Last night I cooked salmon for dinner. We try to have it at least once or twice a week. However, when I pulled the salmon from the freezer, I realized I bought the wrong one. The package I held in my hand did say “wild-caught salmon,” but the salmon inside the package was not the usual naturally bright orange color.
Upon further inspection, I realized that I bought the “Silver Brite Salmon Fillets” by mistake. The label went on to state that this salmon has “the lowest fat content among the salmon species.” Definitely something I would not normally purchase since it defeats part of the reason to eat salmon — there are good nutrients in the fat.
There are lots of substandard salmon on the market today. This includes both farmed salmon and, more recently, genetically modified (or GMO) salmon. In my opinion, the only salmon worth eating is wild-caught. I believe that farm-raised salmon and GMO salmon can actually cause harm to the body and should not be eaten at all.
This is why finding a good salmon source, one that you can trust is important. You may not be able to visually see the difference, so you need to do your homework. Below you will learn what to look for and what to ask your local fish store or counter to make sure you are eating quality salmon.
Benefits of Good Salmon
Good quality, genuine, wild-caught salmon are rich in amino acids, vitamin E, omega-3, astaxanthin, and other nutrients. Many of these nutrients are contained in the fat of the salmon, especially the brown layer under the skin where the fish oils are the highest.
Omega-3 fats are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. They are also great for the brain, anxiety, heart health, eye disorders, healthy skin and hair, among other things. Studies have proven that the highest amount of omega-3 and other healthy fish oils are found in wild-caught salmon.
Wild-caught salmon is also full of astaxanthin, which is a powerful antioxidant. This nutrient comes from the microalgae that is found in the salmon’s natural habitat and they get it by eating the algae or eating other fish that feed off of it. Astaxanthin is actually what gives salmon its natural pink or dark orange color. It is also what gives salmon their high endurance, allowing them to swim up stream for days so they can lay and fertilize their eggs in fresh water.
Find Wild-caught Salmon
Over 40 years ago, if you ate salmon, you knew you were eating the real thing: salmon born, raised, and caught in the wild. Today, this is called “wild-caught” salmon. These salmon grow up eating from their natural habitat, specifically marine algae and other fish. As a result, they are naturally a dark pink-orange color and full of the healthy oils, astaxanthin, and other nutrients as described above.
Pacific caught salmon is considered the best. I also like to look for wild-caught sockeye salmon. It is best to get the salmon with the skin still intact since the brown flesh directly under the skin contains many of the nutrients. (If you cook the salmon with the skin side facing up, the skin can easily be scraped off before serving.)
Good quality salmon can get expensive but it is important to know your source. The fish vendor needs to be able to explain where the salmon came from and be able to confirm that it is truly wild caught. If you are buying what looks to be fresh salmon, you should also confirm that it had not been frozen and then thawed before selling.
I look for sales and purchase fresh when I can. The best time to buy wild-caught salmon is in early August when it is salmon season and it is usually available on sale for $8.00 to $10.00 a pound. I purchase a bunch, have it wrapped in separate portion sizes, and stock our freezer. I also often purchase the frozen Alaskan wild-caught sockeye salmon at Trader Joe’s. They have a wide variety of salmons, some farm raised, so you need to look for the right one (with the skin). It usually sells for about $10.00 a pound as well.
When purchasing fresh wild-caught salmon, look for fresh smelling fish that have clear eyes, no slime in the gills, and have a consistent coloring. The firm flesh should also spring back to the touch. Ask them to leave the skin intact. Leaving in the bones is also good, so that the nutrients of the bones get absorbed in to the flesh as it cooks.
(If you like making bone broth, you can ask the fish vendor if you can purchase the discarded wild-caught salmon bones, head and tail to make your own fish broth. Click here to learn how. I like to use fish broth to cook rice when we have salmon for dinner.)
Avoid Farmed Salmon
By the 1970s, large fish aquaculture companies had figured out how to raise salmon on fish farms. When sold in the store, the package on these salmon rarely says “farmed fish.” Instead, manufacturers use words like “Atlantic salmon” or just salmon. I have even found some frozen packages that say “wild” but upon further inspection did not say “wild-caught.”
Farmed salmon are kept in contained areas, most often in vast ocean corrals that are floating near the top of the ocean. Much of the farmed salmon comes from Chile and Canada, so salmon from these areas should automatically be suspect. You should also be wary of salmon that normally sells for under $10.00 per pound.
To save money, farmed salmon are at least partly raised on grain and other non-marine types of foods. Salmon are not suppose to eat grains. In addition, the grain is typically genetically modified and/or a non-organic variety that is likely sprayed with glyphosate right before harvesting. This makes for a very unnatural salmon.
In fact, unless farm raised salmon are given astaxanthin or artificial colors, their color is dark gray, not pink. When scientist realized this, they started feeding farmed salmon either artificial colors or a synthetic version of astaxanthin (which is derived from petroleum and you should not be eating). If you just look at the color, typically you cannot tell the difference. (Some farms have started using naturally derived astaxanthin and their packaging may say “naturally colored.”)
Because of their containment, farm salmon more easily spread disease and lice. As a result antibiotics and pesticides are often administered on a regular basis, as a preventative measure. These medications end up in our bodies when we eat the farmed salmon.
Environmental issues caused by large fish farms include tainted farmed fish escaping into the wild, the mass harvesting of marine life needed to feed the fish, excess food and feces settling to the ocean floor beneath the pens, and the killing of natural marine predators trying to get into the containment areas.
Scientific studies also continue to find problems with farmed salmon. In addition to lower omega-3 levels, they are finding more toxins like dioxin in these fish. In addition, mice that eat farm-raised salmon tend to gain weight and have an increased risk for illnesses like type 2 diabetes (source).
Avoid Genetically Modified (GMO) Salmon
It is hard to believe, but in 2015, genetically modified (or GMO) fish were approved for sale to the consumer in the United States. Since GM foods are not required by law to be labeled, if you are eating farmed salmon, you may not even know it is GMO.
Salmon that has been modified at the genetic level can potentially modify the genes of the person eating it. They already know that GMO salmon does not grow as fast is salmon found in nature. Only time will tell the other detrimental affects GMO salmon has on humans and the environment.
It may be too early to tell with GMO salmon, but science is proving just how dangerous genetically modified fruits and vegetables are to our health. GMO foods in general tend to rob our bodies of nutrients, cause digestive issues, increase aging symptoms, increase antibiotic resistance, and cause a wide variety of other health problems. (To learn more about the damaging affects of GMO foods, click here.)
A company called AquaBounty Technologies is the first company to produce and sell GMO salmon. Branded as AquAdvantage salmon, be sure to look for both of these names when reading labels. Although a large number of grocery stores and other retailers have pledged not to sell GMO salmon, you still need to be wary.
Unless you are in a restaurant that advertises locally sourced and quality meat, you need to assume the salmon on their menu is farm-raised. Before ordering, ask the server to find out from the kitchen if the salmon is farmed or wild-caught. If they can’t confirm it is wild-caught, don’t eat it. If it is really cheap on the menu, don’t eat it.
From the outside, these different types of salmon can look the same. However, there are huge differences between these fish and the nutrients they give you. A real salmon found in nature can provide you will all sorts of health benefits. One that has been modified by man can actually harm you, especially if eaten long term.
In my family, I do my best to make sure we only eat quality wild-caught salmon. I hope this helps you do the same.
This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. She has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website.