Salmon is a commonly consumed fish praised for its high protein content and omega-3 fatty acids.
There are five main varieties of salmon:
- Chinook salmon is highest in fat, most expensive and desired for its silken texture
- Sockeye salmon is lower in fat, but still has enough fat for the salmon flavor to come through
- Coho salmon has a milder flavor and is often targeted by sport fisherman
- Humpback salmon is more delicate, pale in color, and not consumed as often
- Chum salmon is lower in fat and often used in sushi.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of salmon and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more salmon into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming salmon.
Nutritional breakdown of salmon
Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 3 oz of cooked Sockeye salmon (approximately 85 g) contains:
The same amount of cooked Sockeye salmon also provides:
- 82% of daily vitamin B12 needs
- 46% of selenium
- 28% of niacin
- 23% of phosphorus
- 12% of thiamin
- 4% of vitamin A
- 3% of iron.
Salmon also contains cholesterol, although recent studies have suggested that the cholesterol content of foods does not necessarily increase harmful cholesterol in the body.
Saturated fat intake is more directly related to an increase in harmful cholesterol levels, however, and salmon is not a significant source of saturated fat.
Possible benefits of consuming salmon
Fish and shellfish are especially important for providing omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in very few foods. A 3 oz portion of salmon is estimated to provide over 1,500 mg of omega-3s.
Data from the Cardiovascular Health Study show that high dietary intakes of DHA and EPA (the long-chain fatty acids found in fish) may lower the risk of fatal heart attacks. The higher the levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in the blood, the lower the incidence of congestive heart failure.1
Fast facts about fish oils
- The fillets of oily fish contain up to 30% oil
- Studies have found that fish oils may protect against Alzheimer's disease, vision loss and epilepsy.
Separate observational studies among both Japanese and Inuit people, two cultures that eat high levels of fatty fish, noted that the amount of heart disease deaths were about half the amount typically seen in Western countries. This finding held true when corrected for other lifestyle factors that could influence heart disease death rates.6A 2004 meta-analysis of 13 cohort studies found that eating fish once per week can reduce the risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 15%. The more fish that was consumed, the lower the risk. Adding an extra 5 oz of fish per week reduced the risk to 8%.6
"Omega-3 fatty acids levels in the blood have a greater impact on risk for heart disease than cholesterol, total fat or fiber," says William S. Harris, director of the University of South Dakota Nutrition and Metabolic Disease Research Institute in Sioux Falls. "The higher the omega-3 levels, the lower the risk of heart disease and death and vice versa."6
Harris cites a study conducted in Italy in which participants with chronic heart failure were given either omega-3 capsules or a placebo. The subjects who took the omega-3 capsules were 9% less likely to die than those who did not take them.
Selenium has been shown to be a necessary component for proper thyroid function. A meta-analysis has indicated that people with thyroid disease who are selenium deficient experience pronounced benefits when increasing their selenium intake, including weight loss and a related reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.5
Salmon is a good source of selenium, along with Brazil nuts and yellowfin tuna.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease aggression, impulsivity and depression in adults. The associated decrease is even stronger for kids with mood disorders and disorderly conduct issues, like some types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).6
A long-term study conducted in the UK indicated that children born to women who ate at least 12 oz of fish per week during pregnancy had higher IQs and better social, fine motor and communication skills.1
Due to salmon's potential for containing mercury, pregnant women should limit salmon consumption to 6 oz per week combined with 6 oz of a low-mercury fish such as sardines, wild-caught trout, flounder or sole.
Another study by Chicago's Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found that over a 4-year period, people from Chicago aged 65-94 who had at least one fish meal per week had a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared with those who rarely or never ate fish.1
How to incorporate more salmon into your diet
Salmon can easily be used as the main source of protein in meals.
- Use salmon as your main source of protein
- Add salmon to pasta or rice dishes
- Mince salmon to top salads
- Make salmon patties or burgers.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:Salmon veggie bake
Salmon pasta salad
Smoked salmon & vegetable egg casserole.
Potential health risks of consuming salmon
Salmon can contain a moderate level of mercury and should be consumed six times or less per month. Pregnant women especially should watch their intake of potentially high mercury foods.3
To minimize the risk of food-borne illness, buy fresh salmon properly refrigerated at 40 °F or below. Pick up salmon at the end of your shopping trip to minimize the time it is exposed to warmer temperatures. If the salmon smells overly "fishy," it should be discarded.4
If buying frozen salmon, be sure to defrost in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter or in the sink, so that there is no opportunity for bacteria to grow.4
It is important to note that a person's total diet or overall eating pattern is the most important factor for disease prevention. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Recent developments on fish from MNT news
Concerns over the detrimental effects of mercury - found in nearly all fish - have given pregnant women a reason to be cautious. Now, a new study suggests the negative effects of ingesting low levels of mercury through fish are outweighed by the beneficial effects for newborns.
Mothers who eat a lot of fish during pregnancy may be putting their child at risk of rapid growth and obesity, according to research published online by JAMA Pediatrics