- Salmon is a heart-healthy food that is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.
- Researchers conducted a study in which participants ate a Mediterranean diet, including two servings of salmon per week, for two five-week periods.
- They then identified specific compounds in salmon that are linked to certain health benefits, such as lower cholesterol levels.
Even if you have only a passing interest in food and nutrition, you probably know that salmon is good for you.
Naturally, this statement comes with some caveats. After all, not all salmon is the same. There is a big debate about wild versus farmed fish; and questions about which type of salmon is the most nutritious and delicious: do you prefer coho, sockeye or chinook?
But beyond these questions, the evidence is clear: salmon is nutritious and delicious. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals and of course heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Now it appears from a recent study The magazine for nutrition provides more support for that claim and dives deep into the biological components that make salmon a superfood.
Scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus study salmon through the lens of metabolomics, a field of research that focuses on small molecules known as metabolites, which result from metabolism, a chemical reaction that converts nutrients into energy .
When you eat food for energy, that’s your metabolism at work. During this process, metabolites are formed, which can be measured in your blood and urine. Scientists study metabolites as tiny biological clues to see how the things you’ve eaten can affect your body on a molecular level.
The goal of Anschutz researchers was to identify specific metabolites derived from salmon and then see if they correlated with beneficial health outcomes, such as improvements in cholesterol levels.
“Although the overall benefits of salmon and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in previous studies, assessing their unique and abundant metabolites as they relate to health was a fascinating part of the study,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS RD, a dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, and co-author of Regenerative Health, told Healthline. She was not involved in the investigation.
To investigate salmon’s beneficial metabolites, researchers recruited 41 participants to adhere to a special diet for two five-week periods, with a minimum four-week break in between. During the dietary intervention periods, participants followed a controlled Mediterranean diet with 2 servings of salmon per week. The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy diet that emphasizes vegetables, fish and whole grains while limiting sugar and refined foods.
Study participants were between 30 and 69 years old and were overweight or obese, but had no other acute illnesses or metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.
Samples of all food prepared for the participants were also analyzed in a laboratory to investigate their metabolites. In total, scientists identified 1,518 individual compounds from the food. Only 508 of these were identified as specific to salmon. Once the salmon metabolites were determined, researchers were able to compare them with blood samples from participants.
When they looked at the number of salmon-specific metabolites that increased in blood tests during the Mediterranean diet, only 48 were relevant. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these compounds were fats, providing further evidence of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and
Of the initially more than 500 potential compounds, scientists had identified only a few dozen that could then be linked to what they called cardiometabolic health indicators.
Ultimately, increases in two salmon food-specific compounds and two metabolites were associated with improvements in cardiometabolic health indicators, such as lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol,
“We are the first to identify salmon-specific bioactive compounds that increase in plasma after consumption [a Mediterranean diet] with ~4-8 oz of salmon per week. Furthermore, several of these food-specific compounds were associated with short-term improvements in cardiometabolic health indicators,” the study authors wrote.
Studying salmon under the lens of metabolomics is more like chemistry or biology than nutrition. While it provides insight into the mechanisms that make salmon healthy, you don’t have to be a scientist to understand why salmon is good for you.
“Salmon is a wonderful animal protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids from the sea,” says Kirkpatrick.
In addition to proteins and healthy fats, salmon also contains many B vitamins, potassium and selenium; vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body.
If you don’t eat salmon or fish regularly, there are still ways to try incorporating more salmon or fish into your diet.
“Baby steps are always a good way to start – the best diet to follow is a nutrient-dense diet that you can stick to long term,” says Kirkpatrick.
“If you’re having trouble consuming fish because you’re not sure how to cook fish or which type to buy, stick to the basics to start,” she added.
Kirkpatrick recommends starting with simple ideas, such as using canned fish or salmon in salads or pureeing them to make burgers. You can also take omega-3 supplements. These are accessible supplements that you can find at your local pharmacy.
Regardless of your preference, there are plenty of delicious and exciting ways to incorporate heart-healthy salmon and omega-3-rich foods into your diet.
Salmon is a superfood packed with protein, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.
By studying specific metabolites in salmon, scientists now have a better understanding of the specific compounds associated with health benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of salmon or other types of fatty fish per week.