Tip: Good Salmon, Bad Salmon

There's a big difference between Pacific and Atlantic salmon. Are you choosing the right one? Info here.

Are You Sure Your Salmon is Really Salmon?

If you're interested in your health, then you're no doubt eating salmon, lots of it. You'd have to be crazy not to, when you consider all those healthful omega-3 fatty acids that are just oozing out of that slab of delectably pink meat.

Trouble is, you're probably not really eating the type of salmon you think you are. You're probably eating something that's more closely related to a trout, one that's been dyed to mask its unappetizing gray color. What's more, that trout has been raised largely on a diet of grain, which negatively affects the amount and variety of omega-3 fatty acids in its meat.

Pacific vs. Atlantic Salmon

Here's the thing. There's obviously a huge market for salmon, but most varieties can't be bred in captivity. (You can farm raise Coho and King, but not the other three varieties.)

As such, the season for catching Pacific salmon is pretty much relegated to the months of June and July. Practically all the Pacific salmon are caught those months, and what isn't sold immediately is frozen or put into cans.

Because they're wild, they eat their nature-intended diet, develop their pink or reddish color naturally, and are chock-full of the healthful omega-3 fatty acids we humans covet.

However, the Atlantic salmon – often referred to as "Scottish salmon" so you'll think they're wild – can be bred in captivity. As a result, 99% of the salmon from the Atlantic Ocean are from fish farms where they're fed a diet of fishmeal and grain.

Because of this diet, the fish are naturally lower in omega-3 fatty acids, and what omega-3 fatty acids they contain will present as ALA, or alpha linolenic acid. Granted, the human body converts ALA to DHA and EPA (the essential fatty acids we prize), but the efficiency rate of this conversion is only between 2 and 15 percent.

Another result of their unnatural diet is their color; the flesh has the grayish hue of old Jockey shorts. To remedy this fish farmers give the fish astaxanthin and canthaxanthin as artificial colorants. While astaxanthin can be extracted from shrimp flour, it's generally synthetic. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant and often enhances the fish's fertility and growth, but unfortunately canthaxanthin can accumulate in the human retina and have negative effects.

Another Problem

Farm-raised Atlantic salmon are plagued by sea lice, tiny parasites that feed on skin, mucus, and blood. As such, fish farmers must resort to chemical remedies that are harmful to sea lice and apparently humans, too.

In 2004, several warnings issued by European scientists advised people to only eat farmed Atlantic salmon every four months or so. A subsequent study published in JAMA gave partial vindication to the beleaguered fish and said that the benefits (protein, reasonable amount of beneficial fatty acids) still outweigh the risks imposed by contaminants, but it still makes you wonder.

So What Do I Eat?

Eating "Scottish salmon" is probably better than eating fast-food hamburgers, but it's not nearly as desirable a food as any of the varieties of Pacific salmon. Of course, you may not be able to readily find Pacific salmon – or afford it – but if you're like me, you won't want to harbor any illusions about what you're eating.

If you want to eat good, healthy salmon, stock up on canned Pacific salmon and find a good recipe for salmon patties. Also, farming is outlawed in Alaska, so anything labeled Alaskan, regardless of season, is wild.

If all of this is too much trouble, consider a supplement like Flameout® which contains a big dose of omega-3 fatty acids in the right ratios.