8 Health Benefits of Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

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Picture of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon - article on health benefitsEating fish rich in omega-3 is crucial for our overall health.

And out of all fish, Alaskan salmon is one of the very best choices.

But what are the differences between wild Alaskan salmon and farmed salmon?

And what are some specific health benefits?

Wild salmon is one of the healthiest foods around, and this article covers eight impressive benefits it has on our health.

Wild Salmon Nutrition Facts

Based on a 5oz fillet (140g), Alaskan sockeye salmon contains;

  • 214 calories
  • 0g carbohydrate
  • 10g fat (omega 3: 1.58g, omega 6: 0.11g)
  • 30.5g protein

Here is a nutrient table showing the vitamin and mineral profile wild salmon provides (1);

Vitamin B12 180% RDA
Selenium 60% RDA
Niacin (Vitamin B3) 55% RDA
Phosphorus 35% RDA
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) 25% RDA
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) 25% RDA
Vitamin B6 20% RDA
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) 15% RDA
Potassium 15% RDA
Magnesium 10% RDA

As shown above, wild Alaskan salmon is a significant source of B vitamins and selenium.

In addition to the nutrients in the table, it also contains a broad range of vitamins and minerals in trace amounts.

Salmon Skin is Healthy Too!

A lot of people wonder if it is possible to eat the skin and whether or not it is healthy.

The simple answer is yes.

In fact, the skin of salmon contains a fair amount of nutrients and provides a concentrated source of omega-3.

For the best taste, it should be slightly crispy.

Key Point: Wild Alaskan salmon contains an impressive amount of protein, a variety of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3. You can eat the skin too.

What is the Difference Between Wild and Farmed Salmon?

Before we get into the specific benefits of wild salmon, here are a few points on the visible and unseen differences it has with the farmed variety.

Color

First of all, a fillet of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon has a deep red color.

It looks like this;

Picture of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon

This red color comes from the antioxidant known as astaxanthin, which has a strong red pigment.

Wild salmon contains much more of this than farmed salmon due to its natural diet rich in sea vegetation.

Farmed salmon looks like this;

Picture of farmed atlantic salmon

Taste

While the overall flavor is similar, wild salmon has a much deeper and more intense flavor than its farmed cousin.

Regarding the feeling, farmed salmon is much higher in fat and therefore has a softer texture.

Nutrition

Remember the term ‘you are what you eat?’

Well, it’s true.

Due to the significant discrepancies between the feed of farmed and wild salmon, the nutrient profile is quite different.

Based on a 5oz fillet (140g), Atlantic farmed salmon contains (2);

  • 291 calories (+77g)
  • 0g carbohydrate (-)
  • 19g fat (+9g)  (omega 3: 3.51g, omega 6: 1.37g)
  • 28.5g protein (-2g)

The table below directly compares the two;

Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Farmed Atlantic Salmon
Vitamin B12: 180% RDA Vitamin B12: 75% RDA
Selenium: 60% RDA Selenium: 50% RDA
Niacin: 55% RDA Niacin: 60% RDA
Phosphorus: 35% RDA Phosphorus: 35% RDA
Thiamin: 25% RDA Thiamin: 20% RDA
Riboflavin: 25% RDA Riboflavin: 15% RDA
Vitamin B6: 20% RDA Vitamin B6: 45% RDA
Vitamin B5: 15% RDA Vitamin B5: 20%
Potassium: 15% RDA Potassium: 15% RDA
Magnesium: 10% RDA Magnesium: 10% RDA

Overall, farmed salmon has more fat and more calories, and the nutrient profile is relatively similar.

Wild Alaskan salmon contains a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6, but an overall smaller amount of each as it is a leaner fish.

However, the main health issue regarding farmed salmon is exposure to industry contaminants. We’ll look at this a little later on.

Key Point: Wild and farmed salmon have a different nutritional profile due to the environment in which they grow. Alaskan sockeye salmon is bright red, and salmon from fish farms has an orange/pink color.

1. Salmon Has Benefits For Heart Health

Picture of a heart - heart health themeThe first positive of wild salmon is the benefits it brings for heart health.

