To help prevent heart disease, nutrition and health experts advise us to eat fish a couple times each week. Eating fish is also linked to reduced cognitive decline among the elderly and more optimal brain development during fetal growth and infancy. Yet fewer than 20% of Americans eat at least 8 ounces of fish each week (1). Though there are many barriers to fish consumption, one is the concern about seafood safety, especially the safety of farmed salmon.
Facts and PCBs and Dioxins:
Banned in the 1970s, PCBs were used in industrial processing. Dioxins are by-products of incinerating waste, pesticide production, the production of some types of plastics, and other processes. Fortunately, regulations have cut dioxin emissions by 90% since the late 1980s. Both groups of compounds persist in the environment for many years, but their levels in the environment and the human body have declined significantly.
Many people don’t realize that all food groups carry some level of contamination. It’s not just seafood. In fact, our total exposure to dioxins and PCBs is much greater from other food sources, including vegetables!
Food as Sources of Total Toxicity Exposure:
- Beef, pork and chicken: 34%
- Dairy: 30%
- Vegetables: 22%
- Seafood: 9%
- Eggs: 5%
Risks and Benefits:
To compare the benefits and risks of eating fish, researchers reviewed the existing evidence and published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2). This is what they found:
If 100,000 Americans ate farmed salmon twice weekly over a lifetime of 70 years, the PCBs and dioxins may cause 24 additional cancer deaths, but more than 7,000 deaths from heart disease would be prevented.
So you can see that eating fish is a huge health booster!
How to Remove Some Contaminants:
Since PCBs and dioxins are stored in fat tissue, you can remove some of these contaminants by removing some of the fat and skin of the fish. If you cannot remove the skin, puncture it so that some of the fat can drain off.
Cook your fish on a rack, so the fat can drip away.
Facts about “Color Added:”
If you see “color added” on the labels of your farmed salmon, it may conjure up an image of injecting the fish or the flesh with food color. Nothing like that is happening.
The pinkish, orange-y color of salmon comes from the antioxidant astaxanthin, which is a cousin to beta-carotene. Wild salmon pick up astaxanthin from their wild diet. Farmed salmon receive this carotenoid in their food, which looks like dog kibble.
Nutrients in Farmed and Wild Salmon:
Both wild and farmed salmon are brimming with nutrition.
On average, farmed salmon has more of the prized omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also higher in total fat, which makes it higher in calories as well.
Source: USDA ARS National Nutrient Database
- Mozaffarian and Rimm Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health. JAMA (2006) 296:15
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND
Disclosure: Jill recently signed on as a consultant to the Norwegian Seafood Council.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.