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The Health Benefits of Wild Salmon

wild salmon
Delicious coho salmon portions

The Health Benefits of Wild Salmon

With abundant, sustainable, scientifically managed runs in Alaska, wild salmon not only taste great but are loaded with healthy benefits that are life enhancing. Wild salmon are nature’s way of offering us a way to improve our health and well-being.  Delicious, with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and other prized nutrients, wild salmon represents a high-quality lean meat. It is nature’s perfect protein.

The Omega-3 fatty acids that salmon are known for are an essential nutrient and an integral part of every cell membrane in our bodies, creating healthier cells that reduce chronic diseases. Recent studies show that Omega-3s offer benefits for the heart, mind, and joints. We can even add skin-protection to the list of health benefits conferred by omega-3 fatty acids! Omega-3s are called “essential fatty acids” because they are essential for body functions. Our bodies cannot make these types of fats on their own, so that is why nature provides us with fatty fish like salmon. While wild and farmed salmon have comparable levels of omega-3s, farmed salmon is generally much higher in the omega-6 fats typically found in the vegetable oils used in home kitchens and in almost all take-out, prepared, and packaged foods. Most Americans eat way too many Omega-6 fatty acids and don’t get enough Omega-3s for the optimal balance.

KPFilet&PortionsCool
Alaska Gold king salmon.

Fish, especially salmon, has long been called brain food. And for good reason. Omega-3s have been associated with improved “mental health” status. It may be surprising to learn that the human brain is mostly composed of fat.  Fats, along with water, are the main components of brain cell membranes and nerves. Omega-3 fatty acids are types of fats that are involved with brain development in infants and with maintaining healthy brain function in adults. We know that populations with the highest fish consumption, such as Japan, Finland and Greenland, have the lowest rates of depression. It’s possible that Omega-3 intake is a contributor. One study showed that a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids may cause the brain to age faster and lose some memory and thinking capabilities.  People with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells had lower brain volumes. These findings and associations add to previous observations regarding the lower risk of brain abnormalities in persons eating fish like salmon three times a week.

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids also make them an effective alternative and supplement to the non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs typically given to arthritis patients. Most national and international arthritis associations now recommend the use of fatty fish such as salmon for the treatment of arthritic pain.

When we’re stressed, our anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, spike. “The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones,” says Lisa Cimperman, RD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a study at Oregon State University funded by the National Institutes of Health, students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the group given placebo pills.

One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, double the daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease.

Nutrients less frequently talked about in conjunction with salmon are vitamin D, iron, and zinc. Seafood is one of the few naturally-rich food sources of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin involved in calcium metabolism and bone health and responsible for repair and maintenance of the body…a huge task!  Additionally, vitamin D helps to regulate cell growth, decrease inflammation, and maintain healthy immune function.  Some of the richest seafood sources for this vitamin are fatty fish like salmon. Besides sunlight, salmon is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D. Salmon, along with whale and walrus flesh/fat and polar bear livers, most likely provided our sun-deprived northern populations with much needed vitamin D for centuries!

In addition to Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, there is increasing knowledge on the  health benefits of a little known compound that makes salmon red:  astaxanthins (pronounced “asta-ZAN-thins).  This naturally occurring carotenoid is found in algae, shrimp, lobster, and crab, but is by far richest in salmon. This compound is produced by certain kinds of algae. Small crustaceans eat this astaxanthin rich algae and then are eaten by wild Pacific/Alaskan salmon, thereby passing on the nutritious color pigments and thus causing the red-orange hue in the fish. For salmon, scientists believe that astaxanthin may help provide the endurance that spawning salmon need to swim upstream for hundreds of miles, leaping and jumping all along the way. For humans, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with broad health implications. Wild salmon are the richest human food source of astaxanthin by far. It is important to note that wild salmon have four times higher astaxanthin content than farmed salmon and contain natural astaxanthin instead of synthetic astaxanthin.  Natural astaxanthin is proving to have much more health benefits than synthetic.

In conclusion, salmon offers the heft of a steak but a lot more health benefits. Wild salmon runs in Alaska are plentiful, sustainably managed for future generations to fish the same way we are fishing now. When you get wild Alaskan salmon, you are supporting an American industry. When you get wild salmon from Alaska Gold Seafood, you are supporting a cooperative of quality-oriented family businesses that has had a relentless commitment to quality since 1944.

Author Cindy Brinn, RD
Author Cindy Brinn is a nutrition specialist.

A lot of this information was compiled and originally written by Cindy Brinn MPH, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, our health and nutrition expert. She practiced over ten years as a clinical dietitian specializing in nutrition support at large regional hospitals and small community hospitals. In 1995 she started her career in behavior change and the application of modern nutrition therapy and diabetes management in an outpatient setting. A well respected and sought after speaker, Cindy lectures frequently at local and regional conferences on food choices and chronic disease prevention and treatment. Attendees describe her talks as “dynamic, inspiring and personally very applicable” Cindy’s many certifications include Registered and Certified Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Board Certified Advanced Diabetes Management.  She established and manages the ADA recognized Nutrition & Diabetes Education Clinic at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, WA and continues to make professional presentations throughout the country.