Salmon: Farmed vs. Wild

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Salmon is high on the list of heart healthy foods because of its high level of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.  Still, there is confusion about what kind to eat.  Is the farmed salmon as good as the wild varieties that cost much more?  How much is healthy to eat?  A recent article published in Men’s Health magazine details the differences between farm-raised and wild salmon.  The conclusion seems obvious after reading the article.  Choose wild over farm-raised as much as possible and limit the consumption of farm-raised salmon.  The reasons are twofold, the first having to do with environmental effects of farming salmon and the second concerning human health.  

Salmon farms account for about 90% of all salmon consumed in the United States, and Norwegian multi-national corporations operate these farms off the coasts of Canada and Chile.  Large netted pens contain dense concentrations of salmon in what was pristine ocean water not too long ago.  Because the pens are not contained by solid walls, some of the fish are able to get out into the ocean and wild fish are able to get into the nets.  Wild salmon that were once abundant are dying off because they cannot compete well with the farm-raised ones that mingle over time in the open water.  In addition, young wild salmon are deliberately attracted into the nets at night by lights, creating a free meal for the farmed salmon.

Environmental concerns go beyond the illogical setup for wild salmon extinction.  Sea lions and seals, as well as killer whales and eagles are attracted to the farms because of the dense population of easy prey.  After complaints by salmon farmers in Canada, they were given permission to shoot seals and sea lions that were eating the fish.  As if that is not enough disruption of the natural balance, the ocean floor below the net pens can no longer support most of its natural sea life due to the accumulation of food pellets and feces.

Since farmed salmon are given such a competitive advantage over the wild salmon, they must surely at least be better for us, right?  For several reasons, the unfortunate answer is NO.  The pellets they are fed are made from soy, which increases the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the salmon.  The American diet contains more than enough omega-6 fats and too few omega-3’s, so the shift is toward a less healthy, more inflammatory fat content overall.  A higher omega-6 ratio has been associated with heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

Farmed salmon also contain up to 10 times the amount of toxins as the wild kind.  Two reasons account for this:  chemicals used to kill parasites, and chemical coloring added to produce a pink color.  Emamectin benzoate, which is added to the feed to kill parasites, is a neurotoxin also used to get rid of pine beetles on sick trees.  The EPA calls it highly toxic.  More chemicals are added to create the color of natural wild salmon, which gets its pink color from a natural diet of plants, krill, and shrimp.  Without the colorant, farmed salmon would be gray, khaki, or yellowish.  Vitamin D is four times lower in the farmed salmon, making it still more unhealthy than wild salmon.

The conclusion seems clear:  eat wild salmon and avoid the farmed stuff.  That is the simple answer, but when I last checked, for Copper River salmon (only available for a short period of time) was $40/pound and regular wild Alaskan salmon was $28/pound.  This makes the answer a little more complicated for most people.  While recommendations for fish intake generally recommend about 3 meals a week, a recent study of farmed salmon recommended not eating more than one meal of it a month!  Farmed salmon is much cheaper than wild at about $6-$10/pound, but it is not the answer to better health.

So what is the answer?  Is there a way to get good wild salmon at a decent price?  Absolutely!  The solution is canned salmon.  It is wild from Alaska, and it costs about $3-4/pound.  I know it is not the same as eating the wild salmon fresh, but it can be eaten more often, and with a good recipe (see below) it can taste very good.  A quick way to use canned salmon is to make a salmon salad for sandwiches.  I use plain yogurt, celery, and onion to make a lighter version than a typical mayonnaise-based sandwich spread.

There are also other kinds of fish to consider.  Anything from Alaska is a definite green light fish; go ahead and eat it.  I know that not everyone likes sardines, but I love them.  (Note:  I learned from experience not to take them to work and eat them around co-workers!)  I recently found tins of  “no salt added” sardines at Sendik’s and Pick ‘N Save for about $1.50.  Try them on rice cakes or crackers with hummus and tomato.  They contain lots of omega-3 fats and are environmentally friendly.  Rainbow trout, mackerel, arctic char, and light tuna are other healthy options.  I recently tried arctic char and found it similar to salmon.  Let me know if you like my recipe, and please add your suggestions for using canned salmon.

Wild Salmon Loaf with Dill Sauce
(Leftovers are great for sandwiches.)

1 can (14.75 oz.) Alaskan red sockeye salmon (or Alaskan pink salmon), drained
¼ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp. hummus
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
¼ cup oats (like Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats)
Cooking spray
Dill Sauce (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add bread crumbs and oatmeal and mix just until combined.
Coat a 7” X 3” loaf pan with cooking spray, and add salmon mixture.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Dill Sauce:
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. diced onion
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup non-fat milk
½ tsp. dried dill
pepper to taste

1.  Melt butter in a small skillet.  Add onions and cook just until softened but not browned (about 1 minute).  Add flour and mix until combined.  While using a whisk to blend, slowly add milk.  Stirring continuously with whisk on low heat, simmer until mixture is slightly thickened.  Add dill.  Serve with Salmon Loaf.  Serves 5

Per Serving (includes 2 Tbsp. dill sauce):
297 calories                             136mg cholesterol
14.9g fat (4.1g sat.)                 27.1g protein
15.5g carbohydrate                  595mg sodium

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