Salmon is a fish found in cold waters that’s known as one of the single healthiest foods you can eat, thanks to its high protein content, antioxidant powers, and of course, its omega-3 fatty acids.
Diets high in salmon are profoundly healthy, according to wide ranging epidemiological studies, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of salmon in your diet to reap the benefits.
Our research team has looked into the best sources of salmon on the market and ranked the best ten. We’ve also dug into the scientific literature to uncover exactly why salmon is so healthy for you.
1. Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon
Each of these cans have six ounces of pink salmon, making them good for larger meals or people cooking for two.
They’re less well-suited for smaller meals, unless you’re on a high protein diet. It’s wild-caught, so the nutritional quality is fantastic. All of these perks, and the larger can size, make Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Salmon our top pick.
2. Wild Planet Wild Pink Salmon
Wild Planet Wild Pink Salmon contains six ounces per can of Alaskan salmon that’s caught wild using sustainable fishing practices.
It’s both nutritious and environmentally healthy, and moreover, this salmon is low in sodium, making it a great pick.
3. Chicken of the Sea Pink Salmon
Chicken of the Sea Pink Salmon is vacuum-packed in individual foil packs that contain 2.5 ounces of salmon each.
They’re great for adding a single serving of salmon to salads, and it’s even popular among hikers and backpackers who value a lightweight way to carry around high-quality protein that isn’t going to spoil.
4. Bumble Bee Premium Wild Pink Salmon
Bumble Bee Premium Wild Pink Salmon makes five ounce vacuum sealed foil packages of salmon that’s wild-caught and excellent for quickly making high-protein meals.
Though not everyone needs five ounces of salmon per serving, those who do should definitely consider Bumble Bee salmon.
5. Epic Snack Strips Salmon Fillet
Epic Snack Strips makes an excellent solution for adding salmon to your diet if you’ve got a busy schedule.
These smoked and dried salmon fillets are 0.8 ounces each, but remember that’s equivalent to a much larger serving of fresh salmon because the water has been removed in the drying process.
Because of some of the compounds produced in the curing process might be unhealthy, not everyone is a fan of preserved meat, but if that’s not a concern for you, this is a great choice.
6. StarKist Alaskan Pink Salmon
StarKist Alaskan Pink Salmon comes in a large 15 ounce tin that makes it well-suited for making big meals or doing meal prep. This salmon is wild caught, which helps ensure an optimal amount of omega three fatty acids relative to omega six fatty acids.
It’s less well-suited if you don’t eat salmon every day, because once you open it, it will only last for a few days in the refrigerator.
7. Trident Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon
Trident Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon is great for hosting dinner guests, throwing parties, and holidays. This 20 ounce whole half-salmon is smoked with salt and brown sugar to create a rich, savory, and salty flavor.
Even if you really love the flavor of dried salmon, it’s not as well-suited for regular consumption, the high sodium content is a drawback. That being said, it’s still good for special occasions.
8. SeaBear Wild Sockeye Salmon
SeaBear Wild Sockeye Salmon makes a vacuum sealed foil pack salmon that uses natural sea salt as the only preservative. Each foil packet contains 3.5 ounces, which is somewhat of an awkward size.
It’s a little big for a normal single serving, but not quite enough for people looking for a large protein-centered meal.
9. Starkist Salmon Creations Lemon Dill
Starkist Salmon Creations Lemon Dill makes adding flavor to a salmon-based meal super easy. These pre-cooked salmon foil packs include lemon, olive oil, and dill that make a big difference if your usual salmon and spinach salad is getting bland.
The primary downside is that adding these flavoring agents demands other ingredients as binders and stabilizers, so if you want pure and simple salmon, this is not the product for you.
10. Alaska Smokehouse Smoked Salmon Jerky
Alaska Smokehouse Smoked Salmon Jerky uses the same drying and smoking process used to create beef jerky, and the result is similar: dried strips that are great for a high-protein snack.
The sodium content is high, though, and salmon cuts are not as consistent as beef cuts, so some of the jerky pieces are quite small.
Salmon benefits and side effects
Wild and farmed salmon are excellent sources of important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids; differences between the two result from the environment they’re raised in and the food they eat.
The health benefits of eating salmon have made headlines in the last while, and people are listening. Consumer demand has grown, resulting in the amount of farmed salmon raised in the last two decades jumping from 27,000 metric tons to more than a million. (1) However, global wild salmon stocks have been depleted by half in the last few decades. (2)
There are some nutritional differences between wild caught and farm raised salmon. With more pollutants in oceans, rivers and lakes than ever before, it’s reasonable to question which is safer and more nutritious to consume: wild salmon or farmed salmon.
