Not So Wild About Farmed Salmon For Vitamin D

by Naveen Agarwal

in Vitamins

ocean's
Creative Commons License photo credit: Naomi Ibuki

When it comes to getting vitamin D from food, salmon is popularly known as one of the best sources. The Office of Dietary Supplements, a department of the National Institute of Health, lists a 3 oz serving of salmon (sockeye) as having over 100% of daily value of vitamin D. Salmon is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, one of the healthy fats your growing child needs for brain development.

I was, therefore, very surprised when I looked at the nutrition facts panel of a can of pink salmon at the grocery store this weekend. It did not list any vitamin D at all!

How can it be when the common knowledge is that salmon provides a high level of vitamin D?

Turns out that not all salmon is created equal when it comes to vitamin D, or even other healthful nutrients. The problem seems to be an abundance of farmed salmon in our food supply, both in the fresh seafood section as well as canned and prepared meals.

As I researched this issue further, I came upon a scientific paper by Dr. Holick and co-workers from Boston University, who actually measured the amount of vitamin D in both wild salmon and farmed salmon. They found that the farmed variety contained 10-25% of the amount of vitamin D available in salmon. Dr. Holick explains the difference in this video, simply in terms of what the two feed on:

While the wild salmon could have as high as 1000 IU of vitamin D, the farmed variety contains about 250. There is also considerable debate about PCB’s, dioxins, antibiotics and artificial colors in farmed salmon.

Looking at it from the lower nutritional value and health/environmental risks, I am not sure if low price of farmed salmon is a good reason to make the choice. Not saying you need to give up on farmed salmon, but you certainly need to factor these issues in your purchase decision.

Another thing to keep in mind, vitamin D in wild salmon can vary in a broad range depending on the source and type. Ask questions and read the nutrition facts label before buying.

Here is a nice summary of the amount of vitamin D from various fish sources (Source: Holick paper)

Type of Fish Vitamin D (IU)
Blue fish 280 ± 68
 Cod 104 ± 24
 Grey Sole  56 ± 36
 Salmon, Farmed  240 ± 108
 Salmon, Wild 988 ± 524
 Trout, Farmed 388 ± 212
 Tuna Ahi-YT 404 ± 440

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  • Colleen Pierre MS, RD, LDN

    Just a couple of facts to add to your Salmon story: almost all canned salmon comes from the pacific, mostly Alaska. In Alaska it is illegal to farm salmon, so all Alaskan salmon is wild. Also only Calcium, Iron, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C are required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Vitamin D is not, which is why it is not there.

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