The World's Healthiest Foods

Delicious with exceptional nutritional value found in few other foods (omega 3 fatty acids), the lovely pink-hued salmon can be served in a variety of ways and is always a favorite among fish lovers and enjoyed even by those who are not always fond of fish. The season for the different species of salmon ranges from early summer to late fall, however, the increased production of farm raised salmon has made it available fresh in local supermarkets year round.

Salmon are incredible fish traveling thousands of miles throughout their life cycle and within two to five years returning to the very location where they were born to spawn and die. The specific characteristics and life cycles of salmon vary with each species. Their flesh ranges in color from pink to red to orange with some varieties richer in important omega 3 fatty acids than others. For example, chinook and sockeye are fattier fish than pink and chum and contain great amounts of healthy omega 3 fatty acids.


Health Benefits

Salmon is low in calories and saturated fat, yet high in protein, and a unique type of health-promoting fat, the omega-3 essential fatty acids. As their name implies, essential fatty acids are essential for human health but because they cannot be made by the body, they must be obtained from foods. Fish contain a type of essential fatty acid called the omega-3 fatty acids. Wild-caught cold water fish, like salmon, are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than warm water fish. In addition to being an excellent source of omega-3s, salmon are an excellent source of selenium, a very good source of protein, niacin and vitamin B12, and a good source of phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin B6.

Cardiovascular Benefits

The omega-3 fats found in salmon have a broad array of beneficial cardiovascular effects. Omega-3s help prevent erratic heart rhythms, make blood less likely to clot inside arteries (the proximate cause of most heart attacks), improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol, and prevent cholesterol from becoming damaged. (Only after cholesterol has been damaged does it clog arteries.)

Omega-3s work their magic by affecting the production of hormone-like molecules called prostaglandins. Some kinds of prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory while others, like those derived from the omega-3s in salmon are anti-inflammatory. The primary omega-3 found in salmon, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), is the immediate precursor of the Series 3 prostaglandins, an anti-inflammatory type that prevents platelets from sticking together and improves blood flow. A four-ounce serving of salmon contains 33.6% of the daily value for omega-3 fatty acids.

One healthy result of fish consumption, especially when the fish consumed are rich in omega-3 fats, is a lower risk of stroke. A recent study, which involved almost 80,000 nurses during a 15-year period, revealed that those women who ate fish 2 to 4 times per week had a 27% reduced risk of stroke compared to women who ate fish once a month. Those who ate fish five or more times per week reduced their risk of certain strokes 52%. Salmon promotes cardiovascular health not only through its concentration of omega-3 fats, but also because this fish is a very good source of the B-vitamins, niacin and vitamin B12. Niacin, which is necessary for the chemical processing of fats in the body, has been repeatedly used clinically to successfully lower total blood cholesterol in individuals with elevated cholesterol levels. Vitamin B12 plays a critical role as a methyl donor. Methylation is a basic cellular process in which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B12 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Just 4 ounces of baked or broiled salmon provide 56.7% of the daily value for niacin and 54.2% of the daily value for vitamin B12.

Special Cardiovascular Protection for Postmenopausal Women with Diabetes

Eating omega-3 rich fish, such as salmon, at least twice each week significantly reduces the progression of atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women with diabetes, suggests a Tufts University study published in the September 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The three year study included 229 women with atherosclerosis, 42% of whom also had diabetes. Although new atherosclerotic lesions were seen in all the women, regardless of fish intake, those who consumed 2 or more servings of fish per week had significantly fewer lesions—especially if at least one serving was chosen from those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel or sardines.

Women with diabetes eating less than 2 servings of fish experienced an average 4.54% increase in stenosis (thickening and restriction) in their arteries, compared to an average increase of only 0.06% in women eating 2 servings of any fish per week.

In diabetic women eating less than 1 serving of omega-3-rich fish per week, stenosis increased 5.12% compared to a 0.35% increase in those who ate 1 or more servings of omega-3-rich fish each week.

