3-ounce serving of grilled/baked wild Atlantic salmon contains:

  • Calories: 175
  • Fat: 11 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Protein: 19 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Vitamin A: 1% of your daily recommended value (DRV)
  • Vitamin C: 5% DRV
  • Calcium: 1% DRV
  • Iron: 2% DRV

Eating salmon provides numerous health benefits, including: 

Promoting heart health

Due to its combination of omega-3 fatty acids and potassium, salmon is good for your heart for a variety of reasons. Eating salmon is known to:

  • Reduce artery inflammation
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Maintain blood pressure
  • Prevent excess fluid retention
  • Reduce heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat), high blood pressure, and high triglycerides

Growing and maintaining hair and skin
The essential omega-3 fatty acids in salmon support scalp health and give hair its shine. On the other hand, a lack of these nutrients can result in dry scalp and dull hair. Omega-3 fatty acids also help promote the health of your skin.

Supporting bone health
Your bones rely on nutrients like vitamin D and calcium to stay healthy, and salmon is an excellent source of both. Because your body can’t make its own calcium, you need to get it from the foods you eat. You also need vitamin D in order to absorb it.

Experts recommend all adults eat at least two portions (a total of 8 ounces) of seafood a week, especially fish that are high in omega-3s like salmon. The FDA and the EPA both suggest that children eat one or two servings (about 2 to 4 ounces) of seafood a week starting at age at age 1. Serving sizes range between 1-4 ounces depending on age and only from lower-mercury sources.  People who are pregnant and young children should avoid fish with the most mercury. Luckily, salmon is not one of them.

Omega-3 fatty acids

One of the top health benefits of eating salmon, either raw or cooked, is that it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help the body in several ways, including:

  • Improved brain function
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular problems, like heart attack and heart arrhythmia
  • Reduced risk of stroke and high blood pressure 
  • Improved cell function
  • Improved control of the body’s inflammatory processes
  • Joint protection
  • Improved mood

Most omega-3s are "essential" fatty acids. Your body can’t make them, but they play critical roles in your body. They can lower the chance that you’ll have:

They can also ease the effects of rheumatoid arthritis.


Salmon is a great source of the proteins your body needs to build muscles, bone, and cartilage. This protein helps maintain muscle mass while you lose weight, in addition to keeping a healthy metabolic rate and bone density.


There are several varieties of salmon, but they are all known for their pinkish-orange color. This color comes from a compound called astaxanthin, an antioxidant. It helps to prevent several diseases, including neurodegenerative (loss of brain function), cardiovascular, and inflammatory diseases.

Although it offers many health benefits, there are some health risks of eating salmon, especially in large amounts. In some cases, it can cause:

Bleeding problems. For all of the health benefits of omega-3s, high doses of them, like in supplements, can cause bleeding problems if you take some anticoagulant drugs. So make sure you stay within the guidelines above. Fish oil is a natural anticoagulant, which means that it acts as a blood thinner. High doses (more than 3 grams a day) of omega-3 fatty acids can cause bleeding problems if taken with medications to prevent blood clots.

Disease. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as other diseases. One kind of POP -- polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs -- can be found in salmon. However, its levels are five to 10 times higher in farmed fish than in wild fish. 

Cancer. Eating large amounts of salmon and other fish could expose you to cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens. Fish get these chemicals by swimming in polluted water. Although both wild and farmed salmon carry this risk, the benefit-risk ratio for wild salmon is significantly greater. 

Nervous system damage. All fish contain some amount of mercury, salmon included. While high levels of mercury are not an issue for most people, they can cause damage to a developing fetus as well as the nervous system in young children.

Salmon roe are the developed eggs of salmon. Salmon eggs are red-orange in color and are taken from the inside of the fish. Eating fish roe provides many of the same healthy vitamins and minerals as eating fish meat.

Fish roe, research shows, may help with improving or preventing the following health conditions:

  • Depression
  • Inflammation 
  • Heart disease
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Salmon egg nutrition

One serving of raw fish roe (1 tablespoon) has the following nutrients on average:

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugars: 0 grams

Salmon eggs are a good source of:

  • Potassium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C


Fish shouldn't smell "fishy" but fresh and mild. Only buy fish that’s refrigerated or displayed on a big bed of ice. Frozen seafood should be solid, not leaking or squishy.

When preparing your salmon, keep everything clean. That includes your hands, cutting boards, and utensils. That way, bacteria won’t spread from your fish to other foods.

