From coast to coast, Canadians are blessed with the diversity of salmon species that live in our oceans. This time of year, we bear witness to the salmon run, where populations of wild salmon undertake an epic journey from the oceans back to their ancestral streams to spawn a new generation. Atlantic or Pacific, cooked or cured, farmed or wild-caught, this delicious and versatile fish is loaded with essential nutrients and offers many health benefits.
Sum and substance
Health Canada recommends consuming two servings of non-fried fish a week (about 150 g total). Fish in general, and salmon, especially, is high in protein and provides an important source of healthy fatty acids and vitamin D. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which has a regulating effect on vitamin D—raising it in people with deficient levels and lowering it in people with high levels. What’s more? There is growing evidence that increased seafood intake—particularly where it replaces other protein sources, like beef or pork—is linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease and fatal heart attack.
Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids, so they must come from diet or supplements. Salmon and other fatty fishes are rich in two key omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). A recent meta-analysis of 40 clinical trials published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests that DHA and EPA intake is associated with reduced risk of heart disease. But the benefits don’t stop there—EPA and DHA also play a role in brain function and normal growth and development. These long-chain fatty acids contribute to decreased inflammation, improved arterial function and protection against neurological and metabolic disease. You might benefit from taking a fish oil supplement, if you don’t eat fish or seafood, but it’s always best to get nutrients straight from the source, which includes all of the salmon’s fats, vitamins, minerals and supporting molecules, not just EPA and DHA.
Like many foods that come in rich hues of red or orange, salmon is loaded with antioxidants, especially the carotenoid astaxanthin. This antioxidant may help improve the appearance of the skin by protecting against free radicals and increasing skin elasticity and hydration. Astaxanthin also works with salmon’s omega-3 fatty acids to protect the brain and nervous system against inflammation. It’s no surprise that the brightly coloured sockeye salmon provides the highest amount of this powerful antioxidant.
KEEP IN MIND
Raw, smoked or cured fish products can be contaminated with listeria. Older adults, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to listeria infection. If this is a concern for you, consider eating fish and seafood that have been thoroughly heated to a core temperature of 160°F for at least two minutes.