Eating fish rich in omega-3s is so beneficial because these fats:

  • lower the amount of lipids (fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides) circulating in the bloodstream
  • decrease platelet aggregation, preventing excessive blood clotting
  • inhibit thickening of the arteries by decreasing endothelial cells' production of a platelet-derived growth factor (the lining of the arteries is composed of endothelial cells)
  • increase the activity of another chemical derived from endothelial cells (endothelium-derived nitric oxide), which causes arteries to relax and dilate
  • reduce the production of messenger chemicals called cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response associated with atherosclerosis
(October 20, 2004)

Protection against Stroke

Eating fish, such as salmon, as little as 1 to 3 times per month may protect against ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by lack of blood supply to the brain, for example, as a result of a blood clot), suggests a meta-analysis of 8 studies published in the July 2004 issue of Stroke.

Data on nine independent groups participating in eight different studies found that, compared to those who never consumed fish or ate fish less than once per month, risk of ischemic stroke dropped:

  • 9% in those eating fish 1 to 3 times per month
  • 13% in those eating fish once per week
  • 18% in those eating fish 2 to 4 times per week
  • 31% in those eating fish 5 or more times each week
(October 11, 2004)

Atrial Fibrillation (Heart Arrhythmia)

Eating salmon that's broiled or baked, but not fried, may reduce risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, especially in the elderly, according to a Harvard study published in the July 2004 issue of Circulation. In the 12-year study of 4,815 people 65 years of age or older, eating canned tuna or other broiled or baked fish 1 to 4 times a week correlated with increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a 28% lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Eating broiled or baked fish 5 times a week lowered risk even more— a drop in atrial fibrillation risk of 31%.

Eating fried fish, however, provided no similar protection. Not only is fried fish typically made from lean fish like cod and Pollack that provide fewer omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, frying results in the production of damaged, free-radical-laden fats in the fish as well as the frying oil.(December 13, 2004)

Grumpy Teenagers? Salmon May Help Lower Hostility and Protect Hearts

Feeling really grumpy? Eating more cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines may help. A study published in the January 2004 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a statistically significant relationship between consuming fish rich in omega-3 fats and a lower hostility score in 3581 young urban white and black adults. Those with the highest intake of omega 3 fats had only a 10% likelihood of being among those with the highest hostility scores. Eating any fish rich in omega 3 fats compared to eating no omega-3-rich fish was also found to drop subjects’ chances of being hostile by 12%. One reason this finding is important: hostility has been shown to predict the development of heart disease, and the young adults in this study were already also enrolled in the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study—a study that is examining how heart disease develops in adults.(March 25, 2004)

Food for Better Thought

Cold-water fatty fish like salmon have often been thought of as a "brain food," not only because of their ability to navigate hundreds of miles to return to their birthplace to spawn, but because of their high concentration of omega-3 fats. The human brain is more than 60% structural fat. For brain cells to function properly, this structural fat needs to be primarily omega-3 fats such as the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found in salmon. This is because the membranes of all our cells, including our brain cells or neurons, are primarily composed of fats. Cell membranes are the gatekeepers of the cell. Anything that wants to get into or out of a cell must pass through the cell's outer membrane. And omega-3 fats, which are especially fluid and flexible, make this process a whole lot easier, thus maximizing the cell's ability to usher in nutrients while eliminating wastes--definitely a good idea, especially when the cell in question is in your brain.

Epidemiological studies in various countries including the U.S. suggest a connection between increased rates of depression and decreased omega-3 consumption, and in children, the relationship between low dietary intake of omega-3 fats and ADHD has begun to be studied. A recent Purdue University study showed that kids low in omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders, and to display behavioral problems. In the Purdue study, a greater number of behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and sleep problems were reported in subjects with lower total omega-3 fatty acid concentrations. More learning and health problems were also found in the children in the study who had lower total omega-3 fatty acid concentrations.

Over 2,000 scientific studies have demonstrated the wide range of problems associated with omega-3 deficiencies. The American diet is almost devoid of omega-3s, except for cold-water fish such as salmon; nuts, such as walnuts; and seeds like flaxseeds. In fact, researchers believe that about 60% of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and about 20% have so little that test methods cannot even detect any in their blood.

Three recently published studies suggest that frequent consumption of omega 3-rich fish can be beneficial for our mental as well as physical health.

