Is Salmon Good For You? Health Benefits of Salmon

Salmon is good for your heart and provides a variety of nutrients that help keep your body functioning.

Salmon is a type of fatty fish that packs several nutrients that are good for you. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises eating fish, such as salmon, twice weekly because of its protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A standard serving size of fish is three ounces cooked or about 3/4 cups of flaked fish.

Consuming fish like salmon has other benefits from nutrients, including copper, potassium, selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D to aid and maintain body functions.

Eating fish and seafood over other animal products can be a sustainable choice to lower your carbon footprint. How sustainable your salmon is varies based on whether it is wild-caught or farmed-raised and other methods used that affect the environment.

Read on to learn about salmon's benefits and possible risks and how to pick and prepare the fish.

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Aids in Muscle Recovery

Salmon is a good source of protein, with about 16 grams in one three-ounce serving. Protein aids cell production and repair and promotes muscle health. Not getting enough protein can lead to muscle loss.

Incorporating salmon and other fish in your diet can help meet your protein needs better and build muscle. 

A study published in 2020 found that the protein content in salmon may help stimulate muscle protein synthesis after exercise. The researchers asked 10 active adults to perform resistance exercise, then consume salmon or crystalline amino acids and fish oil with 20 grams of protein.

Is Sustainable

Eating salmon can do more than boost your health. Salmon is a great choice if you want to be environmentally conscious. 

"Alaska Salmon is both wild and sustainable, good for the environment and good for us," Keri Gans, RDN, a registered dietitian nutrition based in New York, told Health.

If farmed, salmon is more sustainable than other animal sources of protein. The process of farming salmon leaves a smaller carbon footprint by utilizing less land and resources.

May Protect Against Chronic Illnesses

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, or pigment—known as an active form of vitamin A—found in wild-caught salmon. Research has found that astaxanthin is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agent.

Antioxidants may protect against cell damage that contributes to chronic illnesses, such as:

Supports Heart Health

The AHA advises eating omega-3 fatty acids as part of a heart-healthy diet. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3, which support heart health.

Research has found that replacing saturated fats from animal sources with omega-6 fatty acids in fish helps reduce total blood cholesterol.

Omega-3s in fish may help reduce mortality in people with coronary heart disease. Sometimes, healthcare providers advise supplementing with omega-3s to treat hypertriglyceridemia, or high triglycerides.

Research has found that the omega-3s found in salmon:

  • Decrease atherosclerosis, or buildup of fatty substances in the arteries
  • Improve the ability of the arteries to swell and boost the volume of blood they can transport
  • Increase HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • Lessen inflammation
  • Protect against blockages of the coronary artery
  • Reduce the risk of arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythm

Nutrition of Salmon

One three-ounce serving of wild Atlantic salmon contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 121
  • Fat: 5.4g
  • Saturated fat: 0.8g
  • Unsaturated fat: 3.9g
  • Sodium: 37.4mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Added sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 16.8g

Other essential vitamins and minerals in salmon include:

  • Iron: Salmon is a good source of iron, which is crucial for many bodily processes. Iron helps transfer oxygen from your lungs to other tissues and supports muscle metabolism.
  • Selenium: This element helps your body make antioxidants that prevent cell damage. 
  • Vitamin A: Salmon is rich in vitamin A, which supports healthy teeth, skin, eyesight, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. The fat in salmon can help with the absorption of vitamin A. 
  • Vitamin B3: Also known as niacin, vitamin B3 helps transform food into energy your body needs. Vitamin B3 aids in digestion and skin and nerve functions.
  • Vitamin B12: Getting enough vitamin B12 helps prevent anemia, loss of appetite, nerve problems, and weakness.
  • Vitamin D: Your body gets vitamin D from sunlight and foods like salmon. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which builds strong bones. Vitamin D plays a key role in your nerve, muscle, and immune systems.
  • Zinc: This essential mineral helps support immune function, cell growth, and wound healing.

Risks of Salmon

Generally, salmon is safe to consume. Some people with fish allergies may need to steer clear of salmon. You may only be allergic to certain types of fish, so take note if you develop symptoms after consuming salmon.

Symptoms of fish allergies include:

  • Anaphylaxis, or a reaction in which it is hard to breathe, and the body goes into shock
  • Asthma
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea)
  • Headache
  • Hives or a skin rash
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose

It is not uncommon for people to develop fish allergies during adulthood. Nearly 40% of people allergic to fish did not develop symptoms until adulthood.

Sometimes, toxins can contaminate fish if they spend a lot of time at the bottom of the water. For example, a vast majority of fish have traces of mercury. Mercury can make people sick if consumed in large doses.

Salmon has one of the lowest mercury levels. Experts claim that the benefits of salmon outweigh the risk of mercury poisoning.

Tips for Consuming Salmon

There are several types of salmon, including five species of Pacific salmon found in water near North America.

Species of Pacific salmon include:

  • Chinook
  • Chum
  • Coho
  • Pink
  • Sockeye

Chinook is the largest Pacific salmon, weighing as much as 126 pounds and measuring up to 58 inches long. In contrast, pink is the smallest Pacific salmon, averaging three to five pounds and measuring up to 12 inches long. Atlantic is another type of salmon, which averages eight to 12 pounds and grows up to 30 inches long.

You can buy salmon fresh or frozen. There are also smoked and canned varieties of the fish. Keep some of the following in mind while purchasing fresh salmon:

  • Salmon has a mild fresh smell rather than a fishy, ammonia-like one.
  • The fish has clear, shiny eyes.
  • The fish has a firm flesh that springs back if you press it. 

Frozen salmon may not have some traits, but the fish should smell fresh. You can tell salmon is unsafe to eat if any fishy, sour smells become pungent after cooking.

Make sure that you prevent cross-contamination while handling raw fish. For example, wash your hands with soap and water and sanitize cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops after touching raw fish.

You can eat salmon cooked or raw, although cooking the fish reduces the risk of food poisoning. Only consume raw salmon that was previously frozen.

A Quick Review

Salmon is a sustainable choice that packs protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon helps support heart health by reducing total cholesterol and blood pressure, two risk factors for heart disease. 

There are many types of salmon. When purchasing fresh salmon, ensure the fish has a mild scent and firm flesh. You can eat salmon cooked or raw, but cooking the fish reduces the risk of food poisoning. 

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