Grill it, pan fry it or even eat it raw – salmon is one of the most versatile, nutritious and easily accessible types of fish. Because it comes in so many forms (fresh, frozen, and canned), salmon can be used in many cuisines and dishes.
While there are some notable differences between varieties (wild versus farmed, for example), salmon is packed with nutrients linked to positive health outcomes, including omega-3 fatty acids, and registered dietitian nutritionists say eating two or three servings of fish such as salmon per week is a great way to reap the benefits. This guide explains all the benefits of salmon and how you can get more from your diet.
What exactly is salmon?
Salmon is the name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae that are mainly found in the Atlantic and Pacific waters. In general, salmon refers to Atlantic salmon, which includes the sockeye, coho, chum, chinook, and pink varieties.
Salmon are usually born in fresh water, such as streams or rivers, before migrating to the ocean. Then they return to fresh water to reproduce. This means they are anadromous – they can survive in both types of water.
Atlantic salmon, the largest of the species, can grow to almost four feet in length. It is possible to find wild Atlantic salmon, but most Atlantic salmon available in commercial stores in the United States is farm-raised.
Wild Atlantic salmon populations continue to dwindle due to habitat degradation in rivers near urban environments, migration barriers such as dams, and disease. They are considered endangered by the Endangered Species Act and are at high risk of extinction.
Salmon is known for its firm but fatty texture and bright pink-orange flesh. The color comes from the antioxidant astaxanthin, which occurs naturally in krill, which makes up a large part of the wild salmon’s diet. With farmed salmon, a natural dye is often added to the fish food to get the same color.
While wild salmon is considered the more nutritious variety, both wild and farmed salmon are packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals — many of which are not found in terrestrial animals and plants. The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular is responsible for essential brain development and the functioning of the central nervous system. That’s why the World Health Organization recommends eating up to two servings of salmon per week.