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Did you know that salmon took over fish sticks as the third most popular seafood in the American diet last year (trailing behind tuna and shrimp)? However, beyond its rising popularity and upon closer examination, salmon lovers should be aware of the pros and cons of eating salmon. Salmon gets positive points for being a great source of protein and omega-3 heart healthy fats. However, farmed salmon is not as healthy as was once thought. According to several recent studies, farmed salmon contains unsafe levels of dioxins and PCBs. Dioxins and PCBs are chemicals formed by unwanted by-products in a variety of industrial processes. PCBs are found throughout the environment and fish accumulate them mostly from eating other fish and from fish feed. PCBs have not been used since the 1970s, but are still lingering because they persist in the environment for several years. Dioxins and PCBs have been linked to several serious health conditions such as liver damage, immune system suppression and developmental delay in children.
In a recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it was found that six out of seven farmed salmon tested were polluted with PCBs at levels that would not be safe to eat more than once per month. In another large scale study reported in 2004, the average dioxin level in farm-raised salmon was 11 times higher than in wild salmon. The study also reported the average PCB levels were 36.6 parts per billion (ppb) in farm-raised salmon versus 4.75 ppb in wild salmon.
In addition to an increase in PCBs, farmed salmon was also shown to contain less of the beneficial omega-3 essential fat compared to wild salmon. In fact, USDA testing data reveals that the fat of farmed salmon contains an average of 35% less omega-3 fatty acids (USDA 2002). Farmed salmon are also intentionally fattened to maximize market weight and the chemical pollutants collect in the fat instead of in the muscles or internal organs. Wild Atlantic salmon are a leaner fish and are higher in essential fatty acids.
Eating Salmon Safely
When purchasing or cooking salmon, in order to reap the nutritional benefits of omega-3 fats and to avoid buying salmon polluted with PCBs, follow these guidelines:
Purchase Wild Atlantic salmon which contains less PCB content.
To reduce your exposure to PCBs, trim the fat off your farmed (not wild) salmon prior to eating. Also choose cooking methods such as baking, grilling or broiling over frying to eliminate the PCB fat.
Choose canned salmon. Most canned salmon is made from wild fish.
Eat farmed salmon a maximum of once per month. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consult their doctors or nutritionists about adding salmon to their diets.
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