"Food first" is a mantra most dietitians preach: Do your best to get your nutrients from the actual foods you're eating and if you're coming up short, then turn to supplements.
When it comes to getting our omega-3s, however, we could all use a little help in practicing what experts advise since fish oil is the most commonly used supplement, according to a 2015 National Health Statistics Report. A tastier and more effective approach (that doesn't involve burping up a fishy pill) is to go straight to the source — salmon.
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Salmon is often touted as one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats, but the fish is also an excellent source of protein and other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. If you still need more convincing on adding salmon to your weekly meal plan, consider all of these benefits.
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1. It Packs Higher Quality Protein Than Red Meat
The protein in fish trumps other sources of protein such as red meat. Unlike red meat, salmon is low in saturated fats (which can raise your cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease) and high in omega-3 fatty acids (which can protect against heart disease), according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
And even though it's considered a fatty fish, salmon can help support your weight-loss goals. A 3-ounce piece of cooked salmon has 21 grams of protein — and getting enough of this macronutrient is important if you're trying to lose weight, according to an April 2015 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
For starters, protein is the most satiating macronutrient (compared to the other two, carbs and fats), which means it can help you feel fuller longer. It also helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which is important when you are losing overall body mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so you'll want to hold onto as much muscle as possible.
2. Salmon’s Fatty Acids Might Help Fight Depression
Mental health is a growing concern — diagnosis of depression amongst adults has risen by 33 percent on average since 2013, according to a May 2018 report by Blue Cross Blue Shield. But that rate is growing faster amongst millennials; in fact, it's up 47 percent.
The good news is daily habits, like your diet, can be part of the treatment and prevention. One nutrient that has garnered much attention is omega-3s. In September 2019, the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research released updated guidelines in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics recommending including omega-3s as part of the treatment plan for depression.
Salmon is one of the richest food sources, providing 54 percent of your daily value of two types of brain-boosting omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, per a cooked 3-ounce serving, according to the USDA.
Read more: 4 Ways Your Food and Mood Are Connected
3. It's Linked to Better Skin
If your skin could have a best-food-friend, salmon would make the cut. There are a number of nutrients found in the fish that help keep your skin healthy.
First, there are the omega-3s, which can help fight inflammation, according to an October 2017 study in Biochemical Society Transactions. Inflammation is enemy number one for your skin because it can lead to acne and signs of aging, as explained in an August 2017 article published in Nutrients. Omega-3s also help your skin hold onto moisture by supporting the lipid barrier.
The antioxidant astaxanthin also comes into play when it comes to your skin and anti-aging. Two clinical trials found that the antioxidant (when ingested and applied topically) may help reduce wrinkles, age spots and improve skin texture, according to a March 2012 paper in Biochimica Polonica.
4. Salmon Shows Your Heart Some Love
Thanks in part to its nourishing fatty acids, salmon is considered a heart-healthy food. The omega-3s help to lower triglycerides and blood pressure (slightly) as well as reduce your overall risk of stroke and heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Another nutrient found in salmon may also contribute to its heart-health benefits. Salmon is unique from most other fish because of its red-pink color, which comes from the algae they eat as part of their diet. Just as how anthocyanins give berries their deep red, blue and purple gues, the antioxidant astaxanthin gives salmon their pink color.
Preliminary research shows this antioxidant may lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol levels, although more research is needed to solidify these benefits, per a February 2016 article published in Marine Drugs.
5. It's Linked to Building Strong Bones
When we think of building strong bones, a tall glass of milk often comes to mind. But eating salmon can help, too.
Salmon is surprisingly high in vitamin D, a bone-strengthening mineral. A 3-ounce piece of cooked salmon provides more than 70 percent of your daily needs. It's hard to meet your vitamin D through diet alone: Between 50 and 90 percent of our vitamin D needs are provided by the sun, according to a January 2010 study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences. So adding salmon to your weekly eating plan will help to ensure you're getting enough.
6. Salmon Is Tied to Keeping Your Brain Sharp
Did you know our brains are about 60 percent fat? So it makes sense that eating high-quality fats, like omega-3s, can help support your overall brain health.
In fact, the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), was developed to help prevent neurological decline. The diet provides weekly recommendations around specific foods like how many cups of berries to eat and how many servings of beans.
One of their recommendations is to eat at least one serving of seafood a week, with a focus on fatty fish like salmon, as outlined by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
So How Much Salmon Should You Eat?
The AHA recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week. While eating a variety of fish is healthy, salmon is especially great because of its omega-3 content.
Another consideration when shopping is farmed-raised versus wild-caught salmon. There are pros and cons to both, but wild salmon wins when it comes to your health, per the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re concerned about the environment, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch offers recommendations for choosing the most environmentally-friendly type.
Read more: How to Bake Salmon in the Oven With Foil
- National Health Statistics Report: "Trends in the Use of Complementary Health Approaches Among Adults: United States, 2002–2012"
- Blue Cross Blue Shield: "Major Depression: The Impact on Overall Health"
- Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: "International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research Practice Guidelines for Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder"
- Nutrients: "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health"
- Biochimica Polonica: "Cosmetic Benefits of Astaxanthin on Humans Subjects"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 in Fish: How Eating Fish Helps Your Heart"
- Marine Drugs: "Potential Anti-Atherosclerotic Properties of Astaxanthin"
- FoodData Central: "Salmon, Cooked, NS as to Cooking Method"
- International Journal of Healthy Sciences: "Vitamin D Deficiency-An Ignored Epidemic"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "The MIND Diet"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Fish Faceoff: Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon"
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch: "Salmon Recommendations"
- AHA: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins"
- AHA: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids"