Grill it, pan fry it, or even eat it raw — salmon is one of the most versatile, nutritious, and easily accessible types of fish. Because it is available in so many forms (fresh, frozen, and canned), salmon can be incorporated into many cuisines and dishes.
While there are some notable differences between varieties (wild versus farmed, for example), salmon is packed with nutrients that are linked to positive health outcomes, including omega-3 fatty acids, and registered dietitian-nutritionists say that eating two or three servings of fish like salmon per week is a great way to reap the benefits. This guide explains all the benefits of salmon and how you can get more into your diet.
What Is Salmon Exactly?
Salmon is the name for several species of fish in the Salmonidae family found primarily in Atlantic and Pacific waters. Generally, salmon refers to Atlantic salmon, which includes the sockeye, coho, chum, chinook, and pink varieties.
Salmon are typically born in fresh water such as streams or rivers before they migrate to the ocean. They then return to fresh water to reproduce. This means that they are anadromous — they can survive in either type of water.
Atlantic salmon, the largest of the species, can grow to nearly 4 feet in length. It is possible to find wild Atlantic salmon, but most Atlantic salmon available in commercial stores in the United States is farm raised.
The population of wild Atlantic salmon continues to dwindle because of habitat degradation at rivers near urban environments, migration barriers such as dams, and disease. They are considered endangered by the Endangered Species Act and are at high risk of going extinct.
Salmon is well known for its firm but fatty texture and bright pinkish-orange flesh. The color comes from the antioxidant astaxanthin, found naturally in krill, which makes up a large portion of a wild salmon’s diet. In farmed salmon, a natural dye is often added to the fish feed to achieve the same color.
Though wild salmon is considered the more nutrient-dense variety, both wild and farm raised are packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals — many of which are not found in land animals and plants. The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular is responsible for essential brain development and central nervous system function, which is why the World Health Organization recommends eating up to two servings of salmon per week.