Frozen Salmon vs. Canned Salmon: Which is Healthier?


There seems to be a lot of contradictory information regarding the nutritional value of canned versus frozen products like salmon. Fresh salmon is not always safe due to transportation routes and delays, nor is it always fresh. 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 canned and frozen salmon to find out how they measure up.

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Why Do Cans 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 salmon only contains about 650 milligrams for the same net weight amount.
  • Calcium. Canned salmon 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 salmon and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). One should choose wild-caught salmon in cans. Alaskan pink or sockeye (red or blueback) are generally wild-caught while Atlantic salmon tend to be of the farmed variety.

Canned Salmon and Sodium

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 in canned salmon, sometimes up to 300 milligrams from only 3oz of fish should be taken into account when choosing your canned salmon. They suggest rinsing the fish before eating to reduce the sodium levels.

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Choose Canned Salmon in Water

A Berkely University wellness column suggests that one should choose salmon in water over salmon in 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 Salmon Affect Nutrients?

Although freezing 3 causes 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 4.

Frozen Salmon and Microorganisms

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 that freezing salmon will not necessarily ensure your fish is pathogen-free 5. While freezing may slow salmonella growth, cooking and pasteurizing are the only sure-fire methods to kill bacteria.

Canned Fish and Microorganisms

Canned salmon undergoes a sterilization process, wherein pressurized cooking under high temperatures of 116-130°C is done. This is the only preservative method employed in the salmon canning process since the cans are airtight.

This process makes canned salmon 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 salmon 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 6:

  • Packaging. Avoid packing frozen fish in torn, open or crushed packages. Fish packaging with signs of frost or ice crystals shows that the fish has been stored too long or thawed and refrozen. If the frozen fish is soft in any area, do not purchase it. Frozen fish should be solidly frozen.
  • Storage. Store frozen fish in your freezer as soon as possible after buying in a clean refrigerator at minus 40°F (4.44 °C). Otherwise, wrap in foil, plastic wrap, or moisture-proof paper to store in your freezer. Consider an airtight bag by using a vacuum sealer. They sell affordable ones on Amazon, vacuum sealers.
  • Preparation. Avoid cross-contamination by washing cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with soap and hot water in between preparations of the salmon. Separate it from cooked or ready to eat foods. Use a sanitizer of 1 tablespoon of liquid odorless chlorine bleach to a gallon (3.785 liters) of water to disinfect surfaces after use preparing pre-frozen fish.

A Comparison of Raw Salmon and Canned Salmon With Selected Nutrients

(USDA Figures)

Nutrients per 100grams Salmon Raw Canned Pink Salmon with Bones in Liquid 
Energy  127 kcal 139 kcal
Protein 20.5g 19.78g
Total Lipid (Fat) 4.4g 6.05g
Calcium 7mg 213mg
Iron  0.38mg 0.84mg
Potassium k 366mg 326mg
Sodium  75g 75mg
Omega-3 (EPA) 0.182g 0.845g
Omega-3 (DPA) 0.047g 0.048g
Omega-3 (DHA) 0.033g 0.806g
Fatty acids total monounsaturated  1.348g 1.825g
Fatty acids, total saturated 0.81g 1.535g
USDA Figures

Omega-3 EPA, DHA, and DPA: Why Are They Essential When Choosing Frozen vs. Canned?

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 pre-frozen and canned varieties maintain high levels despite their very different processing. The health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are:

Cardiovascular Disease

Scientific studies do not support a unanimous stance regarding Omega-3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease. 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 7.

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 8.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

There have been several clinical trials to assess DHA and EPA benefits in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as 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 9.

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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, which is linked to depression.

Brain Function Benefits

Omega-3 is useful in a broad range of cell membrane benefits, particularly in grey matter in which DHA is abundant 10.

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Conclusion

With the global canned fish market set to reach 27.8 billion US dollars by 2025, it seems that the star of the canned salmon is set to rise. Whether you prefer the taste and texture of a thawed salmon from frozen or the value and ease of an old fashioned tin, rest assured you are receiving equivalent nutrients.

Do some homework and ensure that your frozen and canned fish are from reputable and environmentally conscious sources and enjoy the heart and mind benefits. Salmon is one of over 100 tips in my Top Tips Health Guide. It’s an instant free download that you can get right now by clicking here, Health Guide.

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Berkely Wellness: Salmon: What’s in the Can?[]
  2. Harvard Health Publishing: Is canned fish good for the heart?[]
  3. Researchgate: Effect of Freezing on the Shelf Life of Salmon[]
  4. Online Wiley Library: Stability of Lipids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids During Frozen Storage of Atlantic Salmon[]
  5. NPR: Why Freezing Didn’t Keep Sushi Tuna Safe From Salmonella[]
  6. FDA: Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  8. American Heart Association Journals: Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Management of Hypertriglyceridemia: A Science Advisory From The American Heart Association[]
  9. Taylor & Francis Online: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases[]
  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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