What’s Better: Farmed or Wild Salmon?

If you’re a salmon lover who doesn’t live in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest, then you’re probably waiting with bated breath for the first signs of wild salmon at your grocery store. I’m just starting to see it trickle in now, and I’m on a mission to get it while I can. 

Deep, almost red-colored, lovely, gamey-tasting wild salmon is cousin to the mild-tasting, pale pink farmed salmon that most of us have available for a better part of the year. Wild salmon is in season, readily available and least expensive from May through early September. 

We know salmon is a great source of protein and healthy omega-3 fats. So besides the taste, is there any reason to spring for the usually higher-priced wild salmon?  Here’s a side-by-side comparison of wild and farmed salmon to help you decide.

  Farmed Salmon Wild Salmon
Cost Cheaper and more readily available Usually more expensive and harder to find
Diet Controlled diet of fish-feed, which may include more omega-3s from small fish, as well as soybean meal, corn gluten meal, canola meal, wheat gluten and poultry by-products. Essential vitamins, minerals and carotenoids Natural diet of plankton, smaller fish, shrimp, etc.
Contaminants May have higher levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), dioxins and pesticides from smaller fish used in feed production. May contain antibiotics. No antibiotics. Contain fewer toxins.
Sustainability/Environmental Impact Atlantic salmon labeled Coho or Verlasso farmed in U.S. and Chile is rated “good choice;” worldwide Atlantic farmed salmon is rated “avoid” because of farming techniques and environmental waste generated. Risk of overfishing. Alaskan salmon is rated highest for sustainability but other Pacific salmon is rated “good alternative.” Salmon is often shipped long distances.
Nutrition Higher in calories, total fat, saturated fat, often higher in omega-3 (depends on diet fed) Higher in some vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, D, A

 

At first glance, it might seem that wild salmon has a clear advantage, if it’s available and affordable. It’s important to note though, that all fish, wild or farmed, must adhere to FDA limits for PCB content and mercury levels — although some may measure just below the cutoff. It’s also helpful to know the source of your seafood. Some, like Whole Foods Market, have stricter quality standards for their farmed fish. The company won’t source fish that have been fed antibiotics, added growth hormones, synthetic colorants or poultry and mammalian by-products in feed. They also require farmers to minimize impact to the environment.

There are clear health benefits to eating fish, and the American Heart Association recommends adults eat it twice a week as part of a heart-healthy diet. Like everything we eat, it’s good to aim for variety, so even though wild salmon is in season right now, mix it up with other healthy choices like arctic char, which is similar to salmon in taste and omega-3 content, or farmed rainbow trout, which is a bit leaner and milder tasting.

Sources
Monteray Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
Institute for Health and the Environment
USDA National Nutrient Database

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Anne Danahy
Anne Danahy, MS, RDN, is a wellness dietitian and nutrition communications consultant who specializes in women's health and healthy aging. She blogs at Craving Something Healthy. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.