The first study, which appeared in the December 2003 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, presented data providing what the researchers described as a “robust correlational relationship between greater seafood consumption and lower prevalence rates of bipolar disorders.” Consumption of 50 pounds of seafood per year—which translates to a little less than a pound or four 3.8 ounce servings of fish each week—was associated with much lower risk of bipolar disorders, which the researchers attribute to the omega 3 fats in fish.

The second study, published in the January 2004 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and discussed above (Grumpy Teenagers? Salmon May Help) found a significant inverse correlation between adolescent hostility and fish consumption. Urban white and black young adults who consumed the most omega-3-rich fish were 18% less likely to exhibit high hostility compared to those who did not eat fish rich in omega 3 fats. A third study, a prospective trial looking at omega 3 fat consumption and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, appeared in the July 2003 issue of the Archives of Neurology. This study, which involved 815 older adults ranging in age from 65 to 94 years, found that those who ate fish just once a week had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who rarely or never ate fish. (January 29, 2004)

Protection against Alzheimer's

Eating cold water fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, as little as once each week may significantly lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in the July 2003 issue of the Archives of Neurology found that compared to study participants who rarely or never ate fish, those who consumed fish at least once per week had a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In this prospective study, which ran from 1993 through 2000, 815 residents in a care home ranging in age from 65 to 94 years participated. Upon evaluating all the dietary data collected, researchers concluded that the two most important factors for lowering Alzheimer’s disease risk were an individual’s total intake of omega 3 fats, and particularly their intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega 3 fats found in cold water fish such as salmon and sardines. Commenting on this research, Robert P. Friedland from Case Western Reserve Medical School said that a diet containing fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables, which would be high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, was likely to lower the risk not only of Alzheimer’s disease but of heart disease and stroke as well. Dr. Friedland did, however, note the problem of mercury contamination of some popular fish species. (January 31, 2004)

Additional research also suggests that the significant amounts of DHA found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, may translate into protection against Alzheimer's disease. In a paper published in the September 2004 issue of the journal Neuron, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine reported that a diet rich in DHA reduced the impact of a gene linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Using mice bred to have genetic mutations that cause lesions typical of Alzheimer's, the researchers found that those fed a diet containing omega-3-rich fish did not develop the expected memory loss or brain damage. In contrast, mice fed safflower oil, which is low in the omega-3 fats and high in the omega-6 fatty acids, showed signs of synaptic damage in their brains that closely resemble those of people with Alzheimer's. (December 13, 2004)

Maintain Your Mental Edge

A study published in the January 2004 issue of Neurology indicates a direct correlation between consumption of omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and tuna, and mid-life mental performance. The five year study evaluated 1,613 subjects ranging in age from 45 to 70 for memory, psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility (i.e., higher order information processing), and overall cognition. Eating omega-3-rich fish several times each week was found to reduce the risk of impaired overall cognitive function by almost 20% and speed by 28%. Frequent fatty fish consumption also had a similar beneficial effect on cognition.

In contrast, a higher intake of dietary cholesterol, found in meat and meat products, was significantly associated with a 27% increased risk of impaired memory and flexibility, and higher saturated fat intake was also associated with an increased risk of impaired memory, speed and flexibility, although not significantly. The researchers speculate that low levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one of the omega 3 fats supplied by cold water fish, may be a risk factor not only for cognitive decline but Alzheimer’s disease. (February 26, 2004)

One More Reason Salmon Protects against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like salmon provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. (August 23, 2004)

To be sure the fish you choose are those least likely to contain excessive amounts of mercury, just click on the following link: Should I be concerned about mercury in fish and what fish are safe to eat?


Eating even small amounts of fish may protect against ovarian and digestive tract cancers. In a large study conducted in Spanish hospitals, a total of 10,149 cancer patients with 19 different types of cancer and 7,990 controls were included. The researchers determined that eating more fish correlated with a reduced risk of certain cancers. Fish eaters had less cancer in the ovaries, pancreas and all parts of the digestive tract including the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.

Epidemiological and experimental evidence shows that the omega-3 fats in salmon may also exert protective effects against breast, colon, and possibly prostate cancers. Clinical studies have suggested several possible mechanisms behind these beneficial effects, including inhibiting the production of Series 2 prostaglandins (the pro-inflammatory kind) and inhibiting angiogenesis, the development of additional blood supplies that cancer cells must have for tumor growth and metastasis.

