Many of my Health Coaching clients ask me about healthy foods including salmon. They know I eat it a few times per week. There seems to be a lot of contradictory information regarding the nutritional value of canned versus frozen products like salmon. Many salmon sold as fresh are fresh frozen and defrosted before selling, and not all canned salmon are created equal either.
So which is healthier, frozen salmon vs. canned salmon?
Canned and frozen salmon are equally healthy. Canned and frozen salmon have similar nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. Both options provide longer storage and availability than the shorter shelf life of fresh salmon. For the best option of either canned or frozen, choose wild-caught.
The freezing and process may lose trace amounts of nutrients, but are they on par from a nutritional perspective? Let’s look at the health benefits of both to find out how they measure up.
I purchased, researched and consumed both of these salmons prior to, during and sometimes after writing this article.
Why Does Canned Salmon Get a Bad Rep?
Many reservations about health and canned foods rest on the bad reputation of the early days of canned goods. Berkeley University Wellness 1 promotes canned Salmon’s health benefits but urges consumers to look out for these factors:
- Omega 3s. The amount of omega-3 found in trimmed salmon can vary substantially. Regular canned salmon with skin and bones provide about 2000 milligrams of omega-three per half-cup. Skinless and boneless only contains about 650 milligrams for the same net weight amount.
- Calcium. It is an excellent source of calcium if you eat the bones. It also provides vitamin D. Choosing the deboned premium options is cheating yourself of 200mg of calcium per 4oz serving.
- Farmed vs. wild-caught. There are some concerns regarding farmed and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). One should choose wild-caught. Alaskan pink or sockeye (red or blueback) are generally wild-caught while Atlantic salmon tend to be of the farmed variety.
Harvard Medical School’s Ask the Doctor column answers this question quite succinctly 2. Their doctor’s response places canned salmon as on par with fresh fish in terms of heart health.
Their doctor does point out the high sodium levels, sometimes up to 300 milligrams from only 3oz of fish should be taken into account. They suggest rinsing the fish before eating to reduce the sodium levels.
Choose in Water
A Berkely University wellness column suggests one should choose salmon in water over oil. There is less chance of the omega-three oils leached into the surrounding oils and landing down your sink because oil and water do not mix.
Does Freezing Affect Nutrients?
Although freezing cause some nutrient loss through ice crystal damage, high and rapid freezing rates, unlike slow freezing, maintain most omega-3 nutrients over three months of frozen storage 3.
I’ll often freeze salmon because I like to buy more than I could eat in a few days. It’s not always easy to find the kind I like.
The FDA Food Code lists the specific temperatures and durations of freezing to kill parasitic worms in fish. However, cases of salmonella toxins in pre-frozen fish eaten raw or partially cooked attest to the fact freezing will not necessarily ensure your fish is pathogen-free 4.
While freezing may slow salmonella growth, cooking and pasteurizing are the only sure-fire methods to kill bacteria.
Canned Red Fish and Microorganisms
Canned salmon undergoes a sterilization process, wherein pressurized cooking under high temperatures of 240-266°F is done. This is the only preservative method employed since the cans are airtight.
This process makes canned a better alternative to frozen when regarding harmful microbes. For example, Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, is eliminated only at temperatures above the boiling point.
How to Avoid Bacteria in Frozen Salmon
Frozen can spoil if it thaws during transport or left in a warm temperature for too long before cooking. To avoid potential health consequences, the FDA suggests these things to consider 5:
- Packaging. Avoid packing frozen fish in torn, open or crushed packages. Fish packaging with signs of frost or ice crystals shows the fish has been stored too long or thawed and refrozen.
- If the frozen fish is soft in any area, do not purchase it. It should be solidly frozen.
- Storage. Store frozen fish in your freezer as soon as possible. Otherwise, wrap in foil, plastic wrap or moisture-proof paper to store in the freezer. Consider an airtight bag by using a vacuum sealer.
- Preparation. Avoid cross-contamination by washing cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with soap and hot water in between preparations of the fish. Separate it from cooked or ready to eat foods.
- Use a sanitizer of 1 tablespoon of liquid odorless chlorine bleach to a gallon of water to disinfect surfaces after use preparing pre-frozen fish.
