Canadians are wild about their salmon. In fact, Canada is one of the largest salmon exporters in the world! Wild salmon is loaded with protein and the two blockbuster omega-3s, DHA and EPA, that make us happy, smart and pain-free. As the body can’t make omega-3 fatty acids, the best way to obtain them is through the food we eat.
Salmon — along with sardines, mackerel, herring, halibut, black cod, and Arctic char — is a sustainable source of omega-3 fish. The non-profit organization Sea Choice states that a sustainable source is, “A species whose biology is capable of withstanding fishing pressure, where the status of the stock is well understood, and where the fishing methods do not adversely impact other species or habitat.” I recommend eating it at least twice a week, but be sure you’re getting it from a sustainable source. There are so many questions around what kind of fish is best, read on for some clarity:
Q: Should I be concerned about the mercury in fish?
A: Large fish that consume smaller fish have higher levels of mercury as the mercury accumulates inside them. David Suzuki calls this process biomagnification. Species such as shark, tuna, tilefish (like golden snapper or golden bass) and swordfish are best to be avoided completely because of this. Salmon are very low in mercury as they’re small in size and eat plants.
Q: Should I avoid farmed salmon?
A: At least half the salmon we consume comes from fish farms. If you see Atlantic salmon in the store refrigerators it will be farmed as wild Atlantic salmon is on the endangered species list. Fish farmers often feed their stock soya- and corn-based food, which isn’t all that nutritious for the fish and can result is lower amounts of omega-3 for the consumer. Soya and corn are also heavily genetically modified and laden with pesticides that can affect the fish. To avoid the issues that come with overcrowding, fungicides are also used to treat the water the fish live in.
It’s also common for some salmon farms to use colour to make the farmed pale fish look pink, the way wild salmon would look naturally. The dye, canthaxanthin, is present in the fish food and is transferred into the flesh, yet many consumers are unaware of this as supermarkets sell this coloured fish without listing it on the label.
Your best bet is to consume wild or organically farmed fish to avoid any additional pesticides, fungicides and excessive omega-6 consumption (which leads to inflammation) found in conventionally farmed fish.
Q: Are vegetarian sources of omega-3 count as good?
A: Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia and hemp seeds are great, but it’s easier for the body to utilize the omega-3s from fish sources. Plant sources need to undergo an enzymatic conversion in the body that requires co-factors such as vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. If you’re low in nutrients, the conversion does not happen, increasing your risk for inflammatory conditions. So, if possible, try and stick with the real purest source to gain the highest amount of health benefits.
Seven health benefits of salmon
1. Eating salmon is beneficial in the treatment of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions. Salmon contains small proteins called bioactive peptides. One in particular, called calcitonin, has been shown to increase, regulate and stabilize collagen synthesis in human osteoarthritic cartilage. This salmon-found protein also improves bone density and strength.
2. Eating salmon makes you smarter and happier. The brain is 60 percent fat and most of that is the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Thirty percent of the grey matter in the brain is DHA showing how critical it is to brain function and a healthy nervous system. Eating salmon regularly has been shown to reduce the risk and incidence of depression, hostility in young adults and cognitive decline in the elderly.
3. Eating salmon increases your cardiovascular health. As noted, salmon contains high levels of the omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. These fats are responsible for many cardiovascular benefits such as reducing inflammation, keeping the blood from clotting excessively and relaxing and dilating the arteries. When eaten 2-3 times per week, salmon can protect you from problems such as heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.
4. Salmon protects your eyes. Eating salmon twice a week has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of macular degeneration — a chronic eye condition that leads to loss of vision. For the treatment and prevention of a condition called dry eye syndrome, eat 2-4 servings per week.
5. Salmon helps build children’s brains. Eating salmon while pregnant and nursing can boost learning capability and academic performance in children. Salmon contains high levels of DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) which is the main structural fatty acid in the central nervous system and retina. Feeding salmon to preschool children also aids in the prevention of ADHD and can even boost academic performance.
6. Salmon’s an excellent source of vitamin D. Sufficient vitamin D is crucial to maintaining optimal health. A deficiency of this essential vitamin has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type-1 diabetes. One can of salmon, for example, contains a day’s worth of vitamin D.
7. Salmon helps you sleep. Salmon is an excellent source of tryptophan, an all-natural sedative. Studies show that tryptophan increases sleepiness in subjects with mild insomnia and helps to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep.
Try this delicious summer recipe to ensure you’re getting your intake of omega-3s.
Salmon summer sizzle pockets
Cooking fish in parchment-paper packets keeps the fish deliciously moist as it bakes in its own juices. Minimal cleanup also means more time to enjoy long summer nights!
3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp honey
2 tsp sesame seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground clove
4 large filets (700 g) wild salmon filets
2 cups red onion, sliced
2 cups fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
1 cup zucchini (yellow if possible), sliced into coins
1. In a bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, ginger, honey, sesame seeds, and spices. Pour over salmon and marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Cut 4-24 in (60 cm) pieces of parchment paper and fold in half crosswise. Draw a half moon, and then cut out the shape to make a full circle. Open it up and place salmon on one side fairly close to the crease. Top salmon with vegetables and drizzle leftover marinade on top.
3. Starting at the top, seal the packet by folding edges together in a series of small, tight folds. Twist the tip of the packet and tuck it underneath. Place packets on baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes.
4. Allow packets to rest for 5 minutes before carefully opening.
Yield: Makes 4 servings.
Julie Daniluk hosts Healthy Gourmet (OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network), a reality cooking show that highlights the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation (Random House) is now available and will help people enjoy allergy-free foods that taste great and assist the body in the healing process.