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Question: Is it better to eat farmed salmon or wild salmon? Which one has more omega-3s and less contamination with PCBs, mercury, etc.?
Answer: Wild salmon is leaner than farmed salmon, which is fattier. Consequently, farmed salmon has tended to provide significantly higher amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA per serving than wild salmon. However, farmed salmon must be fed fish oil in order for their meat to provide high levels of omega-3s (wild salmon get omega-3s from algae). With the demand for fish oil now outstripping supply, there is increasing use of vegetable oil in fish feed and levels of EPA and DHA in farmed fish are falling.
Farmed salmon will have higher, but still healthful, amounts of omega-6 fatty acids (mainly from vegetable oil), but less vitamin D than wild salmon.
Both types of salmon are low in mercury and tend to be low in PCBs (toxins which may increase the risk of cancer), although wild salmon may have even lower amounts of PCBs than farmed salmon. Of course, amounts of omega-3s and contaminants can be affected by many variables in both wild and farmed salmon, particularly the food which is fed to farmed salmon.
A standard serving of salmon provides about 2 to 5 times as much omega-3 as a regular fish oil capsule. Although fish oil in supplements is normally less contaminated than fish meat, the contamination levels in salmon are fairly low to begin and generally not of great concern.
Update: In 2015, the FDA approved a genetically-engineered farmed salmon (AquAdvantage Salmon) as safe for consumption, and noted that it will not require this type of salmon to be specially labeled. However, in 2016, the FDA reversed course, announcing that the sale of this salmon will not be permitted just yet. How this salmon compares with non-genetically engineered salmon, is discussed in the section about salmon in the Fish Oil Review.