Farmed salmon are fed processed food high in fat to produce bigger fish in the shortest possible amount of time. Wild salmon eat whatever they find in their environment, and are smaller when harvested than farmed salmon. (3)
Farmed salmon is higher in fat, and this accounts for most of the added calories. It also contains slightly more omega-3 fats and much more omega-6 fats. That means the omega three to omega six ratio is not as favorable in farmed salmon compared to wild salmon.
The diet farmed fish are fed is high in omega-6 fats, which contributes to fast weight gain, readying the fish for market much more quickly.
Wild salmon meat doesn’t contain any vitamin C; this is present in the farmed variety because it is added to their diet.
The “good” fats found in salmon, both wild and farmed, are among the main reasons salmon is recommended as part of a healthy diet; it’s important to understand how the fats stack up in this comparison.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are necessary for optimal health. These essential fatty acids are an integral part of the human diet since it’s not possible for our bodies to make them.
The tricky part is, humans evolved eating about equal parts of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids, while a typical modern diet clocks in at about 1 part omega-3 to 15 or 16 parts omega-6 fatty acids. (4) The imbalance can be problematic.
Most people already eat too much of foods rich in omega-6, such as what’s found in highly processed vegetable oils.
Consuming more omega 3 fatty acids relative to your omega 6 fatty acid intake is better for your health.
Research suggests consuming excess omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to inflammation, which is implicated in the development of a range of chronic diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, asthma, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease and sinusitis. (5, 6, 7, 8)
Despite the higher ratio between the two omega fatty acids in farmed salmon, many authorities take the position that it can still make a positive contribution to many people’s diets.
Even though it doesn’t match the better score of 10 parts omega-3 to 1 part omega-6 for wild salmon, the ratio is still good at 3 or 4 parts omega-3 to 1 part omega 6. (9)
Here’s a good example of the impact adding salmon to the diet can have on health: in one small 4-week study, 19 volunteers ate farmed salmon twice weekly; these eight servings of salmon raised blood levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA by 50%. (10)
Health benefits aren’t the only factors to consider when looking at wild vs farmed salmon. Wild salmon is much more expensive than farmed salmon, and in some areas, farmed salmon may be the only type available.
Some believe the health benefits of salmon, including the farmed variety, justify the risk of consuming contaminants like mercury or PCBs, but this is obviously a question of personal standards.
If you’re wondering how the two types of fish stack up in regard to taste and texture, you’re not the only one with that concern.
The Washington Post assembled a tasting panel composed of distinguished chefs and other culinary connoisseurs to explore the issue. The results may surprise you: farmed salmon beat out wild salmon in nearly every session. (11)
And this was simply prepared fish, steamed and served with a little salt.
The primary risks associated with salmon are the potential contaminants that you can consume as a result of eating salmon meat. All fish can absorb contaminants from the water they swim in as well as the food they eat, and farmed fish contain much higher levels of several dangerous substances. (12)
Farmed fish from Chile appear to have the lowest level of contaminants, and American aquacultures rate better than European. (13)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated pesticides and dioxins are among the most common contaminants found in farmed fish; of these, PCBs may be the most dangerous.
When researchers analyzed samples of more than 700 farmed salmon gathered worldwide, the results showed PCB levels in farmed fish averaged about eight times the levels found in wild fish. (14)
However, farmed salmon may not have any more mercury on average than wild salmon. Two studies showed little difference, and one study showed wild salmon contained three times the amount of mercury as farmed salmon. (19, 20, 21)
Higher levels of arsenic have been detected in farmed salmon, but the amounts of cadmium, copper and cobalt are higher in wild salmon. (22)
The amounts of trace metals found in both types of fish were low enough that there’s likely no cause for concern.
When it comes to PCB levels, analysts speculate that if EPA recommendations were observed, limiting farmed salmon consumption to once a month would be the accepted guideline. Some experts believe it’s safer for children and pregnant women to eat only wild salmon.
Some may not be willing or able to take the risk of ingesting PCBs; for these folks, wild salmon is the clear winner on that score.
Salmon is an incredibly healthy food, and numerous epidemiological studies have shown a clear link between higher consumption of fish and better long term health.
For salmon, wild caught fish seem to beat out farmed salmon when it comes to optimal nutrient levels and low levels of contamination.
Contaminant levels are higher in farmed fish, but when cost and availability are factored into the equation, the trade-off for potential health benefits resulting from adding omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon to your diet are still worth it.