Most people enjoy a little cold-smoked salmon or lox served on a bagel with cream cheese, as a topping for sushi or as a simple appetizer. Lox is raw salmon that has been salt-cured, or brined. Cold-smoked salmon is brined salmon that is additionally smoked at low temperature.
Salmon is a nutritious, oily fish, but that doesn't mean eating smoked salmon everyday is good for you. Both lox and cold smoked salmon are eaten uncooked, so they are among the foods that can cause food-borne illness.
Cold-Smoked Salmon Nutrition
A 3-ounce serving of smoked salmon is a good source of protein, with 15.5 grams, as well as rich in vitamin B12, with 2.8 micrograms. This size serving also contains 384 milligrams of the vital long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Recommendations for DHA and EPA vary; the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests consuming 500 milligrams of these combined fatty acids a day, while the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) say consuming about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, provides an average consumption of 250 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA, which is associated with fewer cardiac deaths.
Read more: Are Omega-3s Worth the Money?
The oily nature of smoked salmon may make you think it is particularly likely to pile on the pounds, but USDA figures are quite reassuring in this respect. In fact, at 136 calories, a 3-ounce serving of salmon baked without fat has a higher calorie value than 3 ounces of smoked salmon (100 calories).
According to the American Heart Foundation, salmon is one of the types of fish that is lower in mercury. One of the big downsides of smoked salmon however, is that the sodium content is high, at 573 milligrams per 3 ounce serving. The FDA says you should only eat 2,300 milligrams of sodium total per day because too much is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Smoked Fish Cancer Risk?
Whether smoked salmon and lox have the the same cancer risks of smoked, cured and salted red meats hasn't been much addressed. However, the World Cancer Research Fund includes salted and dried fish traditionally eaten in East Asia in its definition of "foods preserved by salting," which have been linked with "probable strong evidence" to stomach cancer.
An October 2018 study in the Journal of Chemistry found that very few cold-smoked salmon samples had detectable levels of potentially carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Hot smoked salmon — where the smoking temperature is higher and the fish ends up with a flaky baked texture — was more likely to contain them, as were smaller smoked fish like smoked herring.
Raw Fish and Listeria
The Mayo Clinic says that cold smoked salmon and lox can be contaminated by Listeria bacteria, which can cause very serious illness in some people. Those at risk of succumbing to a listeria infection include pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, such as those undergoing treatment for cancer. The Mayo Clinic warns that people in either of these categories should avoid refrigerated smoked seafood unless cooked in a casserole or other hot dish.
Read more: Health Risks of Eating Sardines?
The FDA says Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures, but will develop more slowly if you keep your fridge at 40 degrees F or below. It's important to adhere to the "Use By" dates on cold-smoked salmon and follow any special usage or storage instructions on the pack.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults"
- American Heart Foundation: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet"
- World Cancer Research Fund: "Preservation and Processing of Foods and the Risk of Cancer"
- Journal of Chemistry: "Critical Effects of Smoking Parameters on the Levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Traditionally Smoked Fish and Meat Products in Finland"
- Mayo Clinic: "Listeria Infection"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Keep Listeria Out of Your Kitchen"
- USDA: "Fish, Salmon, Chinook, Smoked"
- ODPHP: "Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020"
- USDA:"Salmon, Baked or Broiled, Made Without Fat"
- "International Journal of Food Microbiology"; Listeria; C.H. Porsby, et al.; March 2008