If your salmon is frozen, thaw it gradually in the refrigerator overnight. If you need it quickly, you can thaw it in cold water in a leak-proof bag. You can also do it in the microwave, but you should cook it immediately after.

And never leave any seafood -- or other perishable foods -- at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

You should cook your salmon to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. You can eat it raw, but make sure you freeze it first to kill any parasites. Germs can pop up in raw fish, though, which is why experts say you should broil, grill, poach, or bake it.

You can fry it, too, but frying isn't always the best choice for your health. What's more, frying your salmon also can seal in pollutants already in the fish.

If you must fry it, do it at home in a tablespoon of olive oil. That way, most of the fats you get are the healthy, unsaturated kind. You also don't get any of the unhealthy trans fat.

Salmon patties (croquettes)

These are a great choice for appetizers, salad additions, or as a burger alternative.

You'll combine yogurt , garlic, salt, pepper, dill, and cucumber. Put the mixture in your fridge until it's ready to serve.

Add cottage cheese, dill, lemon pepper, and scallions to whisked eggs. Then, drain salmon and add that as well. Sprinkle in breadcrumbs and mix it altogether well.

Form the mixture into four patties (each at 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch thick and 3 inches across).

Fry these patties over medium-high heat in light oil for 2 or 3 minutes per side. Make sure the outsides are golden and crispy while the inside is moist. Serve these with the yogurt dill sauce.

Salmon sashimi

Sashimi is raw fish or shellfish that's served sliced or as finger-sized pieces over a rice ball, or sushi. Sashimi can come in many forms, including raw salmon.

You can cook salmon in many different ways. Some of the most popular include:

Baked salmon. Bake your salmon in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes, based on how thick the pieces are. Place your pieces, set on aluminum foil, on a baking sheet. For extra flavor, season them before you bake them.

Air fryer salmon. An air fryer can be a great alternative to fried fish. It doesn't require added oils, so you can enjoy your fried salmon without the added fats.

Grilled salmon. You can wrap salmon in aluminum foil and grill it until it's firm and not clear-ish anymore. It tends to take 10 minutes on each side to cook. You can serve it with rice, veggies, or a salad.

Eating raw salmon is popular in many countries all over the world. In Japan, sushi and sashimi are traditional dishes that feature a variety of raw fish, including salmon.

In Hawaii, eating raw salmon is common in the form of poké. This is a salad that features raw fish, vegetables, and sometimes ingredients like rice or fruit. Singapore also has a salad dish called yu sheng that features raw salmon.

Other cultures use raw salmon to prepare foods like ceviche or smoked salmon. Smoked salmon is not cooked but rather cured using smoke. Like other forms of raw salmon, the USDA says it’s safe to eat when kept refrigerated and vacuum-sealed.

Is raw salmon safe?
While eating raw salmon is quite common, there are risks with eating any kind of raw fish or seafood.

Parasites. Some kinds of raw fish, including salmon, contain parasites that can make you sick. These parasites are normally destroyed by heat when cooking but can also be eliminated by freezing the fish if you intend to eat salmon raw. However, one of the risks of eating sushi or raw fish in restaurants is that there is no regulation in the U.S. to make sure that chefs flash-freeze fish before preparing it.‌

Questionably graded fish. When buying raw fish to prepare at home, many people seek out sushi-grade fish. This name is used to give the consumer an idea of the freshness or quality of the fish.

But there are currently no regulations in the U.S. on the use of the term “sushi-grade.” This means that any raw fish can technically be labeled as sushi-grade. Many stores use this term to describe their freshest fish available.

Bacteria. Another of the risks of eating raw salmon is bacteria. Two common kinds of food poisoning that people can experience from eating raw fish are salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus. While salmonella is more common, Vibrio vulnificus is a type of bacteria that lives in warm saltwater.

Cross-contamination. Eating raw salmon or seafood may not be safe due to cross-contamination. This can happen when even high-quality fish come into contact with an object like a knife or plate that has germs on it.

At a restaurant, cross-contamination can also happen if a chef uses a cooking utensil or gloves that have come into contact with other raw ingredients.

Special concerns
There are some things you should think about when eating raw salmon. For certain people, it is not safe to eat raw salmon at all. This includes:

  • Pregnant people
  • People with compromised immune systems
  • Young children
  • Older people
  • People taking immune-suppressing medications