Fresh Salmon vs Canned: Nutritional Values
The following table compares the nutrients of each one:
|Nutrients per 100grams||Salmon Raw||Canned Pink Salmon with Bones in Liquid|
|Protein||20.5 g||19.8 g|
|Total Lipid (Fat)||4.4 g||6.05 g|
|Calcium||7 mg||213 mg|
|Iron||0.38 mg||0.84 mg|
|Potassium||366 mg||326 mg|
|Magnesium||27 mg||34 mg|
|Phosphorus||261 mg||329 mg|
|Zinc||0.39 mg||0.92 mg|
|Copper||0.06 mg||0.10 mg|
|B6||0.61 mg||0.30 mg|
|Thiamin||0.08 mg||0.02 mg|
|Niacin||8.0 mg||6.5 mg|
|B5||1.03 mg||0.55 mg|
|Folate||4 mcg||15 mcg|
|Sodium||75 mg||225 mg *Differs from brand|
|Omega-3 (EPA)||0.182 g||0.845 g|
|Omega-3 (DPA)||0.047 g||0.048 g|
|Omega-3 (DHA)||0.033 g||0.806 g|
|Fatty acids total monounsaturated||1.348 g||1.825 g|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||0.81 g||1.535 g|
Omega-3 EPA, DHA, and DPA: Why Are They Essential?
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) are vital polyunsaturated fatty acids that our bodies need to function, and we cannot produce ourselves. Our modern diets indulge in harmful fats that do not help our organs functioning but rather hinder it.
DHA helps with the cell membrane and assists in growth and development and works in tandem with the EPAs to support our immune system, promoting health. DHA has recently come into the spotlight as not merely functioning to convert in EPA And DHA but has its distinct functions in the human body.
Salmon is a rich source of these omega-3 acids, and both the canned and fresh wild salmon varieties maintain high levels, despite their very different processing. The health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are:
In 2019, the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study from an updated study by JAMA Cardiology found that fish omega-3 supplements lowered risk for heart attacks and death from coronary heart disease 8.
EPA and DHA have also been linked to improved blood circulation and moderately lowers blood pressure. These omega-3 acids reduce elevated triglycerides and decrease the risk of heart disease by 25% in people exhibiting such elevation 9.
There have been several clinical trials to assess DHA and EPA benefits in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and migraines.
These studies revealed significant benefits, including lowered disease activity and a diminished need for anti-inflammatory drugs 10.
Are the benefits much of a difference between wild caught and farm raised? Find out in my article, Farm Raised Salmon Compared To Wild Caught Salmon.
Mental Health Benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids have shown benefits to those who suffer from depression and the depressive cycle of manic depression. These benefits are due to the anti-inflammatory qualities of EPA and DHA in prostaglandin E3, linked to depression.
Brain Function Benefits
Omega-3 is useful in a broad range of cell membrane benefits, particularly in gray matter in which DHA is abundant 11.
Health Benefits of Canned and Fresh Fish
Canned red and pink provides over 100% more calcium. Calcium helps the following:
- Helps nerve function.
- Help the muscles to function properly.
- Build and maintain strong bones.
In addition, calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 12.
Canned salmon provides over 100% more iron. Why is this important? Iron is a necessary part of any healthy diet 13 and may help with the following:
- Help the immune system.
- Is essential the creation of red blood cells.
- Help some hormones remain balanced.
- Vital for growth and development.
Both are an excellent source of protein. Protein may help benefit the following:
- Reduce appetite
- Build and repair muscle
- Boost metabolism
- Weight loss
Frozen salmon provides a little more B vitamins. Although both are a great source of B vitamins. The B vitamins provided help support the following:
- Nerve function.
- Red blood cells.
- Brain function.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Energy levels.
Both are a rich source of potassium although frozen provides a little more. According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 14.
Potassium helps reduce the sodium in the body. Potassium helps the body reduce excess fluid therefore reducing blood pressure 15.
Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming not enough potassium or too much sodium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 16.
Both types provide a good amount of magnesium. The magnesium provided helps the body control the following:
- High blood pressure
- Nerve function
- Muscle function
- Blood sugar
Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 17.
Many people supplement with magnesium in the evening because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.
Canned salmon provides more phosphorus. Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:
- Help the body store and manage energy.
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
- Promote teeth and bone health.
- Help the kidneys remove waste.
- Muscle contraction and recovery.
Which One Has More Mercury?
The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued warnings regarding mercury levels. They also provide recommendations about how often people should consume each fish 18.
They established a list of fish that are best choices, good choices and ones to avoid. Therefore which one has more mercury?
Frozen salmon and canned salmon have similar levels of mercury. All salmon are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish to consume regarding their mercury levels. The recommendation is consuming them no more than two to three servings a week.
Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.
If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.
Read Next – More Salmon vs Fish Articles!
- Berkely Wellness: Salmon: What’s in the Can?
- Harvard Health Publishing: Is canned fish good for the heart?
- Online Wiley Library: Stability of Lipids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids During Frozen Storage of Atlantic Salmon
- NPR: Why Freezing Didn’t Keep Sushi Tuna Safe From Salmonella
- FDA: Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely
- USDA: Fish, salmon, pink, canned
- USDA: Fish, salmon, pink, raw
- National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease
- American Heart Association Journals: Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Management of Hypertriglyceridemia: A Science Advisory From The American Heart Association
- Taylor & Francis Online: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain
- Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure
- American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis
- FDA: Advice about Eating Fish