Sashimi, smoked, poached or grilled… how do you like your salmon? As one of the world’s most popular fish, salmon is surely making its mark today. But according to Bulletproof founder and biohacker David Asprey, there’s a lot more that goes into our salmon choices than the way we liked it cooked. He’s here to reel in the facts about salmon, giving us the lowdown on everything from the fish’s feed, to their nutritional differences. Let’s dive in!
If you’re like me, salmon is probably a once (or sometimes even twice) weekly meal staple. It’s a rich tasting, yet versatile fish and cooking it couldn’t be any easier. Raw salmon can be fantastic too – that is, if you are buying quality salmon. This popular fish makes for the perfect protein due to its amazing flavor coupled with several performance-boosting nutrients. And in the case of salmon, quality really does make a difference. When purchasing your salmon, consider that not all salmon is created equal. The flavor, fat content, and nutrient profile is heavily influenced by whether or not the salmon was farm-raised or wild, which body of water it came from and what the salmon ate.
So join me as I take a deeper dive (no pun intended) into the world of salmon. You’ll learn about all the potent nutrients in this tasty fish, how to select the best salmon, and last but not least, how you can cook a mean salmon filet for your next meal.
Astaxanthin: Food Coloring, Naturally
It’s always important to pay attention to the color of your food, as this can shed a lot of light on the quality of the food itself. I offer this piece of advice when it comes to salmon, among other things. You can learn so much about a piece of salmon simply by checking out how orange the fish is. A wild-caught Alaskan sockeye, for instance, should be a deep, vibrant orange. A farm-raised salmon, on the other hand, is lighter and more washed out. Why? Because farm-raised salmon are sickly fish.
The deep orange sockeye is what salmon should look like. Astaxanthin, a bright red molecule found in algae, plankton, and krill, is what makes the sockeye’s color so vivid. And this color means the fish is more powerfully nutritious. Here are some important facts about astaxanthin:
- It has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- It helps to improve and enhance blood flow.
- Improves integrity of mitochondrial membranes.
- Makes energy production more efficient within mitochondria.
- Used as a supplement, astaxanthin may increase strength endurance by more than 50%.
When salmon live in the wild, they tend to consume mostly plankton, which is an abundant source of astaxanthin. Therefore, it’s no wonder their natural color reflects their diet! Farmed salmon eat food pellets that don’t contain natural astaxanthin, so farmers add in a synthetic version (sometimes derived from coal) that does not compare nutritionally to natural astaxanthin.
The fishmeal and fish oils given to farm raised salmon can easily become contaminated with dioxin and/or mercury, which are toxic to humans. To account for this risk, traditional fishmeal and fish oils have recently been replaced with soy and corn protein and vegetable oil. The result? Salmon aren’t designed to digest these “foods”, so the health of the fish is compromised, and ultimately, its nutritional content.
Specifically, vegetable oils reduce the omega-3 fatty acids that are so cherished in salmon and may even be the culprit for mold contamination. Beyond this, to keep the salmon “healthy,” they are often given antibiotics that further diminish the quality of the meat and can contribute to gut dysbiosis in humans.
Worried about mercury?
According to the EPA and FDA, wild-caught salmon has consistently been at very low risk of mercury contamination. This is fantastic news. Given this assessment, these agencies state it’s safe and healthy to eat salmon a few times per week.
Which varieties are best?
Different kinds of wild salmon boast different nutrient profiles, so it all comes down to what you’re looking for in your fish – and which flavor you like best! When push comes to shove, just make sure you’re always getting wild-caught fish rather than farm-raised.
Because sockeye salmon principally eat plankton, these fish are almost impossible to farm-raise. So, if you’re getting sockeye, it’s almost always going to be wild salmon. Sockeye salmon’s plankton-rich diet accounts for its rich nutrient profile, which is high in astaxanthin, cholesterol, and vitamin D. It’s also a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re interested in upping your omega-3s, consider Chinook (king) salmon, which have almost double the amount of omega-3s as other salmon species. Why is this? Chinook hold on to more omega-3 fats because these fats prevent them from freezing in the deep, cold waters they inhabit. It is possible, however, to farm these fish. Always check to make sure you’re getting wild-caught salmon when you buy Chinooks.
Ever heard of Pacific coho salmon? This one is excellent. It has the third-highest fat content of any salmon, coming in behind Chinook and sockeye. For vitamin D and omega 3s, coho is a great choice, as these nutrients are abundant in this variety. Again, wild is always best.
And last but not least, how to prepare your fish…
Raw, poached, grilled, or smoked? It’s a matter of preference, but here are some words of wisdom when it comes to selecting a cooking option for your fish. Smoked salmon is delicious, as many of you may know from experience. But smoking meat produces histamines, which can cause inflammation for those who are sensitive. This varies on an individual basis, so see what works for you. Always choose cold-smoked salmon if possible because the colder temperature better preserves the omega-3 fatty acids.
For those of you who buy raw salmon and are looking for some delicious ways to cook it in your own kitchen, try out this recipe from Bulletproof: The Cookbook. Its simplicity highlights the natural flavors of the fish, while the acid from the lemon juice balances out the fat.
I’m also a big fan of sushi, made with white rice, avocado and drizzled in Brain Octane Oil to highlight the flavors of the fresh fish. When eating fish raw, make sure to get a high-quality, sushi-grade cut!
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