Fatty fish is packed with healthy omegas beneficial for heart health, brain function, and more! Iodine, selenium, vitamins, and unsaturated fats make fish like salmon a high-protein, heart-healthy option. However, eating more than the current recommendation of two-3oz servings a week of fatty fish can expose you to harmful agents like heavy metals and other pollutants, especially if you’re buying fish that was intentionally fed toxic agents.
The environment the fish were raised in, more specifically what they fed upon, influences their health profile and the amount of exposure to toxins. Wild-caught fish have numerous health benefits, but farmed fish don’t bring the same health-promoting goodness to the table. The reality is, a high intake of farm-raised fish could actually be harming your health, rather than promoting it.
What are Omega Fatty Acids?
Omega’s are essential for cellular function and regulating hormones involved in blood clotting, arterial wall flexibility, and inflammation. Omega 3’s, like EPA, which helps lower triglyceride levels, and DHA, responsible for fetal brain development, help reduce inflammation, improve cardiac function, and support the immune system. Yet, not all omega’s are the same, more specifically, omega 3’s and 6’s offer very different health benefits.
There are a few different ways that omega 3’s outshine omega 6’s. It’s not that omega-6s are bad, they do benefit cardiovascular function by lowering LDL cholesterol. However, some 6’s cause inflammation. Therefore, a diet ratio higher in 6’s than 3’s leads to a pro-inflammatory state which contributes to chronic inflammation and is one of the biggest problems with the typical Western Diet.
The Western Diet consisits of a high carb intake while also consuming a high level of omega-6 fatty acids and a lower intake of omega-3’s, creating a pro-inflammatory state with impaired glucose control and high cholesterol, increasing risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Wild-caught fish provide a hefty dose of omega 3’s but, a much lower dose of omega 6’s compared to farm-raised fish. Having a higher omega 6 ratio, typical for farm-raised fish, increases inflammation, making wild-caught fish the winner in this category.
Benefits of Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, black cod, mackerel, tuna, striped bass, and sardines, are well known for their heart-healthy benefits. Omega 3 fatty acids commonly found in fatty fish, like EPA and DHA, are polyunsaturated fats that provide lots of health benefits.
- Reduces risk for heart disease and stroke by decreasing inflammation and reducing cholesterol build-up in arteries. Helps with blood clotting and artery constriction/relaxation for blood pressure control
- Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias by boosting memory and cognitive function
- May improve mood and related disorders like anxiety and depression
- Can improve vision and help prevent age-related macular degeneration
- May reduce certain cancers like liver and colorectal
Wild Caught vs. Farmed Fish
To keep up with the food demands of our growing population, fish farming has been a great contribution, but it’s not packing the same health benefits as wild-caught fish. Fish farms store fish in tanks that are fed pellet food until they are large enough to be eaten. Stock tanks are used solely for human consumption and are more susceptible to toxins and disease.
So, should we really be eating farmed fish?
There are six main types of salmon sold in the U.S., but only one species of Atlantic salmon, which is mostly farm-raised. Pacific salmon, primarily wild-caught, has five types, Chinook/King (highest omega-3 levels due to its colder environment), Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye (most common).
The majority of farmed fish is Atlantic Salmon, which may sway you in their higher doses of omega 3’s, but farmed fish tends to have more toxins and exposure to other harmful drugs. Farmed fishing industries use antibiotics or vaccines to control bacterial and parasitic infections. Ingestion of antibiotics from farm fish can potentially contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans and disruptions in gut organisms leading to disease. Farmed fish have higher levels of saturated fat from processed fish food which cause the fish to fatten up, but in humans, high levels of saturated fat contribute to heart disease and weight gain.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are drastically higher in farmed fish. Wild fish still come in contact with POPs as more ocean pollution accumulates, but tend to be in lower amounts. POPs are linked to many diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Current measures are in place to reduce toxin exposure from farmed fish, but many are sourced outside the U.S. and use various methods to bulk up fish, including using coloring additives to achieve its pink hue, as it’s more appealing to us consumers. Wild-caught fish are deeper orange/red in color from eating a diet high in krill, shrimp, and other crustaceans in their natural habitat. Wild-caught fish have fewer calories and rank higher in taste compared to farmed fish.
- Naturally deep orange color from eating shrimp & krill
- Lower in calories
- Lower in Omega 6’s
- High in Omega 3’s
- Lower Toxin risk
- No antibiotics
- More expensive
- Tastes better
- Pink-ish color from ingredients in fish food to make appealing to shoppers
- High in calories
- Higher in Omega 3’s and 6’s
- Higher in saturated fat
- Antibiotics or vaccines likely used
- Increased toxin risk
Ultimately, the clear winner here is wild-caught salmon as it’s loaded with health benefits while also having a low-risk profile for harmful agents. Therefore, it’s worth spending the extra few bucks to really get your money’s worth! Hope this helps guide your fish shopping journey, stay tuned for my delicious Stuffed Salmon Recipe!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.