When it comes to eating fish, Americans are torn. The American Heart Association recommends eating two fish meals per week for heart health. But with concerns about environmental contaminants, the Environmental Protection Agency advises Americans to limit intake of fish, especially farm-raised ones, such as salmon. (see Farmed vs. Wild Salmon)
Before you run to the chicken aisle, there may be hope on the horizon. A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia has been studying the effects of putting farm-raised salmon on a vegetarian diet to reduce the PCBs they are ingesting from their current feed of anchovy oil. “By replacing up to 75 percent of the lipids in the salmon’s diet—which is mostly anchovy oil—with canola oil, we could significantly reduce the amount of PCBs present in farm-raised salmon,” said Colin Brauner, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study.
Canola oil is also a more abundant resource than fish oil, and switching salmon over to it may translate into lower costs for consumers. “Fish-based feed can be up to 60 percent of the cost of raising fish,” according to Brauner. And based on preliminary data, outcomes have been positive: “We are finding that as long as we meet the basic essential omega-3 fatty-acid needs of the salmon with some dietary fish oil, the fish can be reared successfully on this alternate diet,” he says.
It may be up to a year before these “vegetarian” fish are big enough to eat. But based on the excitement surrounding these findings, “there are a lot of people waiting to get a taste of that fish,” concludes Brauner.
—Julie Meyer, R.D.
Farmed vs Wild Salmon
It’s a tough issue, even for us in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. With wild salmon selling for up to $25 a pound out of season, it’s hard to justify recommending it. If you’re concerned about PCBs and other toxins in farmed salmon be advised that most health experts agree that any risks are likely to be outweighed by the benefits of omega-3s in the fish. But environmental implications give us pause: the increase in salmon farms (400% in the last decade) have led to high concentrations of fish waste in the ocean. Some farms use more sustainable practices, but currently there’s no way to know what you’re getting at the fish counter. Buy wild when you can afford it; prices are lowest mid-May through mid-September. If the choice is farmed or none at all, we defer to the health pros: go fish.