Salmon tops everyone’s list of super-nutritious foods, and with good reason. This healthy pink fish is practically worthy of a cape and a theme song thanks to nutritional benefits like boosting brainpower, protecting your heart, loading you up with antioxidants, and more.
If you’ve ever wondered whether salmon deserves its spot in the pantheon of Ultimate Healthy Foods, we’ve got eight benefits of this well-loved fish — plus all sorts of tasty ways to let it swim into your life.
A 3-ounce serving of wild Atlantic salmon provides the following nutrients:
Like walnuts and flaxseed, salmon contains a sizable dose of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can help prevent blood clots, stabilize heart rhythms, and improve blood pressure. In other words, they’re a power player for your cardiovascular system.
Research shows that eating fatty fish (yep, salmon falls in this category) a few times a week can slash your risk of heart problems. Multiple studies have found that fish eaters have nearly half the risk of death from coronary heart disease (and one-third the risk of death from heart attack) of non-fish eaters.
Case in point: A 2014 review of studies with a total of more than 408,000 participants found that the more fish people ate, the less likely they were to have heart attacks. In fact, every additional 100-gram serving of fatty fish was associated with an extra 5 percent reduction in risk. Sign us up for the Fish of the Month Club!
That signature color so pretty it’s actually named salmon pink? It comes from astaxanthin, an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that colors foods with a bright red, orange, or yellow hues.
Giving salmon its blushing beauty isn’t all this colorful compound can do. Like other antioxidants, astaxanthin helps clear cells of damaging free radicals, stamping out inflammation. It might even help reduce the buildup of plaque in your arteries, combining forces with the fish’s omega-3s for even more impact on heart health.
And get this: Astaxanthin might have benefits for skin too.
In a small 2014 study, researchers treated 44 people with moderately sun-damaged skin with a combination of astaxanthin and collagen for 12 weeks. After the treatment, they had significant improvement in skin hydration and elasticity. (Though we wouldn’t recommend subbing salmon for sunscreen anytime soon.)
And you can add another important item to salmon’s menu of antioxidants: Selenium, a trace mineral abundant in the fatty fish, has antioxidant properties that might play a role in reducing the risk of certain cancers, preventing cognitive decline, and boosting thyroid health.
There’s nothing fishy about salmon’s effects on brainpower. DHA, another omega-3 fatty acid found in the fish, has been linked to improved cognitive function, specifically in older adults.
In a 2014 study, adults over age 65 who ate at least 1 serving of fish per week had lower levels of cognitive decline than those who ate less fish. On the flip side, deficiencies in DHA are associated with serious cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Looks like this fish has the brain and heart covered — if only it could help out with courage too!
Whether you’re a bodybuilder or just want to keep your body doin’ its enzyme-producing, wound-healing, immunity-boosting thing, you’ll need plenty of protein in your daily diet. Enter a protein-packed salmon fillet!
Three ounces of the wild-caught variety contains 17 grams of protein, which goes a long way toward meeting your daily protein needs.
Eat fish, be happy? A significant amount of research points to a connection between mental health and the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon. Studies have linked higher intake of omega-3s to lower rates of depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and ADHD.
Though the exact reason for omega-3s’ mood-boosting effects isn’t completely clear, a couple of theories prevail. It may be that their inflammation-quelling ability is the key to better mental health or that they directly interact with mood-related molecules in the brain.
Whatever the explanation, it’s reason enough to get your fish on.
If you’ve got a bun in the oven, you’ll want to add salmon to your weekly meal plan.
A large 2018 review found that pregnant women who consumed more omega-3s were less likely to give birth prematurely or have a baby with a low birth weight. (Granted, these fatty acids came from supplements, not from salmon, but we’d say it’s still pretty noteworthy.)
As if that’s not enough, consuming DHAs (like those in salmon) during pregnancy is strongly associated with better fetal brain development. Yeah, baby!
Unlike milder, less-fatty fish like cod and tilapia, salmon has a meatier taste and texture that make for heartier, more savory eating. Its flavor plays nicely in creamy pastas, atop grains or greens, or nestled into poke bowls, and the possible cooking methods are endless.
Bake it, grill it, pan-sear it, smoke it, dry it… we could go on. As a bonus, most cooking options don’t take more than about 20 minutes, start to finish. Hellooooo, easy weeknight meals!
Salmon’s clearly brimming with health benefits. But before going belly-up to the fish counter, take note of some seaworthy warnings.
Although salmon has lower mercury levels than many other sea dwellers, it can still be risky for certain groups of people. If you’re pregnant, might become pregnant, or are nursing, you should eat only 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week and opt for only fish lower in mercury, like canned tuna, catfish, or salmon.
Then there’s the perpetual question of whether to go with farmed or wild-caught salmon. Because of their diet, farmed salmon are lower in protein per calorie than wild — which, depending on your health goals, might affect which type you choose.
Experts previously believed farmed salmon had higher levels of contaminants than wild, but consensus in today’s seafood world is that this isn’t necessarily true. Both are subject to FDA regulations for food safety and are considered safe to eat.
For the sushi and tartare lovers of the world, there are some important food safety tips to keep in mind. When eating the raw stuff at home, make sure to buy previously frozen seafood. The cold temperatures will kill most (but not necessarily all) harmful microorganisms.