Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Diet Detective’s Healthy Food Pick: Salmon

By Charles Platkin, PhD

The Why: Salmon is packed with protein — nearly 45 percent of the recommended daily value. Plus, it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind, though, that all omega-3 fatty acids are not the same. There’s a difference between the omega-3s in fish such as salmon and the omega-3s in walnuts, for instance. There are three types: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). EPA and DHA, the most valuable for health and wellness, come from the oil of fish. Both play an important role in the normal functioning of the heart, brain, eyes, nervous system, kidney and liver. These essential fats have also been proved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Additionally, because of the anti-inflammatory properties in omega-3 fatty acids, there are some studies that show it may help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.

Health Perks: Research appearing in Medicine & Science, Sports & Exercise and the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism shows that amino acids are critical for muscle recovery. Amino acids are the building blocks muscles use to repair damage that occurs with exercise as well as to support muscle growth (aka muscle hypertrophy). Essential amino acids are those that must be obtained from diet. (Animal proteins and soy protein contain all nine essential amino acids.) What the research shows is that as little as 6 grams of essential amino can aid the recovery process. And there is one specific amino acid — leucine — that researchers have identified as potentially helping maintain muscle mass. Leucine plays a key role in building new muscle protein, and salmon has a significant amount of leucine .

Salmon is also high in B vitamins, including more than 60 percent of the recommend daily value of vitamin B-12 (which helps with the formation of red blood cells and energy metabolism).

What about the mercury? Mercury is a trace element found in rocks that occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. In the water, it turns into methylmercury. Fish with the highest mercury concentrations (according to the FDA and EPA) are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Five of the most commonly eaten types of low-mercury seafood are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

What about farmed versus wild? Well, the report that most refer to is the 2003 study done by the Environmental Working Group. EWG tested farm salmon and found that “seven of 10 farmed salmon purchased at grocery stores in Washington D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Ore., were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at levels that raise health concerns.” Additionally a study published in the journal Science in 2004 analyzed more than 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world and found that the concentrations of PCBs were “significantly higher in farmed salmon than in wild. European-raised salmon have significantly greater contaminant loads than those raised in North and South America.” To be extra careful, trim the skin and fat, and grill or broil your salmon to reduce excess fat, which is where PCBs are stored.

Nutritional value: (4 ounces) 161 calories; 7.19 g fat; 0 g carbs; 22.5 g protein.

Recipe: Grilled Salmon & Zucchini with Red Pepper Sauce
Healthy Recipe by EatingWell Magazine.

Jazz up simply grilled salmon and summer vegetables with a zesty sauce based on the classic Spanish romesco. Made with roasted red peppers, tomatoes and almonds, this sauce is a great match for any seafood, poultry or vegetables. Using smoked paprika brings out the flavors from the grill.

4 servings | Active Time: 35 minutes | Total Time: 35 minutes



  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (see Tip)
  • 1/4 cup chopped jarred roasted red peppers
  • 1/4 cup halved grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 1/4 pounds wild-caught salmon fillet (see Note), skinned (see Tip) and cut crosswise into 4 portions
  • 2 medium zucchini or summer squash (or 1 of each), halved lengthwise
  • Canola or olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for garnish


1. Preheat grill to medium.

2. Process almonds, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a food processor or blender until smooth; set aside.

3. Coat salmon and zucchini (and/or summer squash) on both sides with cooking spray, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Grill, turning once, until the salmon is just cooked through and the squash is soft and browned, about 3 minutes per side.

4. Transfer the squash to a clean cutting board. When cool enough to handle, slice into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss in a bowl with half of the reserved sauce. Divide the squash among 4 plates along with a piece of salmon topped with some of the remaining sauce. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Nutrition Per serving: 280 calories; 13 g fat; 2 g saturated; 7 g mono; 66 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrates; 32 g protein; 2 g fiber; 601 mg sodium; 871 mg potassium.

Tips & Notes

  • Note: Wild-caught salmon from the Pacific (Alaska and Washington) and Pacific cod are more sustainably fished and have a larger, more stable population. For more information, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
  • Tip: To toast chopped or sliced nuts, stir constantly in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Tip: To skin a salmon fillet, place on a clean cutting board, skin side down. Starting at the tail end, slip the blade of a long, sharp knife between the flesh and the skin, holding the skin down firmly with your other hand. Gently push the blade along at a 30-degree angle, separating the fillet from the skin without cutting through either.

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