Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught Salmon
Despite the large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of fish consumption, only one in ten Americans report eating fish regularly. It could be the taste or the cost, but it’s more likely that consumers are just plain confused about seafood. A big cause for confusion is the “wild caught” versus the “farm raised” debate, specifically surrounding salmon. Salmon is an excellent source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also relatively easy to prepare and it’s on the tastier side of the seafood spectrum. Still, consumers are left scratching their heads, wondering if all salmon are created equal. To educate ourselves on how to make healthier choices, let’s examine the differences between “wild caught” and “farm raised.”
From Water to Plate: Wild caught salmon means they are caught with the use of nets, hand-lines, divers or traps. Farm raised salmon are kept in a controlled environment, either tanks or enclosures.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content: Salmon are what they eat. Most wild salmon consume smaller fish that have high levels of DHA and EPA -- the beneficial type of long-chain omega-3s. Some farm raised fish receive more plant-based pellets and will have a lower content of omega-3s, while other farm raised fish are fed more fish and fish oil based pellets. The diet of farm raised fish is completely dependent on the farmer. Surprisingly, some studies have shown that farm raised salmon have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This can be attributed to the fact that farm raised salmon typically contain a higher fat content per gram than wild salmon.
Environmental Concerns: Many consumers have concerns about contamination, and while these concerns are valid, the consensus is that both wild and farmed fish are safe foods. In terms of sustainability, just like cattle farms, fish farms are going to range in their environmental impact. Unlike beef or pork, there is no such thing as certified organic fish in the United States, simply because the standards and regulation do not exist.
Bottom Line: Keep eating fish! Whether it is salmon or another type of fish, studies show better health outcomes in individuals who consume at least two servings of fish per week. Don’t let the options stress you out. Base your decision on what is available and what you can afford. Buy local if you have the opportunity as it is likely the healthiest option for both your body and the environment.
Written by: Mary Kavanaugh, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern. Learn more about the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship.