Salmon is one of the most popular and nutritious fish worldwide. It is rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and various other nutrients. Salmon can be prepared and eaten in many different ways – raw, cooked, smoked, grilled, baked, poached, etc. However, there is an ongoing debate around whether it is better to eat salmon raw or to cook it. Both raw and cooked salmon have their pros and cons.
Nutritional differences between raw and cooked salmon
When salmon is cooked, especially at high temperatures, it undergoes some changes in its nutritional composition:
- Protein – Heat causes protein denaturation in salmon. This leads to slight changes in the protein structure and decreases protein digestibility and bioavailability.
- Fat content – Cooking leads to dripping/leaking of fat from the salmon, lowering its total fat content.
- Vitamins – Heat exposure degrades heat-sensitive vitamins like thiamine and vitamin B6.
- Minerals – Mineral levels like phosphorus and iron remain relatively stable during cooking.
- Omega-3s – High temperatures can cause oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, leading to formation of harmful compounds.
So in summary, raw salmon retains higher levels of protein, total fat, and certain vitamins. However, it’s omega-3 content is comparable to cooked salmon if optimal cooking methods and temperatures are used.
Potential risks of eating raw salmon
Eating raw or undercooked salmon carries certain risks, including:
- Parasites – Raw salmon may contain parasitic worms like anisakid nematodes and Diphyllobothrium tapeworms. These can lead to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, allergies, and other symptoms if ingested.
- Bacteria – Pathogenic bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus may be present and cause food poisoning. Vulnerable groups like pregnant women and those with weak immunity should avoid raw salmon.
- Viruses – Raw salmon prone to cross-contamination is also risky for viral infections like Norovirus and Hepatitis A.
- Toxins – Salmon from polluted waters may contain mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other environmental toxins harmful in the long run.
- Allergies – Some people may be specifically allergic to raw salmon proteins.
Proper storage, handling and hygienic preparation of raw salmon can lower some of these risks. But cooking thoroughly kills off parasites, bacteria and viruses and is safer.
Benefits of eating cooked salmon
Cooking salmon before eating has several advantages:
- Kills pathogens – Cooking at high enough temperatures destroys any disease-causing parasites, bacteria or viruses present in raw salmon.
- Reduces risk of overfishing – Farm-raised salmon can be sustainably cooked and eaten instead of relying heavily on overfished wild salmon.
- Makes bones soft – Cooking softens small bones in salmon, making them edible and a good source of calcium.
- Enhances flavor – Cooking brings out the flavor of salmon and gives it a soft texture, which some people prefer over raw.
- Retains most nutrients – Gentle cooking retains most of salmon’s beneficial omega-3s, protein, minerals, and vitamins like niacin and vitamin B12.
Overall, cooking eliminates risks of illness and allergies from raw salmon consumption and offers some additional benefits.
Benefits of eating raw salmon
Eating raw salmon has some advantages too:
- Higher protein value – Raw salmon has higher quality, more bioavailable protein compared to cooked.
- Higher nutrient levels – More omega-3s, vitamins like B6 and thiamine are retained in raw salmon.
- No nutrient loss from cooking – Raw preparation avoids nutrient losses from dripping, oxidation, or leaching during cooking.
- Unique texture – Raw salmon has a soft, buttery texture and mouthfeel prized by sushi lovers.
- Enhanced flavors – Some flavors and tastes are more pronounced in raw salmon.
As long as high-quality raw salmon free of contaminants is consumed, it provides superior nutrition compared to cooked. The benefits are maximized when salmon is eaten raw in things like sushi, sashimi, crudo or tartare.
How to choose salmon wisely
To get the best nutrition from salmon, while minimizing risks of foodborne illness, here are some tips:
- For raw consumption, choose only sushi-grade/sashimi-grade salmon from trusted retailers and restaurants.
- Avoid raw salmon if you are pregnant, have a weakened immune system or take antacids regularly.
- Cook wild caught salmon thoroughly to 160°F/70°C before eating to kill any parasites.
- Cook farm-raised salmon to at least 145°F/63°C for safety and optimal doneness.
- Use safer cooking methods like baking, poaching or sous vide cooking instead of charring at very high temperatures.
- Consume cooked salmon within 3-4 days and raw salmon within 2 days for food safety.
These tips will help you balance the risks and nutrition benefits when choosing between raw or cooked salmon.
Health impacts of salmon
Here is an overview of how eating salmon, either raw or cooked, impacts human health:
|Heart health||Salmon lowers risk of heart disease thanks to omega-3s EPA and DHA which improve blood lipid levels, blood pressure, blood clotting, artery function and inflammation. Fatty fish like salmon reduce heart disease mortality by 36%.|
|Brain health||Omega-3s in salmon boost brain health. DHA helps nerve cell communication and lowers Alzheimer’s disease risk. Salmon may also combat depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD and age-related cognitive decline.|
|Vision health||Salmon contains astaxanthin which improves eye pressures in glaucoma. Omega-3 intake also lowers risks of macular degeneration by 42%.|
|Cancer prevention||Studies associate higher salmon consumption with lower colorectal cancer risk. Other anti-cancer effects are also seen for breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers.|
|Inflammation||Salmon is anti-inflammatory thanks to its omega-3 content. Effects are seen in asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome and autoimmune diseases.|
In all aspects of health, salmon intake provides significant benefits whether eaten raw or cooked.
Is wild or farmed salmon better?
There is an ongoing debate whether wild salmon or farmed salmon is the better and healthier choice. Here is how they compare:
Wild salmon benefits
- Higher omega-3 levels since they eat other fatty fish
- Contains natural astaxanthin which farmed lack
- No antibiotics, pesticides or contaminants from crowded pens
- More exercise in open water makes their flesh leaner
Farmed salmon benefits
- Less likely to have parasites compared to wild caught
- Available fresh year round whereas wild is seasonal
- Costs considerably less than wild salmon
- Fed a controlled plant-based diet to have high omega-3 content
While wild salmon is thought to be more natural and superior, both have their pros and cons. Eating a balance of responsibly farmed and wild caught salmon may be ideal for both health and environmental sustainability.
How to cook salmon perfectly
Salmon can be prepared in endless ways – grilled, baked, sautéed, broiled, poached, etc. Here are some tips to cook fresh salmon fillets perfectly:
- Pat dry salmon fillets before cooking and coat lightly with oil to prevent sticking.
- Season salmon with just salt, pepper, herbs, spices or citrus. Avoid overpowering sauces.
- For pan frying or grilling, use medium-high heat. Cook skin-side down first.
- Flip salmon once halfway through cooking. Cook until opaque and flakes easily.
- For baking, preheat oven to 400°F and bake salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet for 10-15 minutes depending on thickness.
- For poaching, gently simmer salmon fillets immersed in liquid like wine, broth or water for 4-6 minutes until cooked through.
- Do not overcook salmon. Cook just until center of thickest part flakes and is opaque.
Proper cooking without overdoing will result in tender, flaky and moist salmon that retains maximum nutrients.
Simple delicious salmon recipes to try
Here are 3 easy salmon dish ideas that are nutritious and crowd-pleasing:
1. Lemon garlic baked salmon
- 2 salmon fillets (6 oz each)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
- In a small bowl, mix olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, basil and salt-pepper.
- Place salmon fillets skin-side down on baking sheet and brush olive oil mixture on top.
- Bake salmon 12-15 minutes until it flakes easily with a fork. Broil 2-3 minutes at the end for color if needed.
- Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy!
2. Cajun salmon patties
- 1 lb salmon fillet, skinned and deboned
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- 1/4 cup finely diced onion
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Chop salmon in a food processor into a coarse texture. Transfer to a bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients except oil and mix well. Shape into 4 equal patties.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry patties 4-5 minutes per side until golden brown and cooked through.
- Serve salmon patties on buns with preferred toppings like lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.
3. Miso glazed grilled salmon
- 1 tablespoon white miso paste
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 salmon fillet (5-6 oz)
- Make glaze by mixing the miso, maple syrup and rice vinegar.
- Prepare grill for high heat. Brush salmon lightly with oil and season.
- Grill salmon skin-side down for 2 minutes. Flip and brush with glaze.
- Grill 2-3 minutes, brush with glaze again. Grill 1 minute more till done.
- Serve grilled miso salmon with steamed greens and rice.
In summary, both raw and thoroughly cooked salmon are great options for obtaining optimal nutrition. Eating salmon raw provides benefits like higher protein, vitamin and antioxidant levels. However, cooking eliminates the risks of parasites and foodborne illness. The health impacts of salmon on heart health, brain function, cancer risk and more are well established. For sustainability, try to balance wild and responsibly farmed salmon. Preparing salmon by baking, poaching or grilling retains the maximum nutrients. Incorporate delicious cooked salmon dishes like miso glazed salmon into your diet routinely to harness the many benefits this incredible fish offers.