Including salmon in your diet provides you with health benefits from high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and especially, omega-3 fatty acids. Red salmon and pink salmon are comparable nutritionally, so choose your fish based on taste preference, intended use and method of cooking.
Sockeye Versus Pink Salmon Species
If you're wondering about the difference between pink and red salmon, each are different species of fish. Both types of salmon are generally caught in the Pacific Ocean and not farmed, like Atlantic salmon.
Pink salmon weigh between 3.5 and 5 pounds and range in size from 18 to 25 inches in length. Often referred to as humpbacks, pink salmon have very small scales compared to other salmon of similar size. You can identify a pink salmon by their pink flesh and large black spots on their back and all over the tail. They have a pointed jaw with very small or no teeth.
Pink salmon has a bland taste and soft texture, much like tuna, so is most often used for canning or smoking but is also sold as frozen fillets, made into nuggets and prepared into complete pre-packaged meals. By marinating or adding flavorful herbs, fresh pink salmon can make an acceptable budget fish for the table.
Red salmon is the nickname for sockeye salmon. It is prized for its rich-tasting, firm, bright orange flesh and is more expensive than pink salmon. Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that more than half of sockeye salmon caught is sold frozen rather than canned.
Red salmon measure an average of 24 inches in length and weigh 6 pounds. They have iridescent sides, a white belly and a metallic greenish-blue top. Sockeye get their nickname from the brilliant red color they become when they return upriver to spawn.
Healthy Omega-3 in Salmon
Both red and pink salmon contain about 6 grams of total fat per 4-ounce serving but only an insignificant amount of saturated fat — about 1 gram, according to USDA. While a 4-ounce serving of both sockeye and pink salmon contain cholesterol — 69 grams in sockeye and 62 grams in pink — they are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
These are essential dietary fats that can actually help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels by significantly reducing blood triglycerides and improving HDL ("good") cholesterol, according to Mayo Clinic.
There's no doubt that eating salmon is a beneficial food choice, especially with its heart-healthy and brain-boosting fatty acid content. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you eat at least two servings, or 8 ounces, of fish a week; if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, 8 to 12 ounces per week. There is no need to worry about mercury content in salmon — the Food and Drug Administration has assigned salmon to the "best choices" list of fish for lowest and safe mercury levels.
Salmon contains two key omega-3 fatty acids — EPA and DHA. EPA is beneficial in maintaining the health of your heart, inflammatory response and immune system, while DHA is necessary for the proper functioning of your nervous system, brain and eyes.
Omega-3s are especially important for pregnant mothers to ensure their babies have proper neurological and visual development and a healthy birth weight, according to an October 2018 review published in Clinical Nutrition.
Compared to other oily fish, salmon is the best source of omega-3 fats and sockeye salmon is the winner over pink salmon in this regard. According to USDA data, 100 grams (about 3 1/2 ounces) of cooked sockeye salmon delivers 1,016 milligrams, or 64 percent of your daily intake (RDI) for omega-3 fatty acids. Pink salmon contains 761 milligrams, or 48 percent RDI per 100 grams.
The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily adequate intake of 1.1 grams of omega 3 for adult women and 1.6 grams for adult men.
Good Source of Protein
In addition to omega-3s, there are other nutrient considerations when choosing fish. If you're looking for a no-carb source of high-quality protein, both sockeye and wild caught, pink salmon are healthy choices. Sockeye and pink salmon contain complete proteins, meaning they provide all the essential amino acids your body cannot make on its own.
Sockeye contains a bit more protein_,_ with 30 grams, as compared to pink's 28 grams per 4-ounce fillet, according to the USDA. That's a considerable contribution toward the total daily amount of protein recommended by the Dietary Guidelines, which is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men.
Protein plays many crucial roles in maintaining your health. Found throughout your body — in your bones, muscles, skin, hair and every tissue — enzymes in protein power chemical reactions and maintain hemoglobin needed to carry oxygen in your blood.
