Experts settle the debate on wild vs. farmed salmon.


For a long time, there was so much talk about all of the mercury in seafood that it scared many of us away from enjoying sushi and tuna sandwiches. The truth is that not all seafood is alike, and some fish are healthier than others. Take salmon, for example, which is essentially the superfood of the sea and one of the healthiest foods you can eat. 

"Salmon nutrition is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats that our bodies don't produce on their own," explains Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, a New York City–based registered dietitian and the author of Unapologetic Eating. "Omega-3 fats are essential to heart health, brain health, and overall well-being, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, boosting brain function, improving mood, and reducing inflammation."

What's Healthier, Farmed or Wild Salmon?

That doesn't mean you should just scoop up whatever salmon filet is on sale, though. Farmed salmon, even if it's labeled "organic," isn't going to be as nutrient-dense as the wild-caught variety.

"Wild-caught salmon is by far the healthier option, with a wider omega-3 profile, as well as a higher abundance of minerals, like vitamin D, iron, zinc, and potassium," says Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP, a California-based functional medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist. 

Not only that, but farmed salmon may be unintentionally laced with junk. According to the Environmental Working Group, it has a high level of cancer-causing contaminants, a result of the shoddy diet they're fed in a closed-water system.

Farmed fish is also much higher in fat. "It's fattier due to its 'lazier lifestyle' because they don't have to swim upstream like their wild-caught relatives," Petersen explains. "Farmed salmon has about three times the amount of saturated fat, with elevated omega-6s (the pro-inflammatory fatty acids), and about 50 percent more calories." That's why you'll often see those white lines of fat in a farmed salmon filet. (Although, to be fair, that fat is also what makes it taste so delicious.) 

How to Tell the Difference and Choose the Healthiest Piece of Salmon

Related Items

1 Note the color.

When buying salmon, there are certain clues that can help you distinguish the good from the not-as-good. "First of all, the color alone will tell you, with farmed salmon having that light pink hue and wild salmon boasting a deep, reddish-orange color," says Petersen.

2 The higher the price, the higher the quality (unfortunately).

"Cost is another indicator," Peterson adds. "Wild salmon typically is sold at a higher price because it's higher quality. You're not likely to find it for less than $10 per pound." 

3 Find out where it's from.

It's also all about location. "In the U.S., 95 percent of wild salmon comes from Alaska, and all of the seafood there is guaranteed sustainable, so if you see Alaska on the label, you know you're getting wild caught," Rumsey says. Alternatively, Atlantic salmon is typically all farmed. At a restaurant, you can assume the salmon is farm-raised, unless it's identified as "wild" on the menu.

4 Seasonal is best.

Finally, if you're buying fresh fish, stick to when it's in season. But what exactly is salmon season? "If you're eating frozen fish, you can buy it any time of year, but otherwise, it's safer to consume wild salmon mid-May through September," advises Petersen. 

RELATED: How to Select, Store, and Serve Seafood Safely, According to an Expert

With all of its benefits, whether it's farm-raised or wild caught, it's worth making salmon a regular part of your weekly meal plan. You can roast it with fresh veggies, make it into a burger, flake it into a pasta dish or rice bowl, or throw it on the grill. Need more delicious ideas? Here are some of our favorite salmon recipes.

Related Items

Roasted Spiced Salmon Recipe
Credit: Greg DuPree

Roasted Spiced Salmon

Get the Recipe

This recipe goes the extra mile to draw flavor from the fish with a compound butter made from turmeric and cumin, which infuses each bite with spiced buttery flavor.

Citrus Recipes: Slow-Roasted Citrus Salmon
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Slow-Roasted Citrus Salmon

Get the Recipe

You'll slow-roast a side of salmon sandwiched between layers of lemon and orange slices, topped with sprigs of dill and oil. The result is meltingly tender fish.

Sheet Pan Salmon With Potatoes and Broccolini
Credit: Victor Protasio

Sheet Pan Salmon With Potatoes and Broccolini

Get the Recipe

Not only does this simple salmon and veggie dinner come together on one sheet pan, it keeps your shopping list short—a double win!

Maple-Glazed Salmon With Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Credit: Jonny Valiant

Maple-Glazed Salmon With Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Get the Recipe

Sweet and savory flavors—roasted red onion and Brussels sprouts; maple syrup and Dijon mustard—come together in this fuss-free sheet pan dinner that looks like it took hours. You can't help but add it to your weeknight rotation.

Noodles with Flaked Salmon and Crispy Bok Choy Slaw
Credit: Charles Masters

Noodles With Flaked Salmon and Crispy Bok Choy Slaw

Get the Recipe

Craving teriyaki takeout? This low-key lo mein dish hits all the right notes with juicy flakes of roasted, teriyaki-marinated salmon and a crisp, bok choy and scallion slaw.