Together with trout, mackerel, sardines and herring, salmon is a type of fatty fish, being rich in the group of essential fatty acids known as Omega 3s. Salmon is also an excellent source of quality protein (30g per 150g serving), provides almost 80% of the adult recommended daily intake for Vitamin B12 and one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D (600IU per 150g serving ). If you choose canned salmon and eat the bones, you are also getting a good source of non-dairy calcium (approximately 200mg in a standard small can, which is similar to a small glass of milk).
What are Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids?
Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are types of polyunsaturated fatty acids and are essential as they cannot be made by the body and we must instead rely upon adequate dietary intake to avoid deficiency.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the plant form of Omega 3 (found in foods such as walnuts, flaxseed oil and chia seeds) whereas eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the marine forms of Omega 3 found in fatty fish, including salmon.
Whilst there is some evidence that small amounts of ALA can be converted to EPA/DHA (the form that can be used by the body) (Valenzuela et al 2014), a large body of research indicates this conversion is limited therefore the benefits of directly consuming EPA/DHA forms of Omega 3 are superior to ALA from plant sources (Plourde & Cunnane 2007 and Lane et al 2014).
A 150g serving of salmon contains approximately 3100mg combined EPA/DHA.
Omega 3s and Heart Health
The consumption of foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes).
It is believed that Omega 3s exert these benefits by:
- improving blood cholesterol levels
- thinning the blood to reduce the possibility of clotting
- improving the lining of blood vessel walls (the endothelium)
- reducing inflammation and
- lowering blood pressure.
Omega 3s and Brain Health
Did you know your brain is made up of 60% fat? Omega 3 fatty acids form the structural component of neuronal cell membranes (brain cells) (Chang et al 2009).
Adequate intake of EPA/DHA is therefore crucial for normal growth and development (Janssen & Kiliaan 2014) but has also been shown to help prevent and treat mood disorders such as anxiety and depression (Liu et al 2013), reduce the risk of developing dementia (Samieri et al 2008 and Lin et al 2012) and assist with memory and normal cognitive function (Stonehouse 2014).
Omega 3s and Inflammation
The correct balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats is also important as excessive Omega 6 is known to be inflammatory but its actions can be opposed by Omega 3 fatty acids which exert anti-inflammatory effects (Mori & Beilin 2004).
The typical Western diet is excessively high in Omega 6 fatty acids (e.g. vegetable oils such as corn, canola, safflower and sunflower oils as well as grains, cereals, soy and grain fed beef) but also relatively low in Omega 3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is believed to be somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1, but this ratio is upwards of 15:1 for those eating a typical Westernised diet (Simopoulos 2006).
Considering chronic inflammation is a major component of many disease states (Monteiro & Azevedo 2010, Jain et al 2014 and Rasch & Algul 2014), it is important to increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids and be cautious of overconsuming sources of Omega 6 fats.
One such inflammatory disorder strongly linked with omega 3 intake is arthritis. Current evidence suggests a combined EPA/DHA intake of 2700mg per day for 2-3 months to reduce the inflammation associated with the condition (Arthritis Australia 2007).
The Australian Heart Foundation currently recommends 500mg combined DHA/EPA and 2g ALA per day for otherwise healthy individuals but 1000mg combined DHA/EPA for those with a history of heart disease (National Heart Foundation of Australian 2008).
This can easily be achieved by enjoying 2-3 servings (150g each) of fatty fish per week although fish oil supplements may be required by some individuals aiming for the higher 1000mg intake.
How to enjoy salmon:
- healthy ways to cook fresh salmon include oven-baking, grilling, pan-fried using a teaspoon of olive oil or coconut oil or poaching in water with added fresh ginger, lemon slices and fresh herbs for flavour
- add to salads for a healthy protein boost
- try grilled fresh salmon with sweet potato wedges and steamed greens for an easy and balanced mid-week dinner meal
- a few wholegrain crackers (e.g. Vita Wheats or Ryvitas) topped with canned salmon makes a quick and portable lunch for those on the go
Those currently taking blood thinning medications (e.g. Warfarin or high dosages of aspirin or Vitamin E) need to be aware that high intakes of Omega 3 can further thin the blood.
This is usually only an issue with very high dosages of fish oil supplements rather than Omega 3 obtained from wholefood sources such as salmon.
Be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian if you have any concerns.
Stay tuned for a tasty recipe featuring salmon I’ll be sharing soon.
Arthritis Australia (2007), Fish Oils, available from: http://www.arthritisaustralia.com.au/images/stories/documents/info_sheets/2014/Complementary%20therapies/FishOils.pdf.
Chang et al (2009), ‘Essential fatty acids and human brain’, Acta Neurologica Taiwanica, 18(4): 231-241.
Harris (1997), ‘n-3 fatty acids and serum lipoproteins: human studies’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(5): 1645S-1654S.
Jain et al (2014), ‘Inflammation and arterial stiffness in humans’, Atherosclerosis, 237(2): 381-390.
Janssen & Kiliaan (2014), ‘Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) from genesis to senescence: the influence of LCPUFA on neural development, aging, and neurodegeneration’, Progress in Lipid Research, 53(1): 1-17.
Lane et al (2014), ‘Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature’, Critical Reviews in Science and Nutrition, 54(5): 572-579.
Lin et al (2012), ‘A meta-analytic review of polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions in dementia, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 73(9): 1245-1254.
Liu et al (2013), ‘Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status in major depressive disorder with comorbid anxiety disorders’, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(7): 732-738.
Monteiro & Azevedo (2010), ‘Chronic Inflammation in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome’, Mediators of Inflammation.
Mori & Beilin (2004), ‘Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation’, Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 6(6): 461-467.
National Heart Foundation of Australia (2008), Position Statement: Fish, fish oils, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular health, available from: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Fish-position-statement.pdf.
Plourde & Cunnane (2007), ‘Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements’, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 32(4):619-634.
Rasch & Algul (2014), ‘A clinical perspective on the role of chronic inflammation in gastrointestinal cancer’, Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology, 11(7): 261-272.
Samieri et al (2008), ‘Low plasma eicosapentaenoic acid and depressive symptomatology are independent predictors of dementia risk’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(3): 714-721.
Simopoulos (2006), ‘Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases’, Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 60(9): 502-507.
Stonehouse (2014), ‘Does consumption of LC omega-3 PUFA enhance cognitive performance in healthy school-aged children and throughout adulthood? Evidence from clinical trials’, Nutrients, 6(7): 2730-2758.
Valenzuela et al (2014), ‘Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) from Rosa canina, sachi inchi and chia oils may increase ALA accretion and its conversion into n-3 LCPUFA in diverse tissues of the rat’, Food and Function, 5(7): 1564-1572.