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Expert Q&A

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Is farm-raised salmon as healthy as wild?

Asked by Adrienne Jones,

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They say that wild salmon is best, but what if you can't always get wild salmon? Is it safe to eat farm-raised or do you just not eat it ? I see farm-raised from Canada and always think maybe that's better, but is it?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Adrienne. This is a great question as many people are confused about salmon consumption, which may lead them to eat less and miss out on all the terrific health benefits, especially when it comes to heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, at least twice a week to ensure you get plenty of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Fresh or farmed: Dr. Jampolis revisits her answer

To get a few more answers for you, I consulted Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that has examined this subject in detail. She told me the following:

"Nearly all salmon Americans eat are farm-raised -- grown in dense-packed pens near ocean shores, fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic PCB chemicals, awash in excrement flushed out to sea and infused with antibiotics to combat unsanitary conditions. Some salmon are raised on farms that use more sustainable methods, but you can't tell from the packaging.

Eating farmed salmon occasionally is not a great health concern, but risks can add up if you eat salmon often. But the long-term environmental damage caused by the industry is substantial. We recommend wild salmon over farmed whenever possible."

A 2003 report by the EWG showed that farmed salmon in the U.S. has the highest levels of PCBs, toxic man-made chemicals, so Canadian salmon may be slightly better. I suggest that you limit farmed salmon consumption to once a week at most if you are unable to find fresh, wild salmon. In addition, trim the skin and fat as much as possible and use cooking methods such as grilling and boiling to reduce fat, as this is where the toxics are stored.

You also may want to try canned salmon, which is much easier to find in the wild form and is much less expensive. And finally, try to eat a variety of fish to minimize your risk. Other good fish sources of omega 3 fatty acids include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and albacore tuna.

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