Experts settle the debate on wild vs. farmed salmon.

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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

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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.

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