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Q Nutrition: Is salmon really good for us?

Just last year, Madonna announced she would be trying a salmon retox diet, and the media gobbled it up and spit it out to the public as if it were the invention of sliced bread. Because of its unique twist on diets, and most likely because it was after all Madonna, the media disseminated the news profusely.

She would eat a boat load of salmon daily believing that the high quantities of omega 3 oils in salmon will help her look 12 years younger. Not a bad idea…at first thought.

Salmon is touted everywhere as the number one food to eat because of the great health benefits it beholds such as omega 3 fatty acids. Article after article about eating more healthful meals will invariably urge people to include salmon in their diet, and that of course can’t be disputed…EXCEPT…all salmon are not created equal.

Farmed salmon entered our food chain about 1970, allowing its availability year round, becoming a boon in the revenues of the restaurant industry, while wild salmon are seasonal. With its market price coming below that of the wild salmon, farmed salmon are in demand, and wild salmon has evolved into a pricey item, especially for struggling families these days. But those like Madonna won’t have that to worry about.

Looking closely at farmed salmon, are we really benefiting by the savings?

Within their netted pens, the thousands upon thousands of fish are fed inferior food, exposed to disease, and have a newly found stress put upon them affecting their texture, according to a study from the University of Norway.

The exposure to disease that farmed salmon are more likely to experience than wild salmon is of major proportions, and knowing this the farms inject the fish with antibiotics to control outbreaks of mainly sea lice and viruses. By doing this, it not only exposes the consumer to the antibiotic, which can contribute to antibiotic resistance, but it contributes to inflammation within the human body, a major contributor of heart disease.

This harvested crop has become a detriment to the health of anyone eating it, as well as a threat to the natural environment of wild salmon.

The feed given to farmed fish is a negative for both the fish and the consumer. Instead of eating the natural krill, algae, herring and other small fish in the ocean, farmed fish are generally fed man-made pellets made from ground fish, fish oil, and fillers made from such grains as wheat, corn, and soy.

The fish feed is also fortified with additional amounts of fat. This higher content of fat seeming to fatten them up to weigh more is also passed on to the consumer. The grains and fillers can contribute to inflammation within the human body, as it has shown that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in the farmed salmon has been disrupted.

Instead of the high content of omega 3 the wild salmon possess that we all hear about, is far less in farmed salmon, with omega 6 controlling the higher number.

Grains in a human diet, especially an overabundance of corn, are major contributors of omega 6. Monica Reinagel, M.S., LD/N, the leading author of books on inflammation reports that the anti-inflammation reading for a serving of wild Atlantic salmon is plus 493 (compared to a serving of green vegetables at an average of under +50), and the farmed Atlantic salmon registers at a whopping minus 180.

To top it off, the natural pink flesh found in wild salmon no longer shows up pink in the farmed variety. The flesh of the mature farmed salmon turns out to be grey, forcing the companies to either inject the fish with dye or add it to the fishmeal in order for the salmon to appear pink and desirable. This color additive is another form of toxin that the farmed salmon offers us as consumers.

The University of Albany reports that the health risk of eating farmed salmon is a worldwide problem, and that the test results are most likely conservative. The Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the university, David Carpenter, points out that eating farmed salmon contributes to all the other contaminants people ingest from various other foods, and therefore the effects are of course compounded.

The Department of Fish and Game of Alaska, where they have banned finfish farms, has deep concerns about the thousands of farmed salmon that escape annually from the fish farms in British Colombia and the state of Washington, and they have issued warnings and watches to find any salmon that is not of the Alaskan variety and bring it in to them.

It is feared that the wild salmon as we know it today will be extinct in at least 10 years because of the farmed salmon population infiltrating the wild habitats and changing the DNA, and more of the wild dying off from diseases passed on from escaped farm fish. Canadian geneticist Michael Easton, PhD, author and CEO of International EcoGen Inc., found that farmed salmon as well as the feed they are given have tested with levels of highly unstable, toxic chemicals such as PCBs, and higher dioxins, dieldrin, and toxaphene 16 times more than wild salmon.

These are common environmental pollutants both manmade and byproducts of chemical processes that the EPA deems harmful to human health. PCBs have been banned in manufacturing by the EPA, yet they still creep into the water systems from other countries.

With the popularity of the farmed variety, jobs in the fishing industry have been slashed, and fishery companies are folding.

Just last month, Target Corporation announced they have decided to stop selling farmed salmon, citing the detrimental effects that the farms have on the environment and fish population, citing pollution, disease, contamination and disruption of the wild salmon habitats.

Canneries have found that farmed salmon do not can well, due to their physical make-up, therefore most canned salmon found on the market is likely wild.

Of course it must be noted that there may be a number of salmon farms operating throughout the world that do not have the environmental conditions and health concerns as those reported in this article; maybe there are some that are more environmentally and nutritiously conscious. But it is the major, larger farms that feed the majority of the worldwide consumers.

Adding it all up, the negatives of consuming farmed salmon are: toxic additives, higher omega 6 and less omega 3 contents than the human body needs, dyes, and additional fat. When you add up the negatives of eating farmed salmon, is it really worth the savings? Next time you compare the price of farmed salmon versus wild salmon, just think about what you may be paying for: Inflammation or Omega 3? Inflammation greatly works against having lovely, youthful skin.

So hopefully Madonna is savvy when it comes to farmed salmon, and is staying away from it, as all her efforts would be negated at every bite of the farmed versus the wild.

As with anything, the unadulterated food or product always come out on top when analyzing nutritional value. This is just another food product we all now have to be cautious in putting into our bodies, for very many thought-provoking reasons.

Linda Bergersen M.S., HN
Holistic Nutritionist