Why Salmon Is Such a Wonderful Food

One of the best foods to eat for thriving health is wild salmon. It also happens to be delicious.

Let’s start with nutrition. Wild salmon is super high in protein and both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids (which our bodies cannot make on their own and must get from food).

Technically, you can get supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids. But finding unadulterated, high-quality supplements is nearly impossible. And the most complete way to metabolize nutrients is from whole and unprocessed foods, not single ingredients and nutrients that have been processed and denatured.

Human biology thrives on a diet that includes wild fish — salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel — all rich in omega 3s and other important nutrients. (Note that I’m referring to mackerel and not king mackerel, which should be avoided due to excessive mercury levels.)

The only "downside" to wild salmon you'll hear is: "It's expensive." But is it, really? The Spartan Diet calls for smaller quantities and higher quality, especially in animal-based proteins. A conventional diet, what's considered a normal diet, involves huge quantities of low-quality beef, pork and chicken, plus empty calorie foods that provide little nutrition, but still add up to high costs. 

Tragically, some seafood has become risky because of mercury concentration resulting mostly from human activities or manmade pollution. Mercury harms the nervous system and the brain because it gets attached to selenium in the body, preventing selenium from acting as natural defense as part of antioxidant enzymes that offer protection to the brain against free radicals. Mercury in your diet is bad.

Low levels of mercury consumed by some fish species are concentrated in the predators that eat those fish every day. Tuna, for example, would be an amazing food for the human diet. The problem is that tuna is a super-predator, gobbling up huge quantities of other fish and accumulating mercury in its system. That's why the Spartan Diet favors low-mercury fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. 

As a member of the Spartan Diet community, you should know how your food came into existence and what happens to your food before it becomes part of your body. 

We are quite literally what we eat. It’s therefore imperative that we educate ourselves about the growth, cultivation and production of everything we eat and drink. 

What's wrong with farmed salmon?

Some of the world's best wild salmon comes from the Pacific Northwest. These magnificent creatures have incredible prowess and olfactory memory. Those that make it to maturity and overcome the enormous challenges of swimming back from the ocean and up streams and rivers to spawn back at their birth place are nothing short of formidable. Wild salmon is a fascinating fish and it plays a crucial role in the ocean waters of the Pacific Northwest ecology. 

Farmed and wild salmon are not the same. Farmed salmon is an industrial food and therefore not part of the Spartan Diet. Farmed fish are confined in underwater "cages" and aqua pens and are not able to exercise their basic instincts. They’re fed an unnatural diet and can also be given antibiotics. Because of the unnatural conditions they're raised in, their color is unnatural. Fish farmers add orange artificial color to their feed because consumers expect salmon to be orange. Farmed salmon also contain unnaturally high levels of omega-6 fats not in balance with their levels of omega-3, which makes the fish an inflammatory food that negatively impacts the cardiovascular system when consumed.

Fish farms are extremely unhealthful environments not only for the fish that are being raised in the underwater pens, but also for other wild fish. Lice and diseases can infect the environment in the areas beyond the pens. To pay for farmed fish is to support an industry that harms the ocean ecology.

Atlantic salmon is farm-raised in many other countries including Ireland, Chile, Scotland, Norway and British Columbia in Canada. In some instances but to a lesser degree, Pacific king (chinook) and silver (coho) salmon are also farm-raised indoors in Washington State, Chile and New Zealand. 

Alaska’s State constitution does not allow salmon farms, so all salmon from Alaska is wild. Moreover, mining and logging operations that cause contamination of salmon rivers are prohibited. Salmon rely on olfactory memory to return to the springs or rivers they hatched to spawn new life or reproduction, but the slightest water contamination can prevent salmon from finding their way back.

Many people eat farmed salmon and don't know or care about the difference between wild fish and farmed fish and how this can impact their health.

The additional challenge is that between the high demand of certain foods and the increasing food costs, there is a lot of food alteration and contraband that is affecting our food system and most people are unaware of this occurrence.

Many restaurants list wild salmon on their menus, but actually serve farmed salmon. Some stores also do the same, although it’s less common than in restaurants. Most consumers can't tell the difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon. 

When we were living in Kenya, I once bought “wild salmon” at a small fish market in Nairobi. As I was preparing it, I noticed that the white paper the salmon was wrapped in had absorbed orange color, which was an obvious sign that the fish had been given orange color dye. I’m not sure how the color was applied but whatever process was used, it caused the fish to give off orange color and it stained the paper. Needless to say, we didn’t eat that particular fish.

