If you’re aware of the health benefits of animal-based omega-3 fatty acids and the fact that salmon is a great source, you may be shocked to discover that farmed salmon has more in common with junk food than health food.
According to Kurt Oddekalv, a respected Norwegian environmental activist, salmon farming is an absolute disaster, both from human health and an environmental and perspective. Below the salmon farms dotted across the Norwegian fjords is a layer of waste some 15 meters (49.2 feet) deep, teeming with bacteria, drugs and toxic pesticides, and since the farms are located in open water, this pollution is in no way contained.
Fish has always been considered a health food, but food testing shows that today’s farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods in the world. Plus, farmed salmon does not have the nutritional profile of wild salmon.
Rather than being a wonderful source of much-needed omega-3 fats, farmed salmon contains far more omega-6 than omega-3, which can have deleterious health ramifications, seeing how most people are deficient in omega-3 while getting far more omega-6 than they need.
Farming salmon is not a green solution
More than 50 percent of the fish Americans eat now comes from fish farms. Aquaculture promotes itself as a sustainable solution to overfishing, but in reality, fish farms cause more problems than they solve.
As with land-based factory farms where animals are kept in crowded conditions, fish farms are plagued with diseases that spread rapidly among the stressed fish. Consequently, a number of dangerous pesticides are used to stave off disease-causing pests, one of which is known to have neurotoxic effects.
Workers who apply the pesticide must wear full protective clothing, yet these chemicals are dumped right into open water. The pesticides used have also been shown to affect fish DNA, causing genetic mutations.
Nutrition content in farmed fish is very different from wild salmon
Wild salmon contains about 5 to 7 percent fat, whereas the farmed variety can contain anywhere from 14 to 34 percent fat. The increased fat content is a direct result of the processed high-fat feed that farmed salmon are given. But farmed salmon don’t just contain more fat overall.
The real tragedy is the radically skewed ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Half a fillet of wild Atlantic salmon contains about 3,996 milligrams of omega-3 and 341 mg of omega-6. Half a fillet of farmed salmon from the Atlantic contains just a bit more omega-3 – 4,961 mg – but an astounding 1,944 mg of omega-6, which is more than 5.5 times than wild salmon.
While you need both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, the ratio between the two is important and should ideally be about 1-to-1. The standard American diet is already heavily skewed toward omega-6, thanks to the prevalence of processed foods, and with farmed salmon, that unhealthy imbalance is further increased rather than corrected.
Farmed salmon are five times more toxic than any other food tested
Farmed salmon also contain far higher levels of contaminants than wild, in part because of their higher fat content. Many toxins easily accumulate in fat, which means even when raised in similarly contaminated conditions, farmed salmon will absorb more toxins than the wild fish.
Pollutants found in the feed include dioxins, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides and a number of other drugs and chemicals. When consumed by the salmon, these toxins accumulate in the fat. One study, which tested 700 salmon samples, found PCB concentrations in farmed salmon are, on average, eight times higher than in wild salmon.
Overall, farmed salmon are five times more toxic than any other food tested. In animal feeding studies, mice fed farmed salmon grew obese, with thick layers of fat around their internal organs. They also developed diabetes.
Are you eating fish or fish waste?
Fish can be one of the healthiest foods you can eat, but in the industrial age, you have to be really mindful of your choices. As a matter of fact, fish waste has become a “highly valued commodity” used in processed foods. At less than 15 cents per kilo (2.2 pounds), fish heads and tails, and what little meat is left over after filleting, are a real profit maker.
Virtually nothing actually goes to waste anymore. Fish waste is washed and ground into a pulp, which is then used in prepared meals and pet food. Since food manufacturers are not required to tell you their products contain fish pulp rather than actual fish fillet meat, this product offers a high-profit margin for food manufacturers.
Healthy seafood options
Unfortunately, the vast majority of fish, even when wild caught, are frequently too contaminated to eat on a frequent basis. Most major waterways in the world are contaminated with mercury, heavy metals, and chemicals such as dioxins, PCBs and agricultural chemicals.
There are exceptions, however. One is authentic wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon; the nutritional benefits of which still outweigh any potential contamination. Additionally, bioaccumulation of toxins is also reduced by the fact that it doesn’t feed on other, already contaminated, fish.
Alaskan salmon is not allowed to be farmed and is therefore always wild-caught. Canned salmon labeled “Alaskan salmon” is a less expensive alternative to salmon fillets. Remember that wild salmon is quite lean, so the fat marks (those white stripes you see in the meat) are on the thin side. If a fish is pale pink with wide fat marks, the salmon is likely farmed. Avoid Atlantic salmon, as salmon bearing this label are almost always farmed.
Another exception is smaller fish with short lifecycles, which also tend to be better alternatives in terms of fat content, such as sardines and anchovies. With their low contamination risk and higher nutritional value, they are a win-win alternative. Other good choices include herring and fish roe (caviar), which are full of essential phospholipids.