By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE
Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. This popular fatty fish is loaded with nutrients and may reduce risk factors for several diseases. It’s also tasty, versatile and widely available. Here are 11 amazing health benefits of salmon.
1. Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Salmon is one of the best sources of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of farmed salmon has 2.3 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, while the same portion of wild salmon contains 2.6 grams. Unlike most other fats, omega-3 fats are considered “essential,” meaning you must get them from your diet since your body can’t create them.
Although there is no recommended daily intake (RDI) of omega-3 fatty acids, many health organizations recommend that healthy adults get a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day. EPA and DHA have been credited with several health benefits, such as decreasing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of cancer and improving the function of the cells that line your arteries. A 2012 analysis of 16 controlled studies found that taking 0.45–4.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day led to significant improvements in arterial function.
What’s more, studies have shown that getting these omega-3 fats from fish increases levels in your body just as effectively as supplementing with fish oil capsules. As for how much fish to eat, consuming at least two servings of salmon per week can help meet your omega-3 fatty acid needs.
Bottom Line: Salmon is rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and decrease risk factors for disease.
2. Great Source of Protein
Salmon is rich in high-quality protein. Like omega-3 fats, protein is an essential nutrient that must be consumed through your diet. Protein plays a number of important roles in the body, including helping your body heal after injury, protecting bone health and maintaining muscle mass during weight loss and the aging process. Recent research has found that for optimal health, each meal should provide at least 20–30 grams of high-quality protein. A 3.5-ounce serving of salmon contains 22–25 grams of protein.
Bottom Line: Your body requires protein to heal, protect bone health and prevent muscle loss, among other things. Salmon provides 22–25 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving.
3. High in B Vitamins
Salmon is an excellent source of B vitamins. Below is the B vitamin content in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of wild salmon:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 18% of the RDI
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 29% of the RDI
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 50% of the RDI
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 19% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 47% of the RDI
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid): 7% of the RDI
- Vitamin B12: 51% of the RDI
These vitamins are involved in several important processes in your body, including turning the food you eat into energy, creating and repairing DNA and reducing the inflammation that can lead to heart disease (17). Studies have shown that all of the B vitamins work together to maintain optimal functioning of your brain and nervous system. Unfortunately, even people in developed countries may become deficient in one or more of these vitamins.
Bottom Line: Salmon is an excellent source of several B vitamins, which are needed for energy production, controlling inflammation and protecting heart and brain health.
4. Good Source of Potassium
Salmon is quite high in potassium. This is especially true of wild salmon, which provides 18% of the RDI per 3.5 ounces, versus 11% for farmed. In fact, salmon contains more potassium than an equivalent amount of banana, which provides 10% of the RDI. Potassium helps control your blood pressure. It also reduces your risk of stroke.
A large analysis of 31 studies found that supplementing with potassium significantly reduced blood pressure, especially when added to a high-sodium diet. One of the ways in which potassium lowers blood pressure is by preventing excess water retention. One study found that restricting potassium led to an increase in water retention and blood pressure in healthy people with normal blood pressure.
Bottom Line: 100 grams of salmon provide 11–18% of the RDI of potassium, which helps control blood pressure and prevent excess fluid retention.
5. Loaded With Selenium
Selenium is a mineral found in soil and certain foods. It’s considered a trace mineral, meaning your body only needs tiny amounts of it. Nevertheless, getting enough selenium in your diet is important. Studies have shown that selenium helps protect bone health, decreases thyroid antibodies in people with autoimmune thyroid disease and may reduce the risk of cancer. 3.5 ounces of salmon provide 59–67% of the RDI of selenium.
Consuming salmon and other high-selenium seafood has been shown to improve blood levels of selenium in people whose diets are low in this mineral. One study found that blood levels of selenium increased significantly more in people who consumed two servings of salmon per week than those who consumed fish oil capsules containing less selenium.
Bottom Line: A 100-gram serving of salmon provides 59–67% of the RDI of selenium, a mineral involved in protecting bone health, improving thyroid function and reducing the risk of cancer.
6. Contains the Antioxidant Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is a compound linked to several powerful health effects. As a member of the carotenoid family of antioxidants, astaxanthin gives salmon its red pigment. Astaxanthin appears to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing oxidation of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and increasing HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. One study found that 3.6 mg of astaxanthin daily was enough to reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which could potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, astaxanthin is believed to work with salmon’s omega-3 fatty acids to protect the brain and nervous system from inflammation.
What’s more, astaxanthin may even help prevent skin damage and help you look younger. In one study, 44 people with sun-damaged skin who were given a combination of 2 mg of astaxanthin and 3 grams of collagen for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in skin elasticity and hydration. Salmon contains between 0.4–3.8 mg of astaxanthin per 3.5 ounces, with sockeye salmon providing the highest amount.
