Wild vs Farmed Fish: Which is Better?

healthy salmon salad

The wild vs farmed fish debate continues to be controverisal, and there are risks and benefits associated with both options. Perhaps the better question is this: which is right for you?

Wild vs Farmed

Those in the “wild” camp argue that there are more health benefits associated with fish that are allowed to roam freely in the ocean, feeding on native plankton (a significant source of omega-3’s) as opposed to farmed fish, which are confined to a specific area and are fed processed feed. The concern is that many of these feeds are genetically modified, something that also raises eyebrows.

Those in the “farmed” camp, on the other hand, argue that wild-caught fish pose serious health risks in the form of heavy metal contamination. Large fish often feed on smaller fish that may be exposed to mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and other toxins. And no matter where a fish happens to be “caught,” there is no way of knowing where it may have wandered (or fed) in the vast ocean. Those in this camp see the risks associated with GMO feeds as less risky than heavy metal toxicity, and some also have concerns with unethical fishing practices.

Omega-3’s and Health

Before we go much further, it’s important to first point out the health benefits of omega-3’s.

Fish, especially those that thrive in cold waters, contain essential omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackeral, and tuna, in particular, are rich in two of the three types of omega 3’s: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, our body’s normal physiological response to stress. Persistently high levels of inflammation, however, can lead to cardiovascular abnormalities.

Omega-3’s have been found to reduce triglycerides and blood pressure, but they’ve also been found to increase LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), especially when the fatty acids are consumed in the form of supplements. Likewise, there is a risk of increased bleeding associated with large amounts of fish oil (3 grams or more daily), though this is usually only a concern with supplemental forms rather than fish itself. This is something of particular concern if you also take blood-thinning medications. (Always talk with your doctor about the supplements you are taking.)

How Much Fish?

So how much fish should you include in your diet? The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat a 3.5-ounce portion (4 ounces raw) of fish twice a week.

High-risk groups, such as children and pregnant women, are encouraged to limit fish to 12 ounces per week, and choose fish varieties that are known to be at lower risk for mercury toxicity, such as canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.


Which is better: wild or farmed?

Ultimately, the decision is something that each of us must make for ourselves. That’s what self-care is all about–making decisions that we feel is right for us after we’ve weighed the risks and benefits. Which risks we are willing to accept depends on our core beliefs.

Essentially, we’re face with three options: wild fish, farmed fish, or no fish.

If you don’t like fish, or have decided that the risks with both wild and farmed are equally unacceptable, then you may opt for supplements to meet your requirements instead. If that is the case, make sure you choose a product that contains a combination of EPA and DHA. Also know that supplements are still widely unregulated, meaning they could contain mercury or other contaminants, depending on the kind of fish that were sourced to manufacture them.

My take

Personally, I choose wild-caught fish when I can, though I’m not opposed to eating farm-raised fish if the alternative is no fish at all.

Whatever you choose, nourish yourself well.

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