Smoked Fish Can Be Healthy, but Beware This Common Ingredient

Fish is a healthy, protein-rich food packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Smoked fish refers to fish that has been hot smoked or cold smoked. Smoked fish is healthy, but often contains a large amount of sodium.

Fatty fish easily take on the flavors produced during the smoking process. (Image: Roxiller/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Smoked fish is full of protein, omega fatty acids and other essential nutrients. It's definitely a healthy food, but it can be high in sodium.

What Does Smoking Fish Entail?

Smoking is a popular technique used to cure all sorts of foods. You can smoke meats, eggs, shellfish or fish. Smoking uses a combination of smoke and salt to help cure these foods. The smoke can come from wood, tea or any other variety of sources. Each item carries its own unique flavor.

Smoking fish is typically done in two different ways: hot smoking or cold smoking. These smoking techniques are quite different:

  • Hot smoking is done at medium heat, which results in a fully cooked fish. This process eliminates most disease-causing bacteria. The temperature used for hot smoking is at or above 80 degrees Celsius or 176 degrees Fahrenheit. The final product is pale and flaky, compared to cold smoked fish.
  • Cold-smoked fish could easily be mistaken for raw fish. The temperature used for this process is lower than 80 degrees Celsius or 176 degrees Fahrenheit — in fact, it is often between 32 to 37 degrees Celsius or 90 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. This low temperature is not adequate to fully cook the fish or kill any disease-causing bacteria. This means that certain at risk populations should potentially avoid this type of smoked fish.

In addition to these main two techniques, you can also smoke food using products like liquid smoke. Such products will have the same overall effect as long as you're using the same times and temperatures you'd use for either cold or hot smoking.

Smoked Fish Nutrition

The nutrition supplied by smoked fish varies based on the type of fish. For instance, the nutritional content for 100 grams of smoked salmon (also known as lox) is:

  • 37 percent of the daily value (DV) for protein
  • 24 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B1)
  • 6 percent of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • 9 percent of the DV for vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • 14 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 54 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 11 percent of the DV for copper
  • 5 percent of the DV for iron
  • 5 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 16 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 5 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 54 percent of the DV for selenium

One hundred grams of smoked haddock has:

  • 50 percent of the DV for protein
  • 25 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B1)
  • 20 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 27 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 8 percent of the DV for iron
  • 14 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 25 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 12 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 61 percent of the DV for selenium

In comparison, 100 grams of smoked sturgeon has:

  • 62 percent of the DV for protein
  • 19 percent of the DV for vitamin A
  • 24 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B1)
  • 5 percent of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • 6 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B3)
  • 10 percent of the DV for vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • 13 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 48 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 5 percent of the DV for iron
  • 12 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 28 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 11 percent of the DV for potassium
  • 29 percent of the DV for selenium

All of these fish are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent) of other vitamins and minerals.

Benefits of Eating Smoked Fish

You can find many types of smoked fish commonly consumed on just about every continent. Smoking fish has become increasingly popular around the world because it can increase shelf life without negatively influencing nutritional content.

Using certain edible essential oils from herbs and spices, such as clove oil, in the smoking process can prolong shelf life even more. These oils can also add beneficial antioxidants to your smoked fish.

Fish are well known for being rich in healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty and oily fish have nutritional benefits that are greater than those of other fish because of their fat content. This means that the nutritional benefits of smoked sardines, smoked salmon, smoked herring and smoked mackerel surpass those of other less fatty fish.

The omega-3 fatty acids in these fish are good for your brain, heart and immune system. These healthy fats have the added benefit of absorbing the flavor of smoke very well, resulting in a tastier food compared to leaner fish.

Nutritional Downsides to Smoked Fish

Smoked fish tends to be high in sodium. Many types of smoked fish have 31 to 33 percent of the DV for sodium per 100 grams. However, some smoked fish, like lox, have as much as 83 percent of the DV per 100 grams.

Whether it's 30 percent or 80 percent, this is a very large amount of sodium in such a small amount of food. This means that you should be careful about your sodium intake if you consume smoked fish regularly. Too much sodium is associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, including cancer.

Other Downsides to Smoked Fish

Certain foodborne diseases are associated with smoked fish, especially cold-smoked fish. This includes bacteria like Listeria, which can cause serious illness in pregnant women, older adults or people with compromised immune systems.

Unlike most other disease-causing microbes, Listeria can live in cold environments like your refrigerator and can cause problems if your food isn't cooked. However, smoked, dried fish are unlikely to contain such disease-causing pathogens_._ Hot smoked fish are also unlikely to carry these bacteria.

Manufacturers take great care to prevent the growth of bacteria in smoked fish, but of course, bacterial contamination can also occur if you're smoking fish in your own home. Fortunately, there are many ways to kill disease-causing pathogens.

Even just changing the type of smoke you use can prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria. For instance, use of corncob liquid smoke prevents the growth of bacteria like Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus and Vibrio, all of which are associated with foodborne illness.

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