What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Salmon

Is salmon actually good for you? Here's what registered dietitians have to say about the benefits of salmon.

Salmon is a powerful health food. Research points out that eating fish–especially omega-3-rich fish like salmon—may improve your health in a variety of ways. But what is it about salmon that makes it such a nourishing, disease-fighting food? Here's what experts have to say.

Pictured Recipe: Teriyaki Salmon

Salmon Nutrition

According to the USDA, a 3-ounce portion of cooked wild salmon provides:

  • Calories: 155
  • Protein: 22 g
  • Total Fat: 7 g
  • Total Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sodium: 48 mg
  • Vitamin B12: 2.6 mg
  • Potassium: 534 mg
  • Selenium: 40 mcg
  • Omega-3s: 1.5 g

The Health Benefits of Salmon

Salmon is a nutrient-packed food that promotes your health in a variety of ways. Here's a look at its impressive perks.

Offers Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fat is an important nutrient for human health. It aids in the absorption of certain nutrients, protects your organs, provides energy, plus so much more. Your body needs fat to survive. But the kind of fat you consume matters.

Unsaturated fat, the kind abundant in salmon, has profound health benefits. Salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, says Maya Feller, M.S., RD, author of Eating from Our Roots. Omega-3 fats are considered essential because your body can't make them, which means you need to get them from your diet. The benefits of polyunsaturated fat, notes Feller, are vast, from decreasing inflammation and lowering blood pressure to reducing the risk of some cancers.

The National Institutes of Health recommends women consume 1.1 grams to 1.4 grams of omega-3 fats per day; men should consume 1.6 grams per day. One 3-ounce piece of cooked salmon contains between 1.5 and 2 grams of omega-3s, according to the NIH.

Is Packed with Protein

Beyond fat, salmon is also rich in protein, says Jenny Shea Rawn, M.P.H., RD, author of Coastal Kitchen. A 3-ounce portion of salmon provides around 22 grams of protein. Research in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome in 2020 notes that high-protein diets (which salmon can be a part of) may support weight loss, as well as prevent obesity.

Provides Vitamin B12

A 3-ounce portion of salmon supplies 2.6 micrograms of vitamin B12, which is more than 100% of your daily needs for the vitamin, per the NIH. Vitamin B12 is necessary for nerve function, red blood cell formation and making DNA.

Supplies an Array of Minerals

Salmon is a fantastic source of other important nutrients too, says integrative and functional dietitian Robin Foroutan, M.S., RDN, including iodine, potassium and selenium. Iodine supports thyroid function, potassium plays a big role in blood pressure regulation, and selenium is an antioxidant that helps defray free radical damage.

Is Rich in Antioxidants

Wild-caught salmon is also a source of astaxanthin, a red pigment that gives salmon its gorgeous color. Astaxanthin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and consuming foods that contain the compound may also benefit skin health by providing some protection against damaging UV rays and free radicals, according to a 2018 review in Nutrients.

Adds Vitamin D

It can be tough to get vitamin D from your diet, as there are few foods that are good sources. Sockeye salmon is one of the best options for vitamin D. According to the NIH, a 3-ounce serving of cooked sockeye salmon provides 71% of your Daily Value for vitamin D, which is crucial for bone health and may be an important player in combating depression and supporting immunity.

Teriyaki Salmon
Will Dickey

How Much Salmon Should You Eat?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 8 ounces of fish per week. (Children should eat less.) If you might become or are currently pregnant, are breastfeeding or are feeding children fish during family meals, choose options that are lower in mercury, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Fortunately, says Rawn, "Salmon is considered a Best Choice in this recommendation, as it is a low-mercury fish."

How to Choose Your Salmon

The debate on wild versus farm-raised salmon persists. Is one "better" than the other? Not necessarily.

Rawn says that both wild and farmed salmon are great options and advises that you should do your research. "Learn about the source of your salmon—where it comes from, is it sustainably sourced—and purchase what you feel comfortable eating and what your family enjoys," she says. No matter what type you choose, she says, "Salmon is one of the healthiest foods you can eat."

