Prepackaged smoked salmon, often found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, can make for an easy protein-rich addition to meals or snacks. But is this convenient fish healthy?
The nutritional benefits of smoked salmon
Smoked salmon is a good source of several nutrients:
- High-quality protein. A 3-ounce serving contains about 17 grams of protein. Protein is important for building and repairing muscles and bones.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Smoked salmon provides omega-3s, including EPA and DHA. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and support heart and brain health.
- B vitamins. Smoked salmon contains B vitamins, including niacin, riboflavin, and B12. These support energy levels and metabolism.
- Selenium. This mineral has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage.
- Potassium. This mineral helps control blood pressure.
- Vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption.
Potential downsides of prepackaged smoked salmon
While smoked salmon can be a nutritious choice, there are a few potential concerns with prepackaged options:
- High sodium content. Prepackaged smoked salmon often contains a large amount of added sodium from salt and preservatives. A 3-ounce serving may contain 500–800 mg of sodium.
- Nitrates and nitrites. These preservatives are commonly added to cured and smoked meats like smoked salmon. In large amounts, nitrates and nitrites may be carcinogenic.
- Artificial colors or flavors. Some packaged smoked salmon contains artificial colors or synthetic smoke flavors.
- Oxidation. The omega-3 fats in smoked salmon are sensitive to damage from heat, oxygen, and light, which can lead to oxidation. Pre-sliced packaged smoked salmon has more exposed surface area.
Is wild or farmed salmon healthier?
Most prepackaged smoked salmon comes from farmed Atlantic salmon. But is farmed or wild salmon healthier?
Wild salmon tends to have some nutritional advantages over farmed:
|Lower fat overall
|Higher fat overall
|No artificial color additives
|Often has added color
However, there are some reasons farmed salmon may be a better choice for some:
- Lower cost
- Available year-round
- Lower mercury levels
Overall the nutritional differences are modest, so farmed Atlantic salmon can still be a healthy option, especially when wild salmon is not in season.
Tips for choosing healthy prepackaged smoked salmon
When shopping for prepackaged smoked salmon, you can optimize the nutritional quality by following these tips:
- Check the ingredients. Opt for salmon smoked with simple ingredients like salmon, salt, brown sugar, and natural wood smoke.
- Avoid added nitrates/nitrites, phosphates, artificial colors or flavors.
- Look for options labeled “wild-caught”.
- Choose salmon farmed in the U.S. or Canada for more tightly regulated operations.
- Check the nutrition facts. Compare brands and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium per serving.
- Look for vacuum-sealed packaging to minimize oxidation.
- Store smoked salmon on ice or in the refrigerator at 40°F or below.
- Rinse before eating to reduce sodium intake.
Healthiest ways to eat smoked salmon
To maximize the nutritional benefits of smoked salmon, incorporate it into your diet in healthy ways:
On whole grain crackers or bread
Pair smoked salmon with whole grain crackers, bread, or toast for a fiber and protein-rich snack or light meal.
In a salad or bowl
Flake smoked salmon over a salad or grain bowl with veggies and healthy greens.
Add smoked salmon to omelets, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
In dips and spreads
Make smoked salmon dip by blending it with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and herbs. Spread on celery or cucumber slices.
Baked or grilled
Bake or grill slices of smoked salmon fillet for 2-3 minutes until warmed through.
Potential risks for certain groups
While smoked salmon can be part of a healthy diet, some groups may need to exercise caution with intake:
- Pregnant women: Limit intake to no more than 2-3 servings per week due to possible mercury exposure.Choose salmon sourced from the U.S. or Canada.
- People with sodium-sensitive conditions: Limit sodium intake by rinsing smoked salmon before eating, avoiding frequent consumption, and minimizing other dietary sodium.
- People taking blood thinners: Very high omega-3 intake may increase bleeding risk. Do not exceed 3 grams combined EPA/DHA per day from supplements and diet.
Prepackaged smoked salmon can provide beneficial nutrition including protein, omega-3s, B vitamins, selenium, potassium, and vitamin D. However, the high sodium content of many packaged smoked salmon products should be taken into consideration.
Choosing options that are wild-caught, contain minimal added ingredients, and are properly stored can help maximize nutrition and freshness. Eating smoked salmon in moderation as part of a healthy diet, while limiting sodium intake from other sources, can allow most people to enjoy the benefits of this flavorful fish.