Is Smoked Salmon Healthy?

Smoked salmon can be a tasty way to get essential nutrients, but not without a few potential side effects.
Image Credit: larik_malasha/iStock/GettyImages

Smoked salmon's health benefits come from a number of nutrients, including essential vitamins, minerals, fats and protein.

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Smoking fish typically involves salting it — and that means certain smoked salmon products may be very high in sodium.

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Smoked salmon has a number of potential health benefits thanks to the variety of nutrients in this fatty fish. But, it might not be a good idea to eat it regularly, or in high amounts.

What Is Smoked Salmon?

Salmon is a low-mercury fish that's rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Adults should eat 8 to 10 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This equals three 3-ounce servings of salmon.

Smoked salmon is often prepared by hot smoking or cold smoking. Smoking is a method of preserving fish that involves salting the fish, either by soaking in a brining solution, rubbing with salt or injecting with a salt solution, according to the University of Minnesota.

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Once salted, the fish is smoked by adding it to a chamber with burning wood, either at a high or low temperature.

Hot smoking involves higher heat and results in flaky, cooked fish. In contrast, cold smoking is done at lower temperatures and has a texture similar to raw fish.

Smoked salmon's nutritional profile (including its sodium content) can vary based on the smoking technique that was used to cure it.

Smoked Salmon Nutrition

One serving of smoked salmon is 3 ounces. Three ounces of smoked salmon contains:

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  • Calories: 100
  • Total fat: 3.7 g
    • Saturated fat: 0.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 19.6 mg
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Protein: 15.6 g

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients

  • 115% Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B12
  • 73% DV for vitamin D
  • 50% DV for selenium
  • 25% DV for vitamin B3
  • 22% DV for copper
  • 15% DV for vitamin B5
  • 14% DV for vitamin B6
  • 11% DV for phosphorus
  • 8% DV for vitamin E
  • 7% DV for vitamin B2

Smoked salmon also contains small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent) of many other essential nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin B1, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and zinc.

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Smoked Salmon Health Benefits

Despite being processed with salt and smoke, smoked salmon does have several health benefits thanks to a variety of nutrients.

1. Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are heart-healthy. Eating fish and omega-3s was positively associated with total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, which is consistent with heart disease prevention, in a February 2020 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Omega-3s from fish are linked to a better mood. A small group of 23 adults with depression received either an omega-3 supplement or a placebo daily for 3 weeks, and 67 percent of those who took the omega-3s no longer met the criteria for depression in a September 2015 study in ​Psychiatric Research.

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found in different amounts in animal products as well as in fortified foods and supplements.

This water-soluble vitamin is responsible for healthy blood and nerve cells. Not getting enough vitamin B12 could lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition that causes low energy, weakness and confusion, per John Hopkins Medicine.

You'll get 115 percent of your DV for vitamin B12 in 3 ounces of smoked salmon.

3. Vitamin D

Even though we are able to make our own vitamin D through sun exposure, up to 50 percent of the world's population doesn't get enough vitamin D, per an October 2014 article in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology​.

A 3-ounce serving of salmon provides 73 percent DV of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is widely known for its role in bone health. It also supports brain, immune and muscle health with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective benefits, per the Mayo Clinic.

4. Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral essential to reproduction, thyroid health, DNA synthesis and protection from oxidative stress and infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. Salmon and other fatty fish are great sources of selenium.

You'll get half your DV for selenium in a 3-ounce portion of smoked salmon.

Smoked Salmon Risks

Despite these nutritional benefits, you may want to limit how much smoked salmon you eat, or opt for the fresh fish more often.

It's High in Sodium

The sodium content of smoked salmon can be extremely variable. A 3-ounce serving of smoked salmon could have as little as 25 percent (571 milligrams) or as much as 74 percent (1,700 milligrams) DV for sodium, according to the USDA.

The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but ideally, people should get as little as 1,500 milligrams of sodium. Eating too much sodium can increase your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.

If you've purchased a high-sodium smoked salmon, consider eating it in smaller portions to reduce your daily sodium intake. For instance, a 1-ounce serving of smoked salmon with avocado and whole-grain crackers can still be a healthy snack.

Foodborne Pathogen Risk

While smoking is a method of preserving fish, this method, especially cold smoking, is notorious for the foodborne pathogen Listeria. The bacteria responsible for Listeria can grow under a wide range of conditions and temperatures, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unlike many other foodborne bacterias, Listeria can grow under refrigeration temperatures, putting ready-to-eat products like smoked salmon at a higher risk.

Because of the risk for Listeria, the CDC recommends avoiding smoked fish unless it's canned or shelf-stable or is cooked prior to eating.

How to Eat Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon can easily be added to a number of meals and snacks to add a splash of nutrition and flavor. Try one of these simple and delicious ways to eat smoked salmon:

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