The Health Benefits of Salmon

Salmon -- that tender, reddish, 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.

Nutritional Benefits

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.

 

Health Benefits

The vitamin B12 in salmon keeps blood and nerve cells humming and helps you make DNA. But for your health, the true beauty of salmon is its wealth of omega-3 fatty acids. 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.

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 1-2 servings (about 2 to 4 ounces) of seafood a week starting at age 2. Pregnant women and young children should avoid fish with the most mercury. Luckily, salmon is not one of them.

Risks

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.

There's also debate about the benefits of farmed vs. wild salmon. Some say wild fish are lower in contaminants like chemicals and antibiotics. Others say farmed Atlantic salmon is the smart choice because state and federal laws regulate its growth and harvesting. 

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How to Prepare

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on May 31, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Health Partners Institute: "Choose Your Fish."

Oceana: "Oceana Reveals Mislabeling of America's Favorite Fish: Salmon."

World Wildlife Fund: "Pacific Salmon."

Animal Diversity Web: "Salmo salar (Atlantic salmon)."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA Fisheries:  "Farmed Atlantic Salmon."

Cleveland Clinic: "Fish Faceoff: Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon."

NOAA Fisheries/FishWatch: "Atlantic Salmon."

FDA: "Nutrition Information for Cooked Seafood (Purchased Raw)," "Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know," "FDA and EPA issue final fish consumption advice," "Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely."

United States Department of Agriculture Foods Fact Sheet: "Salmon, Sockeye, Frozen, Fillets."

SafeBeat: "12 Health Benefits Of Salmon For The Heart, Brain, And Much More."

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B12," "Omega-3 Fatty Acids."

Nesheim, M. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System: Annex 1, Dietary Recommendations for Fish Consumption," published online June 17, 2015.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service: "The Big Thaw — Safe Defrosting Methods for Consumers."

University of California Berkeley: "Don't Get Hooked on Fried Fish.”

EPA: "Should I Eat the Fish I Catch?"

Harvard Health: "Can fried fish be good for my heart?

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