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Is steelhead as healthy as salmon?

Salmon and steelhead are two popular types of fish that provide great health benefits. But when it comes to nutritional content, is steelhead really as healthy as salmon? Let’s take a deeper look at how these fish compare.

Nutrition basics

Salmon and steelhead are very closely related – steelhead is actually a type of rainbow trout that migrates to the ocean like salmon. Since they come from the same family, their nutrition profiles are quite similar:

  • High in protein – about 22-25 grams per 3 ounce cooked portion
  • Rich source of omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA
  • Good amounts of vitamins like B12, niacin, and selenium
  • Low in saturated fat and calories

Both salmon and steelhead provide high quality complete protein with all the essential amino acids. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are especially important – they have anti-inflammatory effects and support brain and heart health.

Calorie and fat differences

When looking at total fat and calorie content, steelhead and salmon are fairly comparable. A 3 ounce cooked portion provides:

Fish Calories Total Fat
Steelhead trout 144 5.2 g
Salmon 156 6.3 g

As you can see, steelhead is very slightly lower in calories and fat compared to salmon. But the difference is small – less than 15 calories and 1 gram of fat.

The omega-3 content is more significant:

Steelhead trout 0.4 g 0.9 g
Salmon 0.5 g 1.1 g

Salmon contains a bit more of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s EPA and DHA per serving compared to steelhead. But again, the difference is fairly small.

Vitamin and mineral content

Looking beyond calories and fat, how do steelhead and salmon compare for key vitamins and minerals?

Nutrient Steelhead (3oz) Salmon (3oz)
Vitamin B12 5.4 mcg (90% DV) 4.8 mcg (80% DV)
Selenium 47.5 mcg (86% DV) 40.2 mcg (73% DV)
Niacin 12.6 mg (79% DV) 10.5 mg (66% DV)
Phosphorus 490 mg (49% DV) offset:13;’>385 mg (39% DV)

Steelhead appears to be a bit higher in certain vitamins and minerals like B12, selenium and niacin compared to salmon. However, both fish provide excellent amounts of these nutrients.

Some other vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, potassium, zinc and iron are roughly equal when comparing steelhead and salmon. Overall, they have highly similar vitamin and mineral profiles.

Contaminant risks

All seafood contains at least trace levels of contaminants like mercury, PCBs and dioxins. The good news is that both salmon and steelhead are relatively low risk choices when it comes to contaminants.

Here’s how the two fish compare for contaminant levels, according to the FDA:

Contaminant Steelhead Salmon
Mercury Low levels Low levels
PCBs and dioxins Low levels Low levels

The FDA considers both salmon and steelhead to be fish choices with very low contamination risk. They have low levels of mercury as well as PCBs and dioxins.

So for avoiding contaminants, salmon and steelhead are pretty much equal. Both can be consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet.


When it comes to environmental impact, there are some differences between steelhead and salmon.

Wild-caught salmon is considered one of the most sustainable seafood choices. Salmon fisheries are well-managed and populations are healthy overall.

Steelhead, on the other hand, can be more variable when it comes to sustainability:

  • Wild steelhead from well-managed fisheries like in Alaska is a good choice
  • Some wild steelhead populations are endangered, like in the Salish Sea
  • Farmed steelhead is a mixed choice – some operations are eco-friendly while others have pollution issues

So for sustainability, wild-caught salmon has an edge over steelhead. Choosing sustainable fisheries is important for steelhead.

Cost differences

There is often a noticeable price difference when comparing steelhead and salmon at the grocery store or fish market. On average, wild-caught salmon tends to cost $1-3 more per pound compared to steelhead trout.

Some reasons for the cost difference:

  • Higher consumer demand for salmon, which raises the price
  • More limited availability of wild steelhead compared to some salmon species
  • Difficulty of farming steelhead keeps costs lower compared to farmed salmon

So if price is a consideration, steelhead trout may be the more budget-friendly option vs salmon. But it also depends on the source – wild vs farmed, time of year, local availability.

Taste differences

Steelhead and salmon have some subtle differences when it comes to taste, texture and flavor:

  • Salmon has a richer, more buttery flavor
  • Steelhead is milder in flavor with light earthy notes
  • Steelhead has a firmer texture and large flakes
  • Salmon has a softer, oilier texture

It comes down to personal preference – some enjoy the richer taste of salmon while others prefer the milder steelhead. Both fish have excellent flavor when cooked properly.

Cooking methods

Salmon and steelhead can be prepared using very similar cooking methods:

  • Baked
  • Grilled
  • Broiled
  • Poached
  • Smoked – a popular preparation for steelhead trout

Keep cooking times brief to prevent overcooking and drying out the fish. Salmon cooks fast with its high oil content, so take care not to overdo it.

Some simple flavor ideas to try with both fish:

  • Lemon, dill and butter
  • Soy sauce and sesame oil marinade
  • Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • Mango salsa
  • Pesto

Health benefits comparison

Now let’s summarize and compare some of the top health benefits of steelhead trout vs salmon:

Health Benefit Steelhead Salmon
Omega-3 fatty acids High in EPA and DHA High in EPA and DHA
Protein High quality complete protein High quality complete protein
Heart health Supports due to omega-3s Supports due to omega-3s
Brain health Promotes with omega-3 DHA Promotes with omega-3 DHA
Nutrient profile Excellent source of B12, selenium Excellent source of B12, selenium
Contaminant risk Low in mercury and PCBs Low in mercury and PCBs

As this comparison shows, steelhead and salmon are extremely similar when it comes to health benefits. They share the same positives like high quality protein, anti-inflammatory omega-3s, brain and heart support. Both are low risk choices for contaminants as well.


When it comes to nutritional content, steelhead trout is nearly equal to salmon. Key benefits like omega-3s, protein, vitamins and minerals are present in very similar amounts in both fish.

Subtle differences come down to salmon being a bit higher in calories, fat and certain omega-3s. Meanwhile steelhead edges out salmon for some vitamins like B12 and selenium. But these differences are minor in the overall picture.

For health impact, steelhead trout and salmon are essentially a tie. They share all the same benefits of high quality protein, inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, and crucial nutrients for heart and brain function.

The main differences between the fish come down to cost, sustainability, and flavor – where personal preferences play more of a role. But no matter which of these nutritious fish you enjoy regularly, you’ll be gaining excellent health perks.