Salmon may be especially protective against cancer since this fish contains not only omega-3 fats, but is an excellent source of the trace mineral selenium.

Selenium is of fundamental importance to human health. It is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer have suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain the cancer-preventive activities of selenium. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells. In addition, selenium is incorporated at the active site of many proteins, including glutathione peroxidase, the most important for cancer protection. One of the body's most powerful antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase is used in the liver to detoxify a wide range of potentially harmful molecules. When levels of glutathione peroxidase are too low, these toxic molecules are not disarmed and wreak havoc on any cells with which they come in contact, damaging their cellular DNA and promoting the development of cancer cells. Four ounces of cooked salmon provide 75.8% of the daily value for selenium.

Lower Your Risk of Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Fishermen have, in epidemiological studies, been identified as having a lower risk of leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an occupational benefit that researchers thought might be due to the fact that they eat more fish. Now, a Canadian study published in the April 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention suggests that persons whose diet includes more weekly servings of fresh fatty fish have a much lower risk of these three types of cancer. Data drawn from a survey of the fish eating habits of 6,800 Canadians indicates that those consuming the most fatty fish decreased their risk of leukemia by 28%, their risk of multiple myeloma by 36%, and their risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 29%. Overall, frequent eaters of fatty fish reduced their risk for all forms of lymphomas by 30%.(August 3, 2004)


While salmon are born in fresh water, they spend a good portion of their lives in the sea, only to navigate hundreds of miles to return to their birthplace in order to spawn. It's no wonder that these smart and intuitive fish are considered a "brain food."

Salmon are usually classified either as Pacific (Oncorhynchus family) or Atlantic (Salmo family) salmon, according to the ocean in which they are found. There is just one species of Atlantic salmon, while there are five species of Pacific salmon including chinook (or king), sockeye (or red), coho (or silver), pink and chum. Norwegian salmon, a popular type of salmon often offered on restaurant menus, is actually Atlantic salmon that is farm-raised in Norway.

The characteristics of salmon vary with the species. Their colors range from pink to red to orange. In addition, some salmon are richer and fattier than others; for example, chinook and sockeye are fattier fish than pink and chum.


People have been enjoying salmon as a food ever since this beautiful fish appeared in the Earth’s waters--basically, since time immemorial.

Like other fish, in addition to being consumed fresh, preservation techniques such as smoking or salting were used to preserve the salmon. Smoked salmon is still considered traditional fare in the cuisines of Scandinavia and the Russian Federation.

Much of the salmon available in today’s market comes from the waters of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, eastern Canada, Norway and Greenland.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Salmon:

Try to buy a whole salmon side, or filet that is from the thickest part of the fish. Skin the salmon and remove the bones before cooking if possible. This can be done easily. When removing the bones, pull them out 1 at a time going with the grain of the fish.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine left-over cold salmon with greens and vegetables for a delicious salad.

For a twist on scrambled eggs, combine eggs with lox (smoked salmon) and onions, a classic NY delicatessen breakfast favorite.

Serve seared, or broiled salmon over whole wheat pasta. Top with a sauce made with olive oil, dill weed, lemon peel, scallions and black pepper. Look for our healthy methods of Stovetop Searing and Quick Broiling.

For a healthy appetizer, serve smoked salmon on a platter with onions, capers, lemon wedges and mini rye bread slices.

Quick Broil salmon and top with a honey, mustard sauce.


Government inspection is not mandated for seafood, so choose your fish purveyor carefully. While some fish are not considered safe for pregnant or nursing mothers or young children to eat, eating wild pacific salmon does not pose a safety concern.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Chinook Salmon Fillet-Baked/Broiled
4.00 oz-wt
261.95 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.33 g 103.1 7.1 excellent
omega 3 fatty acids 2.09 g 83.6 5.7 excellent
selenium 53.07 mcg 75.8 5.2 excellent
protein 29.14 g 58.3 4.0 very good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 11.34 mg 56.7 3.9 very good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 3.25 mcg 54.2 3.7 very good
phosphorus 420.71 mg 42.1 2.9 good
magnesium 138.35 mg 34.6 2.4 good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.52 mg 26.0 1.8 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


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This page was updated on: 2004-12-14 00:36:40
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation