It’s summertime, too hot to cook, and friends are joining us for dinner. Time to ask Pete to pick up a salmon filet on his way home from work. Throw it on the BBQ, add a couple of salads, and fresh fruit for dessert, and we’ve got one of our favorite meals (see the recipe at the end of this post).

Barbecued salmon is so delicious, even our “I don’t like fish” friends snarf it down. Along with happy taste buds, we feel good knowing that salmon is good for you. Yes, it’s a high-fat fish, but that fat contains lots of omega 3 fatty acids (O3FAs). Or does it?

I recently read yet another article claiming that only wild-caught salmon had a beneficial level of O3FAs, whereas farm-raised salmon was high in bad-for-you omega 6 fatty acids (O6FAs). Since a recent ad from our market offered farmed (aka “Atlantic”) salmon at $5.99/lb. (on sale) and wild Sockeye at $14.99/lb., Pete and I decided to find out if the wild fish is really that much better for us.

What we learned was not only a bit of a surprise, but it provides a great example of how statistics and data are twisted to support whatever position you prefer.

First, it turns out that O6FAs are not bad for you. In fact, they’re an essential part of a healthy diet. So why the fuss?

A while back, a study found that high levels of some O6FAs slightly suppressed laboratory rats’ ability to synthesize long-strand O3FAs (the kind we need) from short-chain fatty acids (the kind found in plants, which we eat).

In response, the popular press and numerous websites (mostly those selling dietary supplements) decided that a low ratio of O6FAs to O3FAs is optimal. (Here is a typical example of a website insisting that no more than a 3:1 ratio is very important and by the way please buy our products.)

However, further studies determined that limiting our O6FA intake doesn’t make that big a difference in humans. A more effective way to raise our O3FA levels is to eat foods that already have long-chain O3FAs in them. (If you’re a biochemist and want more details, click here; I admit that reading this site made my eyes glaze over.)

The three primary sources of long-chain O3FAs are fatty fishes (such as salmon), white fish (such as halibut and cod), and shellfish (shrimp, crab, scallops, etc.). You now have another reason to take your sweetie out for a lobster dinner!

But what about that wild vs. farmed fish question? I’ve repeatedly run across claims that wild fish is much better for you than farmed fish. At almost three times the price, is it worth it? A little digging turned up some nutritional information from the USDA. Based on that (and some additional data), Pete made the following chart:

USDA Analysis









 Wild  Farmed Wild  Farmed  Wild
Overall Fat (g/100g serving)






Omega 3 (g/100g serving)






Omega 6 (g/100g Max)






Percent Omega 3






Percent Omega 6 (Max)






Total Omega 3












As you can see, per 100 gram serving, farmed salmon has more fat in it than wild salmon, and wild salmon has a higher percentage of O3FAs than farmed salmon. Since we tend to thing fat = bad, and O3FA = good, at this point it sounds like the wild salmon is winning.

However, because farmed salmon has more fat overall, and that fat includes O3FAs, overall, farmed Atlantic salmon actually has more O3FAs than salmon from any other source! This is one time when using a percentage is not the best way to analyze the facts. We don’t eat percentages; we eat servings.

Even better news comes from the salmon industry. When the early reports came out that the feed used in raising salmon was producing fish lower in O3FAs, they changed the feed. The fish you buy today is higher in O3FAs than the fish produced a decade ago. And Norwegian farmed salmon, most of the farmed salmon we eat, is even better. (The USDA data doesn’t include fish produced in other countries.)

Of course, this doesn’t take in account differences in flavor, the environmental impact of hunting vs. farming, or a myriad of other factors.

I’m heading out to get some of that $5.99/lb. Atlantic salmon. We’ll grill it over indirect heat, then serve it topped with a generous spoonful of this amazing pistachio basil butter. Who needs hot dogs for the Fourth of July?

Pistachio Basil Butter

  • 1/4 C shelled pistachios (about 1 ounce)
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves (lemon or lime basil is even more awesome, but use twice as many because the leaves are smaller)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 C butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice

Put nuts and basil into a food processor with the metal blade. Turn machine on. Drop garlic clove through feed tube, and process until finely chopped. Turn off the machine, add the butter, and turn the machine back on. Pour the olive oil and lime juice through the feed tube, and process until a fairly smooth paste. Chill before using, or freeze for the future. I like to freeze in an ice cube tray so I can defrost just enough for one meal at a time.

One thought on “Salmon

  1. So yummy!! Nice to know the nutritional info for the two types of salmon!! But of course, like you said, this doesn’t take into account the environmental impact. So many things to consider!

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