As for health stats, wild fish tend to be more nutritious, says Amy Gorin,R.D.N., a New Jersey-based dietitian and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. According to the USDA, a three-ounce serving of wild-caught coho salmon contains approximately 124 calories, 18 grams of protein, and five grams of fat, while a three-ounce serving of farm-raised Atlantic salmon contains 177 calories, 17 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat. “They tend to be less fatty and higher in protein, possibly due to what they eat—like other fish or plankton—and they may get more exercise compared to farmed fish,” Gorin says. And while farmed salmon often contains slightly more omega-3s than wild-caught salmon, there are studies that say the quality of omega-3s in farm-raised salmon may not be as high.
Another consideration: Due to the fact that farmed salmon are often fed ground-up fish in their food (yep, you read that right), they may contain more of a contaminant called PCBs, which animal research links with an increased risk of cancer, notes Gorin. However, use and production of PCBs in the United States have been banned for decades, per the FDA. The EPA says that while levels of PCBs are declining in the environment, consumption of contaminated fish over an extended period of time can still pose a health risk. To limit your exposure, look for sustainably-farmed salmon and/or trim the skin and fat off the fish before eating it (PCBs accumulate in the skin and fat, according to the Environmental Defense Fund).
Now a bit of bad news: There are imposters everywhere. So while you might shell out a bit more for wild salmon, a 2015 report from Oceana found that 43 percent of wild salmon taken from restaurants and grocery stores was mislabeled. (The majority of offenders? Farmed Atlantic salmon masquerading as wild-caught.) Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for a comprehensive listing of salmon choices based on sustainability practices and potential contamination when farmed or caught from around the world. And trust your gut—if you’re seeing an insane discount on wild-caught salmon, it’s probably too good to be true.
Now that you know which salmon is better for you, here’s a delicious way to eat it:
Bottom line: The American Heart Association recommends eating two fish meals per week. Choose wild salmon if it’s available, but if it’s not or you’d rather choose farmed because it’s more affordable, that’s okay, too. Taking the opportunity to get the health-boosting omega 3s you need is a win.