Healthiest Food You Can Eat?
What do the healthiest people in the world consistently eat? Fish. What do Americans hardly eat? Fish.
The most recent nutritional data shows that the average American gets more protein each week from grain/bread products than they do fish!
Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, contain a nutritionally complex and beneficial blend of protein, omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA), selenium, potassium, and vitamin B12. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are the most well-known health enhancers found in salmon.
Omega-3s – EPA and DHA
EPA and DHA are two long chain omega-3 fats that have potent effects on several major systems in your body, including the heart and brain.
Research shows that EPA and DHA can actually improve the electrochemical connections in your heart.
Enhancing your diet with EPA and DHA has also been shown to decrease your resting heart rate, which allows you to burn more calories during heart rate based training. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that this effect leads to greater weight loss.
Cooking Ruins the Benefits?
A common concern that people have about salmon and the beneficial omega-3 fats that are found in salmon has to do with cooking. Generally, heat is bad for EPA and DHA because it readily turns these fats rancid. Fortunately this is not the case with salmon. There seems to be something about the omega-3 fats in salmon that gives them protection against oxidation and going rancid. Researchers think the protection comes from being inside the food matrix of the salmon along with the presence of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A and potent antioxidant (that gives salmon its natural orange/red color) which protects against the negative stress from heat. Cook your salmon and feel good about it!
Farmed vs Wild
When buying salmon, you are usually given the choice of farmed vs. wild. The differences between these two categories and within the category of ‘farmed’ can be confusing so let’s look at a couple key points.
-Farmed salmon generally has more omega-3s than wild salmon. It also has more omega-6 fats (more on the ratio of omega-3 / omega-6 fats in a couple of paragraphs).
-Some farmed salmon contains additives to enhance the color of the salmon, making it the orange/red color you expect. You usually find this on the ingredients list.
-Wild salmon is significantly more expensive, prohibitively expensive for some people. Quality farm raised salmon is better than no salmon at all. So, just because you can’t buy wild salmon doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat salmon at all.
One concern that people often have when it comes to eating salmon is mercury. Do the health benefits of the omega-3 fats outweigh the potential risk of consuming mercury?
According to a review of the research published by two Harvard University scientists in the Journal of the American Medical Association
“the benefits of fish intake exceed the potential risks”
One of the keys has to do with fish size. Fish concentrate mercury in their bodies over time. The smaller the fish, the less mercury it will take up and thus the lower the health risk. In fact, salmon contain some of the lowest mercury levels of any fish (<0.05µg/d).
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 Ratio
The importance of the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio in our diet has been theorized to play a role in health promotion and fighting inflammation using the general assumption that omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory. A perturbation in this ratio in the American diet (towards excessive omega-6 fats) is thought to be the driver of much of the obesity and disease that you see today.
Research has shown this to be a good fish story as the ratio of omega-3 / omega-6 fats in our diet doesn’t seem to have much impact on our health, but instead it is the total amount of omega-3 fats in our diet.
Salmon vs. Supplements
Maybe you don’t like eating salmon or you don’t eat with enough frequency to reap the benefits of the heart healthy omega-3s – what can you do? Are supplements just as effective? The good news is yes, they are! Research shows that your body benefits from getting EPA and DHA from a supplement as it does from oily fish like salmon.