Bottom Line: Astaxanthin is an antioxidant found in salmon that may benefit heart, brain, nervous system and skin health.
7. May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Eating salmon on a regular basis may help protect against heart disease. This is due, in large part, to salmon’s ability to boost omega-3s in the blood. Many people have too many omega-6 fatty acids in their blood, in relation to omega-3s. Research suggests that when the balance of these two fatty acids is off, the risk of heart disease increases.
In a four-week study of healthy men and women, consuming two servings of farmed salmon per week increased omega-3 blood levels by 8–9% and decreased omega-6 levels. Also, consuming salmon and other fatty fish has been found to lower triglycerides and raise levels of omega-3 fats more than fish oil supplements do.
Bottom Line: Consuming salmon can help protect against heart disease by increasing levels of omega-3 fats, decreasing levels of omega-6 fats and lowering triglycerides.
8. May Benefit Weight Control
Consuming salmon frequently can help you lose weight and keep it off. Like other high-protein foods, it helps regulate the hormones that control appetite and make you feel full. In addition, your metabolic rate increases more after eating protein-rich foods like salmon, compared to other foods. Research suggests that the omega-3 fats in salmon and other fatty fish may promote weight loss and decrease belly fat in overweight individuals.
One study in children with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease found that supplementing with DHA, the main omega-3 found in salmon, led to significantly greater reductions in liver fat and belly fat, compared to a placebo. In addition, salmon is fairly low in calories. A 3.5-ounce serving of farmed salmon has only 206 calories, and wild salmon has even fewer at 182 calories.
Bottom Line: Consuming salmon may help you control your weight by reducing appetite, boosting metabolic rate, increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing belly fat.
9. Can Help Fight Inflammation
Salmon can be a powerful weapon against inflammation. Many experts believe that inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Several studies have found that eating more salmon helps reduce markers of inflammation in people at risk for these and other diseases.
In an eight-week study of middle-aged and elderly Chinese women, consuming 3 ounces (80 grams) of salmon and other fatty fish daily led to reductions in the inflammatory markers TNF-a and IL-6. In another eight-week study, 12 men with ulcerative colitis who consumed 21 ounces (600 grams) of salmon per week experienced a decrease in inflammatory markers in their blood and colon, along with self-reported improvements in symptoms.
Bottom Line: Salmon and other fatty fish can help lower inflammation, which may reduce risk factors for several diseases and improve symptoms in people with inflammatory conditions.
10. May Protect Brain Health
A growing number of studies suggest that including salmon in your diet might improve brain function. Both fatty fish and fish oil have been found to reduce depressive symptoms, protect fetal brain health during pregnancy, decrease anxiety, slow age-related memory loss and lower the risk of dementia.
In one study of people aged 65 and older, consuming fatty fish at least twice a week was linked to a 13% slower decline in age-related memory issues than consuming fatty fish less than once a week. In another study, people with normal brain function who consumed fatty fish on a regular basis were found to have more grey matter in their brains. Researchers noted that this could reduce their risk of memory problems later in life.
Bottom Line: Frequent salmon consumption may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, protect fetal brain health in pregnancy and decrease the risk of age-related memory problems.
11. Delicious and Versatile
Salmon is undeniably delicious. It has a unique, delicate flavor with a less “fishy” taste than many other fatty fish, such as sardines and mackerel. It is also extremely versatile. It can be steamed, sautéed, smoked, grilled, baked or poached. It can also be served raw in sushi and sashimi. Additionally, canned salmon is a quick and inexpensive option that provides the same impressive health benefits as fresh fish. In fact, almost all canned salmon is wild rather than farmed, and its nutrition profile is excellent. Look for it in BPA-free cans to avoid the potential health risks that have been linked to this chemical.
Here are some healthy recipes for incorporating this fish into your diet:
- Use canned salmon in place of tuna when making tuna salad with healthy mayo.
- Cobb salad with canned salmon, hard-boiled egg, avocado, lettuce and tomatoes.
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese on sprouted-grain bread, with cucumber or tomato slices.
- Grilled salmon with avocado sauce.
- Simple herb-crusted salmon.
- Crab-stuffed salmon with lemon butter.
Bottom Line: Salmon has a delicious flavor and can be prepared in many different ways. Canned salmon is a convenient and inexpensive option.
Take Home Message
Salmon is a nutritional powerhouse that provides several impressive health benefits. Consuming at least two servings per week can help you meet your nutrient needs and reduce the risk factors for several diseases. In addition, salmon is tasty, satisfying and versatile. Including this fatty fish as a regular part of your diet may very well improve your quality of life.
This article is reprinted with permission from Authority Nutrition.