Farmed Salmon is FULL of Antibiotics and Mercury. Here’s How to Tell If Your Salmon is Safe!

You’ve probably heard about some of the incredible health benefits of salmon. It is a source of high-quality protein as well as vitamins and minerals, including potassium and vitamin B12, and it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to healthy brain function along with a healthy heart and joints.

People across the world are eating salmon in a ton of different ways — baking it, roasting it, grilling it, smoking it, and eating it raw — which is safe to do, if you are buying the right salmon. The flavor and fattiness of salmon, along with its nutrient content, depend on where it came from. If you have a taste for fish, you’ll want to make sure you are buying clean, healthy salmon, and not the farmed category.

The color is a great indication of whether or not you are buying real salmon. The color of a wild-caught salmon is a robust red, which is exactly what salmon should look like. The color of farmed salmon is very light and pale in color as if the fish was sick. Astaxanthin is a bright red molecule found in algae, plankton, and krill, and it gives salmon its color. This molecule is extremely beneficial to the human body. It is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, it improves blood flow, and it enhances mitochondrial energy production.


This bright red-orange color is a good indicator of wild-caught salmon. Farmed salmon will be a pale pink color.

Wild salmon get plenty of this molecule from their diets while farmed salmon eat food pellets that don’t contain natural astaxanthin, so farmers add in their own synthetic version, which is most commonly derived from coal. The fish feed used by farmers also includes fish meal and fish oils that are at risk of dioxin and mercury contamination. Some farmers have tried to replace fish meal with soy and corn protein and vegetable oil, but salmon are not meant to eat soy and corn, so meat quality decreases and antibiotics are needed to keep them healthy. Trace amounts of these antibiotics can make it into the food we eat while vegetable oils reduce Omega-3 fat content and can introduce mold toxins into salmon. You do not want to eat that!

The FDA and the EPA have been studying mercury contamination in fish, and wild-caught salmon is at a very low risk of mercury contamination. Fresh salmon is considered safe for pregnant women to eat. Check out the video below to make sure you are cooking your salmon to the right temperature!

Here are some of the most nutritious types of wild salmon to look for:

Sockeye Salmon – This type of salmon contains the most astaxanthin, cholesterol, and vitamin D because sockeyes keep a diet of almost exclusively plankton. They are tough to farm due to their unusual eating habits, so this type of salmon is almost always wild. Sockeye salmon is high in Omega-3s and has a strong flavor, so it is great smoked.

Chinook (King) Salmon – This type of salmon contains almost twice as many omega-3’s than any other salmon. They live in cold, deep water and the extra omega-3’s stay liquid in their system to keep them warm. King salmon are the largest salmon in the world and can grow to well over 100 pounds. They are very versatile from a cooking standpoint, but grilling, slow barbecuing or smoking are popular choices.

Pacific Coho Salmon – Coho has the third-highest fat content of salmon, along with a great amount of vitamin D and Omega-3s. It has a very delicate flavor, so some prefer to poach it to keep it moist, or use it for sushi.

Wild salmon is worth every penny. There are so many cooking options, and buying it wild ensures that you are getting all of the amazing nutritious benefits it has to offer. Check out this super-simple way to season and cook your salmon.

h/t: the hearty soul


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Oliver Schaudt - January 30, 2016

With reports of the ocean’s depletion are increasingly common, is eating farmed fish something we want to discourage? How can we improve? How are farmed fish getting more mercury? Step 1. No more mercury.

    Gerald Moore - February 23, 2016

    Farmed fish get traces of mercury simply by being raised in the ocean, but much less than wild salmon.

    From Scientific American:

    Farm-raised fish may have somewhat less exposure to mercury than their wild free-foraging cousins because they are usually fed a controlled diet, often consisting of more grains and soy, a cheaper and more abundant source of calories, than fishmeal. But they can still absorb mercury, since most fish farms are themselves located in the ocean, just close to or abutting the shoreline.

Salmon Ranching - February 1, 2016

Wow, Lindsey, that is some of the poorest researched blah blah blah we have ever read. While you’re entitled to your opinion, it would be helpful to anyone reading this if they were provided some researched facts to support that opinion. Just one example; there is no research to support the statement that mercury is high in any salmon, farm-raised or wild-caught. It is in fact the opposite, with farm-raised Atlantic salmon actually being among the lowest of all salmon.

Lawrence - February 3, 2016

Not all salmon are red. Sockeye salmon are but I have caught King salmon some of the meat was orange in colour others were like an off white. It may depend on what they eat. Usually the reder the colour the better the flavour is.

    Bruce C Snow - February 11, 2016

    Correct. Different species of salmon have different flesh color. Also, flesh color for a particular species can change as it matures. This article is full of misinformation. I haven’t seen any ‘antibiotics’ for fish, only mammals.

Jason Prall - February 7, 2016

I’ve got great respect for David’s work, but this article needs to be revised.

The color is a poor indicator these days of wild vs farmed. Producers are adding color to farmed salmon and often they are darker red/orange/pink than their wild counterpart. What’s worse, I’ve even seen producers add color to wild salmon…probably because of out-dated information in this article. They know people are looking mostly at flesh color as the main or sole indication of “health”.

The best thing to do is read the package for clear indication. If it says “farmed” or “Atlantic”, stay away. You will usually find this in low/mid quality restaurants.

Then there is “sustainably farmed” salmon as well. I would caution against this label as well since there are no defined standards. This is the type you will find in many high quality restaurants.

If it is truly wild caught, it will almost always say “wild caught”. If you’re unsure, consider the source you’re buying from and how likely they might be getting wild salmon. The further up the distribution chain the supplier is, in other words, closer to the fisherman, the more likely you’re getting wild caught.

The last indicator is price. If you’re buying directly from a commercial fisherman, you’d be hard pressed to find wild caught for under $20/lb. Wild caught salmon in the store will almost always be more expensive than that.

Bård Henriksen - February 8, 2016

A norwegian consumer rights type of TV documentary enrolled scientists,who found 4 times more mercury in tuna than in any other seafood

occupyff - February 11, 2016

A great video that won awards is Salmon confidential on vimeo…beautifully done, and mostly courtroom scenes, it shows the government collusion and deceptions surrounding farmed salmon in our BC waters.

Richard Steiner - February 15, 2016

This is my first time to this site, and the sharing toolbar on the left obscures the first four letters of text at the left margin of the article. It really detracts from the content.

    William Boot - February 20, 2016

    Click the arrows and close it.

      Richard Steiner - February 22, 2016

      Ah, a completely nonstandard UI. How helpful.

Magnar Nordal - February 19, 2016

If you want natural red flesh, you should go for trout, not salmon.

Tim Nelson - May 17, 2016

Not a single citation to support the article.

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