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 in the world, and all varieties provide large amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-3 exerts a range of health-protective effects on the cardiovascular system. Specifically, these impacts include (3, 4);

  • Reducing triglycerides
  • Normalizing heart rhythm
  • Improving blood flow
  • Lowering (high) blood pressure

All of these factors significantly reduce the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.

Also, extreme heart arrhythmias—otherwise known as palpitations—can be a dangerous condition.

Research suggests they are the biggest cause of sudden death in non-heart disease patients, and studies show that omega-3 is protective against them. (5, 6).

Key Point: Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon is a particularly good source of omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids help improve heart health and reduce cardiovascular risk.

2. Safer Than Farmed Salmon

Picture of farmed salmonWild Alaskan sockeye salmon is significantly safer than consuming farmed Atlantic salmon.

One of the negative points of aquaculture is contaminants, as well as the wide range of chemicals farmers use to fight disease (7, 8).

Studies on farmed salmon have uncovered that the fish contain a variety of harmful compounds, which include;

Markedly, sea lice are a significant problem in the salmon farming industry, and farms use harmful antibiotics to control them (9).

Additionally, dioxins and PCBs are several times more prevalent in farmed salmon than wild. Worryingly, they have links to serious health conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (10).

Fortunately, clean-up efforts in Norway’s salmon farms have seen these contaminants largely decrease since 2006 (11).

However, the fact remains that industrial chemicals are harmful in any quantity – and we should limit exposure as much as possible.

All fish contain some contaminants, but wild Alaskan salmon is a lot cleaner than the farmed stuff (12).

Key Point: Like all fish, Alaskan sockeye salmon does contain contaminants. However, it is widely believed to be one of the cleanest fish in the world – and it is much safer than farmed salmon.

3. Improves Blood Lipids and Cholesterol Profile

Picture of blood lipids in heart arteries - salmon and heart health theme

As previously mentioned, wild Alaskan salmon has many benefits for heart health. These health-protective effects largely come from the impact it has on blood lipids.

In fact, regularly eating fatty fish like salmon improves cardiovascular markers across the board;

  • Higher consumption of EPA and DHA from omega-3 rich fish increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and decrease triglyceride (TG) levels. The HDL to TG ratio is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease; the higher the amount of HDL, the better (13, 14).
  • Omega-3 decreases secretion of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which is considered to be the most atherogenic lipoprotein. Data also suggests that the body clears VLDL particles quicker with higher levels of omega-3 (15).

Unfortunately, the modern diet is too high in omega-6 which competes with omega-3 for uptake into our body’s cells. The result of this is that many people have an omega-3 deficiency (16, 17).

However, we can vastly improve the amount of omega-3 in our body through two simple steps;

  • Avoiding industrial omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
  • Eating two or three portions of oily fish per week (Alaskan salmon is one of the best choices).
Key Point: Including sockeye salmon in our diet is an easy way to improve omega-3 levels. Consuming sufficient omega-3 has positive benefits on blood lipids and our overall cholesterol profile.

4. Fights Inflammation

Picture of inflammation in the body - omega-3 and inflammation themeInflammation is the body’s natural reaction in times of stress or illness, or when the body is exposed to harmful compounds.

However, excessive—and prolonged—inflammatory responses by the immune system are thought to be a key driver of all chronic disease.

Regularly consuming wild salmon can also help our body fight the effects of inflammation. Again, this is due to the omega-3 content of the fish.

  • Substantial evidence shows that EPA and DHA fatty acids inhibit a number of inflammatory processes and mechanisms in the body (18).
  • Omega-3 from fish like salmon has an anti-inflammatory effect which reduces both risk and severity of inflammatory conditions and diseases. For instance, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, eczema, and psoriasis (19).
  • Consumption of long-chain omega-3 creates anti-inflammatory compounds in the body known as resolvins. These compounds help protect tissue and fight low-grade chronic inflammation (20, 21).
Key Point: Consuming adequate amounts of fatty fish helps protect against inflammation and oxidative damage.

5. Wild Alaskan Salmon is a Huge Source of Selenium

Selenium is a critical mineral for our overall health.

Similar to omega-3, people are consuming less selenium in the present day. One of the reasons for this is that soil selenium concentrations have become extremely low in many crop-growing areas.