Since fish has less saturated fat than red meat-based protein sources, eating salmon is a healthy option. The American Heart Association warns that saturated and trans fats from meat can raise your blood cholesterol and make heart disease worse. Eating fish provides benefits from unsaturated fat that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
A population-based study involving over 28,000 people assessed the association between the intake of red meat, poultry and fish and colorectal cancer. The conclusion, published in Food and Nutrition Research in July 2017, reported that beef and pork consumption may increase the incidence of rectal and colon cancer in men, whereas eating fish had an inverse association to the risk of rectal cancer.
Read more: How Much Protein Is Right For You?
B Vitamins for Your Nerves
Red and pink salmon are especially rich in B vitamins, which work synergistically in biochemical and physiological processes to maintain the proper functioning of your cells, including your nervous system. The B vitamins also contribute to your body's ability to produce energy.
If you don't eat red meat, you may have trouble meeting your body's demand for vitamin B12. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin B12, which can prevent symptoms of deficiency such as tiredness, problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, damage to the nervous system and anemia. Red salmon and pink salmon contain similar amounts of vitamin B12 per 4-ounce serving with 5.07 and 5.36 micrograms respectively.
Other B vitamins in salmon are thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), B5, B6 and folate. Per serving, sockeye salmon contains slightly more of these vitamins than pink salmon.
As reported in a June 2017 review in Vitamins and Minerals, B vitamins — especially thiamin, vitamin B6 and B12 — play fundamental roles in the structure and maintenance of proper nervous system functions. Authors reported evidence that suggests that the B vitamins contribute to promoting nerve repair, both in acceleration of nerve tissue regeneration and recovery of nerve function.
A serving of salmon contributes to almost half of your DV of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is important for your immune system and acts as a cofactor in many metabolic, physiologic and developmental processes, according to the review.
Sockeye salmon excels over pink fish in its riboflavin content. Riboflavin helps convert food into energy and is needed for healthy hair, skin, blood and brain function.
A superb source of niacin, sockeye and pink salmon provide over half your daily value per 4-ounce serving. You need niacin to keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.
Healthy Bones and Muscles
If you don't often get outside to soak up some sun, eating salmon can help restore your vitamin D levels naturally and contribute to the health of your bones and muscles.
Without vitamin D, your body cannot properly absorb calcium, which is essential for promoting bone growth. A vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, displaying bone weakness, soft brittle bones and skeletal deformities, such as stooped posture.
Vitamin D is also important for helping muscles contract and move. It also supports the transmission of messages from your brain to your nerves, to every part of your body. Your immune system also needs vitamin D to fight off illness.
A 4-ounce serving of pink or sockeye salmon provides most of your daily requirements for vitamin D — 592 IU and 759 IU respectively. Dietary Guidelines recommend you strive for 600 IU daily.
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: "Pink Salmon - Species Profile"
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: "Pink Salmon - Uses"
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: "Sockeye Salmon - Species Profile"
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: "Sockeye Salmon - Uses"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Fish, Salmon, Sockeye, Cooked, Dry Heat"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Fish, Salmon, Pink, Cooked, Dry Heat"
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- USDA Dietary Guidelines: "Protein Foods - About Seafood"
- FDA: "Advice about Eating Fish"
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- Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Maternal Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation During Pregnancy/Lactation on Body Composition of the Offspring: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- USDA: "Nutrition Comparison of Cooked Sockeye Salmon and Fish Salmon Pink Cooked Dry Heat"
- National Institutes of Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- Dietary Guidelines: "Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- American Heart Association: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins"
- Food and Nutrition Research: "Intake of Different Types of Red Meat, Poultry, and Fish and Incident Colorectal Cancer in Women and Men: Results from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B12"
- Vitamins and Minerals: "B Vitamins for Neuropathy and Neuropathic Pain"
- Harvard Health: "Listing of Vitamins"
- MayoClinic: "Niacin"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"