Meghan Gervais, a professional salmon fisherman based in Bristol Bay, Alaska, says that the glacier-fed waters where she lives and fishes create the perfect ecosystem for wild salmon. Their diverse diet, she says, gives wild salmon its beautiful color and flavor. Beyond that, wild-caught salmon tends to be leaner, thanks to the constant movement required to find food.

If wild salmon is not an option for you, farmed salmon is also a good choice. Farming practices have improved, thanks to consumer demand and technology. Look at labels and the country of origin closely. The ASC-certified label can be helpful in choosing farm-raised salmon that is certified in environmental and social well-being. And refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website to learn more about which countries of origin are the safest and most sustainable to purchase from.

3 Smart Buying Tips

The fishmonger at your local fish market or grocery store is a great resource. If you're unsure about what you're buying, don't be afraid to ask them. Here's how to find your perfect piece of salmon:

  • Ask what's new. Ask what's newest to the case instead of asking what's freshest, says Gervais. Many fish are flash-frozen on the fishing boat and arrive at your store frozen. This preserves flavor and taste. By asking what's newest to the case, you're confirming which fish has either arrived recently fresh or has been thawed most recently.
  • Look for color. The flesh of farmed and wild salmon should be bright orange or coral and almost ruby red (for sockeye salmon). Dull flesh is a signal that the fish didn't get the rich diet it needed to cultivate flavor or nutrition. Look for any discoloration, specifically any brown or dark-colored spots, which can indicate spoilage.
  • Confirm that the flesh of the salmon looks moist. Dryness indicates that the fish is old and/or wasn't handled properly.

How to Prep Your Salmon for Cooking

Regardless if you buy your salmon from the counter or the freezer, you should know how you want to use it before it lands in your cart. For most recipes, you'll want to grab a cross-cut fillet taken from the thicker part of a side of salmon. These fillets are typically 1½ to 2 inches thick and are the standard for many recipes. The tail-end fillet is a fine cut but tapers in thickness as it gets closer to the end. This can make it challenging to cook it evenly.

If the tail end is the only option, you can handle it one of two ways. First, you can remove the thin, tapered section before cooking and cook it separately, or you can tuck the tapered end under itself with a toothpick to create a double layer for more even cooking.

Also, be aware that salmon has small pin bones that run down the center of the fillet. If you're buying at the fish counter, ask the fishmonger to remove them for you.

You can also debone your fish using kitchen tweezers. Place the salmon skin-side down on a dedicated cutting board, then run your hand gently along the surface down the middle of the fillet to reveal the pin bones. Using tweezers, pull in the direction that the bone is pointing, which will remove them.

Delicious Ways to Prepare Salmon

There are plenty of great ways to enjoy salmon, as the fish cooks quickly and works with so many cuisines and cooking techniques.

Roast Salmon

Gervais recommends roasting as an approachable, delicious preparation. She loves finishing her roasted salmon with a glaze made with honey, ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Another recipe to try: Garlic Butter-Roasted Salmon with Potatoes & Asparagus.

Grill Salmon

Grilled salmon brings another layer of smoky flavor to salmon, and it's quick to cook, to boot. This Grilled Salmon with Tomatoes & Basil makes a winning summer dish for a backyard gathering.

Try Canned Salmon

Don't forget tinned, pouch or canned versions of salmon, says Rawn. She loves that they are "inexpensive, nutrient-rich, convenient, shelf-stable, versatile and tasty." These Easy Salmon Cakes let canned salmon be the star of the dish.

The Bottom Line

Salmon is a fish that's rich in nutrition and worth adding to your diet. Aim for two fish meals each week to reap the nutritional benefits. Try slow-cooking techniques to keep things simple and delicious! Ready to enjoy salmon? Try one of our healthy salmon recipes.

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