The map below shows how much selenium levels in soil can vary across the continental United States (22);

Picture showing soil selenium deficiency in the continental United States

Selenium deficiency can lead to a wide range of health problems, including (23);

  • Poor immune function
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Low fertility levels
  • Dull and damaged skin, nails, and hair
  • Cardiovascular disease (in the long-term)

With this in mind, another key benefit of wild Alaskan salmon is the significant amount of selenium it provides.

Specifically, it contains 60% of the recommended daily selenium value per 140g sockeye salmon fillet (24).

Key Point: Selenium is an essential mineral and we should ensure adequate intake for optimal health. Wild Alaskan salmon provides this nutrient in large amounts.

6. DHA Boosts Brain Health

Picture of a brain - Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon and DHA themeThe omega-3 fatty acid named docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the best things we can consume for brain health.

While a basic level of DHA is an absolute requirement for normal brain function, higher levels are likely necessary to protect our brain health.

Sockeye salmon is an abundant source of DHA, and it is this fatty acid that many people credit for the cognitive health of the Japanese elderly.

DHA may go some way in explaining the burden of cognitive decline related disease in the Western world. For instance, Japanese elderly have twice the circulating levels of DHA compared to those of a similar age in England.

Besides this, there is a strong link between low serum levels of DHA and cognitive decline risk over a decade (25).

Research shows that adequate DHA levels are protective against all-cause cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and vascular dementia (26, 27, 28).

Key Point: Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon is one of the best dietary sources of DHA. Higher circulating levels of this omega-3 fatty acid protect against various forms of dementia.

7. Wild Salmon Contains Astaxanthin

Picture of salmon - astaxanthin themeFirst of all, you may be surprised to hear that not only fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants. As a matter of fact, so does chocolate, coffee, and even meat (29).

Alaskan salmon is no different and contains a range of antioxidants. Among these, astaxanthin is the most famous due to the wide-reaching positive impacts it has on our health.

Notably;

  • Clinical studies in human subjects indicate that astaxanthin helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation (30).
  • Astaxanthin protects against UV-induced skin damage and helps prevent cell alterations. In-vitro tests show it to be the most UV-protective carotenoid (31).
  • A wealth of studies shows that astaxanthin can help protect against atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the arteries). This effect is multi-factorial in nature and involves reducing inflammation and improvements in glucose and lipid metabolism (32, 33).

It’s important to realize that salmon gets astaxanthin from the algae in its natural diet.

For this reason, wild salmon provides a much higher source than salmon from a fish farm.

Key Point: Wild sockeye salmon is the best dietary source of astaxanthin, an antioxidant with many health-protective benefits.

8. Helps Stabilize Arterial Plaque 

Picture of a heart - salmon and heart disease themeIn patients with existing cardiovascular disease, omega-3 fatty acids have several beneficial impacts.

A buildup of plaque in the arteries is far from ideal, but the real threat comes when plaque ruptures. It is the rupture of this plaque that “causes the catastrophic consequences of atherosclerosis” (34).

In other words, when arterial plaque breaks/ruptures it may block or severely disrupt the flow of blood, leading to a heart attack.

One of the major benefits of salmon is that research shows DHA and EPA improve the stability of plaque and help prevent it from rupturing.

In addition to this, omega-3 fatty acids help decrease overall inflammation and appear to reduce atherosclerotic plaque formation (35, 36).

These are some of the main reasons why doctors encourage patients to include fatty fish in their diet.

Key Point: Wild Alaskan salmon is rich in EPA and DHA, which both play a major role in helping reduce the risk of atherosclerotic plaque ruptures.

Final Thoughts

As can be seen from the nutrient profile and the eight benefits, wild Alaskan sockeye salmon is one of the best foods you can eat.

It provides an abundance of essential nutrients, exerts anti-inflammatory effects on the body, and helps reduce risk/severity of chronic disease.

But what about farmed salmon?

I would say farmed salmon is distinctly second best.

However, if you are not getting enough omega-3 in your diet, then the available research suggests it is likely better than no fatty fish.

To sum up, if you can afford and source wild Alaskan salmon — it should be the first choice.

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