The more you know about your food, the better you can judge for yourself the quality just by looking at it and tasting the difference.

Get wild

Eating wild-caught salmon means you’re eating salmon that has never been confined in a fish farm and has been caught in nature. The key to eating wild-caught salmon healthfully and affordably (like everything else) is moderation, which is also important for a well balanced diet and for the environment as well as the planet in general. Between global warming, overfishing, mining, logging and salmon farms, wild salmon faces many threats.

It’s also important to note that paying for wild-caught salmon is good for the environment. What you choose to spend your money on is a good indication for what your local and federal governments as well as businesses should also promote and protect. Because wild salmon is an important industry, their habitats are protected. To protect salmon is to protect oceans, wetlands and rivers. 

Wild salmon is an anadromous fish, which means they migrate from their freshwater birthplace to the ocean, where they live for two to six years (depending on the species) and then return to their birth stream or river to spawn or reproduce. 

The fat content of salmon correlates to the length of their fresh-water migration as salmon stop feeding after they start their upstream journey.

Some salmon such as the Yukon and Copper River king can swim hundreds of miles upriver to spawn. To prepare for their long upstream journey, they put on high amounts of fat including omega-3s.

Once they arrive at the spawning ground, the female salmon creates a shallow nest as a signal to the male salmon to fight for the privilege to spread their sperm over her eggs while she gives birth. 

The fertilized eggs take three to four months to hatch and the baby salmon or "fry" are born with some attached yolk as immediately available food. Then they eat almost everything around them, grow to just about one inch long and then begin swimming downstream to the sea to start the cycle all over again. 

Salmon’s diets depend on the region they inhabit, however, young salmon rely on mostly zooplankton and invertebrates. 

Once in the depths of the Pacific Northwest Ocean, salmon eat smaller fish, including herring and also krill and pelagic amphipods.

Wild salmon have many predators. In addition to humans, wild salmon are preyed upon by larger salmon, birds, snakes, as well as whales, seals, sea lions and dolphins when out in the ocean. And upon their dangerous return journey upstream, salmon have to make it past hungry bears and birds.

Wild salmon in the ocean look mostly silver, with dark blue highlights. When salmon begin their journey upriver to reproduce, they undergo the changes in color and shape that help them attract mates.

Wild Pacific salmon (especially sockeye salmon) offers more vitamin D than any other food, including farmed salmon.

Wild salmon also provides the highest and richest food source of astaxanthin (as-tuh-zan-thin), which is a carotene-class red-orange pigment with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Wild salmon is a cold-water fish that provides our bodies with a wealth of omega-3 essential fatty acids. As one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon provides a host of benefits including lowering the risk of heart disease as  omega-3s help reduce triglycerides, lower inflammation and increase beneficial HDL (the good cholesterol).

But nutrients aside, wild salmon is an incredibly versatile protein to prepare by sautéing, roasting, steaming, smoking, braising, and my favorite: slow baking! The versatility of salmon goes beyond its preparation for ways to eat it. Salmon is delicious in the form of main dishes, salads, tacos, soup, pasta and many other ways in endless combinations. Make extra and enjoy the leftovers.

The world of salmon

There are a few varieties of wild salmon. Each tastes different from the others, and has different textures and offers different nutrition. For example, the levels of omega-3s they provide varies according to variety. Personally, I enjoy king, sockeye and coho salmon. But I’m grateful to have any type of fresh wild salmon I can manage to get during salmon season. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of personal preference. 

Fresh wild salmon is the best quality salmon you can eat — and the best quality animal protein on the planet. But even if you have access only to frozen wild salmon, it's a good idea to eat salmon at least once or twice per week. At the very minimum, three to six ounces per person once a week will do you and your family a world of good. 

The bottom line is that it's important to know about the food we eat, how it lives, exists and how it’s sourced, grown and produced and what has transpired before it makes it to your home and goes into your mouth.

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Recipe: Slow Baked Salmon with Dill and Turmeric

For this week’s recipe, I created a salmon recipe during my recent lightning fast trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we traveled to get our first Pfizer covid vaccine. And while we were there for only six days, we got to enjoy wonderful wild salmon dinners and multiple wild salmon leftover lunches.

Perfectly cooked fish makes for a delicious and nourishing meal. But it’s a little tricky cooking salmon for the best flavors, textures and nutrients. (Never, ever overcook fish.)

My Slow Baked Salmon with Dill and Turmeric recipe is designed to keep the salmon’s nutrients intact while bringing out the best flavors.

Get the Recipe!