Written by: Wallace Merriman

Food of the Week- Salmon
Posted on:May 19, 2011

 By WHFoods

  • With so much focus on the amazing omega-3 benefits of salmon, other unique health benefits from salmon may have been inadvertently overlooked. One fascinating new area of health benefits involves the protein and amino acid content of salmon. Several recent studies have found that salmon contains small bioactive protein molecules (called bioactive peptides) that may provide special support for joint cartilage, insulin effectiveness, and control of inflammation in the digestive tract. One particular bioactive peptide called calcitonin (sCT) has been of special interest in these studies. The reason is because a human form of calcitonin is made by the thyroid gland, and we know that it is a key hormone for helping regulate and stabilize the balance of collagen and minerals in the bone and surrounding tissue. As researchers learn more and more about salmon peptides – – including sCT – – we expect to see more and more potential health benefits discovered related to inflammation, including inflammation of the joints. 
  • Even though contamination with mercury, pesticides, and persistent organic pollutants (POPS) has become a widespread problem in salmon habitats and with the quality of salmon itself, there are still salmon runs that pose relatively low risk in terms of contaminants. Leading this low-risk category for wild-caught salmon are Alaskan salmon. Southeast Alaskan chum, sockeye, coho, pink, and chinook salmon, together with Kodiak coho, pink, and chum salmon have all been evaluated for contaminant consumption risk involving many POPs (including dioxins, dioxin-like compounds, or DLCs, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs) and have been found to be the lowest risk category of wild-caught salmon for regular consumption. This lower contamination risk amongst all wild-caught salmon is one of the reasons we recommend selection of wild-caught Alaskan salmon as a salmon of choice. (While some salmon runs from British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast also stand out as lower risk in terms of contaminants, we do not feel enthusiastic about recommending them for consumption due to the more precarious sustainability of these salmon runs.) 
  • Along with lower risk of contamination from wild-caught Alaskan salmon, we like what experts are saying about the greater sustainability of Alaskan salmon runs. For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California has recently determined Alaskan salmon to be the only low-risk salmon in terms of four sustainability criteria: the inherent vulnerability of the fish, the effects of fishing on the overall habitat, the status of wild stocks, and the nature of the by-catch (the other types of fish that are caught unintentionally during salmon fishing). 
  • Changes may soon be coming to rules about organic certification of salmon. During the week of April 25-29, 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is taking public comment on various aspects of organic regulation, including proposed rules involving aquaculture and organic certification of salmon. The NOSB seems to be leaning toward a certification process that will only allow for organic labeling of farmed salmon. This limitation of organic certification to farmed salmon appears related to the NOSB’s desire for certainty about compliance of salmon production with organic regulations as well as its belief that verification of compliance for wild-caught salmon would simply not be possible. Expected to be at issue in the NOSB public comment is the apparent intention of the NOSB to allow up to 25% of wild-caught fish feed to be used in the farming of organic salmon. Since organic regulations prohibit the use of animal by-products in the feeding of land animals (like cows or chickens), this area of certification for farmed fish is controversial and somewhat confusing since many types of fish are included in the natural diet of adult salmon when they migrate out to sea. Until these issues involving organic certification of farmed salmon have been resolved, and given the desirability of a life for salmon that takes place in their natural habitat, we recommend consumption of wild-caught salmon, and more specifically, wild-caught Alaskan salmon. 
  • While salmon have long been identified as a uniquely concentrated source of omega-3 fats, recent studies have now determined the actual bioavailability of these omega-3 fats from relatively small changes in diet. In fascinating research from a team of scientists at the Lipid and Diabetes Research Center at Saint Luke’s MidAmerica Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO, only two servings of salmon per week (Norwegian Atlantic-farmed salmon and approximately 6 ounces per serving) were determined to significantly increase the presence of omega-3 fats in the membranes of red blood cells (RBCs). Only 4 months were required to raise the RBC omega-3 levels from 4% to 6%. This finding made it clear that the omega-3 fats from salmon–including its heart-supportive combination of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)–effectively make their way into our body and directly support the function of our cells. Equally interesting in this study was a comparison of dietary salmon intake to fish oil capsules containing purified salmon oil. Salmon oil capsules were also able to raise the percentage of omega-3s in the RBC membranes form 4% to 6%. However, intake of the fish oil capsules over this 4-month period also produced a small increase in some of the blood fats (in particular, triglycerides) of the participants. Since increased blood triglyceride levels can be a risk factor for cardiovascular problems, and since dietary salmon did not produce a similar rise in blood triglycerides for participants in this study, dietary intake of salmon appears to be a best bet for supporting cell function and simultaneously avoiding some unwanted increases in other blood fats.