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Wild vs Farmed Salmon: Omega-3 Content

Wild vs Farmed Salmon

Wild salmon is a rich source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA), but an increasing demand for fish and overfishing have led to diminishing marine fish stocks in many parts of the world. Farmed salmon is a means of meeting the increasing demand for this tasty fish, while reducing pressure on wild fish stocks. However, the food fish eat can influence their fatty acid composition, which has raised an interesting question: does farmed salmon actually contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids? In the past, pellets made from smaller fish and fish oil, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were widely used as feed for farmed salmon. However, with the decline of fishery stocks, farmed salmon are increasingly fed with plant-based foods such as soybeans and vegetable oils which contain little omega-3 and a lot of omega-6.

Intrigued by this question, a group of researchers from the Norwegian College of Fishery Science at the University of Tromso decided to investigate the fatty acid composition of wild vs farmed salmon. Their study, which was published in Nutrition Bulletin in 2012, was based on a sample of 20 wild salmon caught in the ocean and another sample of 20 farmed salmon. The researchers discovered that farmed salmon actually contained slightly more healthy long-chain omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. Here are the results of their analysis:

  • Farmed salmon: 1.03 grams of omega-3 (EPA/DHA) per 100 grams
  • Wild salmon: 0.78 grams of omega-3 (EPA/DHA) per 100 grams

According to this study, a standard 200-gram portion of farmed Atlantic salmon provides about 2 grams of EPA and DHA in total, an amount that easily exceeds the recommended minimum weekly intake of EPA+DHA set by the World Health Organization.

However, when you compare the overall fatty acid composition of farmed vs wild salmon, it is easy to understand why farmed salmon was found to have a higher omega-3 content in this study: with a fat content of 12 percent, farmed salmon has a much higher overall fat content than wild salmon which has about 6 percent fat. In fact, if you only compare the composition of the fatty portion of each type of fish, you'll realize that the ratio of omega-3s to other types of fats is still more attractive in wild salmon than in farmed salmon.

So the bottom line is: If you are simply trying to increase your total intake of omega-3 fatty acids, farmed Norwegian salmon appears to be a good choice. However, if you are trying to increase your omega-3 intake but want to limit your overall fat intake, wild salmon is clearly the winner.

Last Updated: July 2015

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