Buying Fish High in Omega 3’s

By Lisa Feiner, MBA, M.Ed., CHWC

When it comes to fish, there is a lot of confusing information; fish is supposed to be a healthy choice and yet there are cautions about mercury, neurotoxins, and pollutants like PCB’s.  Here is some information that will help you choose the right Omega 3-rich fish for you.
“SMASH” fish are known to be high in healthy omega oils and typically small enough that they do not contain high levels of mercury and other pollutants.  They are:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines 
  • Herring

That said, not all fish by these names are the same.  For example, King mackerel is a larger variety and does contain methyl mercury.  Salmon comes in many varieties and is sometimes labeled “wild,” farm-raised” and “organic.”  Which is the best to buy?

Wild Salmon

The healthiest salmon is wild salmon from the Pacific Ocean.  It comes in many different varieties and is low in toxins.  The most common are King (Chinook), Coho, and Sockeye, followed by the smaller Pink and Chum.  Wild salmon of these varieties can be fresh, flash frozen or canned.  Wild salmon differ in flavor, with the deepest in color (Sockeye) being the strongest. The season for fresh salmon is June-September.  

Farmed Salmon

Fish farms are known to crowd salmon in pens where they harbor PCB’s and develop sea lice, which then requires antibiotic treatment. In addition, farmed salmon are fed a diet of cornmeal, grains and other foods that may contain toxins or be genetically modified.  Some farms are developing higher standards, and are working through reputable retail outlets to sell their fish.  Ask questions at the markets where you shop for fish. Atlantic salmon is primarily farmed, and Norwegian and Scottish salmon usually are as well.

Organic Salmon

Our research indicates that salmon labeled “organic” is not measurably better (or different) than farm-raised salmon and is more expensive.  Organic wheat is used in the feed, which also contains many of the harmful aspects of farm-raised salmon, including PCB’s. Both farm-raised and organic salmon can adversely affect the surrounding aquatic environment. 

Choosing salmon when eating out may still be a good choice.  Try to eat a combination of wild and farmed, and otherwise consume a healthy diet.

Lisa Feiner is a board certified health coach and a founder and board chair of Sharp Again.

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