Salmon has earned its research reputation as a health-supportive food based largely on its unusual omega-3 fatty acid content. It's very common for 4 ounces of baked or broiled salmon to contain at least 2 grams of omega-3 fats—more than the average U.S. adult gets from all food over the course of several days. (If we consider 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids to be a daily goal for a person consuming a 2,000 calorie diet—based upon recommendations from the 1999 Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI) for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—then this would equal about 50% of this goal. For more on this, see our write-up on omega-3s.)
About half of this omega-3 fat is provided in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and a slightly lower amount is provided in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The amounts of EPA and DHA contained in salmon are unusual among commonly-eaten foods. In addition to this high concentration of omega-3 fats is the relatively small amount of omega-6 fats in salmon and its outstanding ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Four ounces of salmon will typically contain less than 1/2 gram of omega-6 fat, for an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of approximately 5.5 to 1. In the average U.S. diet, this ratio has repeatedly been shown to be lop-sided in the opposite direction, with at least 4-5 times as much omega-6 fat as omega-3 fat, and in some studies, up to 12-20 times more. In our World's Healthiest Foods rating system for food, only two foods provide more omega-3s per standard serving than salmon. Those two foods are walnuts and flaxseeds. Both of these plant foods are outstanding sources of omega-3s! However, they cannot be compared on an equal basis to salmon because their omega-3 fats come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) rather than EPA or DHA. The widely-studied benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are documented in our Omega-3 Fatty Acids profile in the Essential Nutrients section of our website. In general, these benefits involve improved control of the body's inflammatory processes, better overall cell function, improved transfer of information between the body's cells, and better brain function. When researchers look specifically at intake of omega-3-containing fish like salmon, they find health support in all of the above areas. However, some areas of omega-3 support are what we would call "standout" areas. For more, see Salmon
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