the sea and omega-3

Let me start by saying that consuming any fish is better than eating no fish. Despite the health benefits, nearly all seafood will have some contaminants – most notably, PCBs and mercury. In my opinion, the health benefits of eating salmon outweigh the presence of environmental pollutants.

Any oceanic fish will have some environmental pollutants because we are polluting our oceans.

This is why the FDA recommends you should avoid eating large swordfish, tilefish, canned tuna, sharks, and king mackerel. In theory, the larger the fish, the higher the concentration of toxins in the flesh.

farmed vs. wild fish

Farmed fish are a whole different ballgame. Farmed fish can be fed corn, soy, and vegetable oils which speeds the growth process and produces a more fatty fish. Unfortunately, this process increases omega-6 fat content, not the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Because the feed is not rich in minerals like algae some fish food is fortified.  

You could think of farmed salmon like fortified fish because some feed also contains essential amino acids and minerals. If you think farmed salmon is free of environmental pollutants and dioxins think again. In a global assessment of hundreds of salmon samples, researchers discovered that the PCB concentration in farmed salmon was eight times higher than wild salmon.

The truth is, it’s difficult to know if your fish has come from a clean farm or a polluted one. It’s also hard to know if the frozen fillet you got from the grocery store was flash frozen or if it was frozen on his last leg. Plus, both farmed and wild salmon will have some form of environmental pollutants. So if you can’t afford to buy wild caught fish, farmed salmon is not a bad second option.

The bottom line is that any source of salmon delivers beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Despite the pollutants, both the American Heart Association and I think salmon should be on your plate. Read on to see how to pick the perfect fish.

guide to buying fresh fish

shiny scales

If the marketer allows you to touch the fish then lightly touch the scales. The fish should feel slippery, cold, and wet. The scales should be firm and shiny. If you run your finger over the scales and they feel dry and flaky – it is not a fresh fish.

no indents

Lightly press your finger into the fish. If it doesn’t bounce back to its original shape, or if you can still see the indent where your finger was, the meat has broken down and has become soft. Pass.

clear eyes

They should be clear, plump, wet, and shiny. Once the eyes are glazed, cloudy, sunken, or shriveled – you are not looking at a fresh and healthy fish.

red gills

Fresh fish will have bright pink or red gills – if they are dark or browning move along. At this point, the gills will be slimy and sticky. Both indicate the fish is past its prime.

fins intact

The dorsal and tail fin should be wet, intact, and not ragged. A mishandled fish will have torn find and an old fish will have dry and brittle fins. This could be a giveaway that the fish was stored or netted for too long.

guide to buying frozen fish

Frozen fish can be a nutritious and fresh option depending on your proximity to the sea. Knowing the method of freezing is desirable. Flash frozen fish are typically caught, gutted, and frozen all on the same boat.

If a fish is flash frozen soon after it was caught it should be great when it thaws. However, some fish are frozen after their prime, if it wasn’t fresh before it was frozen, it certainly won’t be after you thaw it. The safest way to thaw frozen fish is in the fridge. Put the fillet on a tray 24 hours before you want to cook the fish.

guide to buying a filet of fish

liquid pools

Little pools of liquid in the container around the fish means the fillet is breaking down and can’t hold it’s own moisture. Avoid fillets that are sitting in a wet pool.

color cue

For dark meat like salmon or tuna, the color of the fillet should be highly saturated, and should never have a dull or gray tint. For white meat such as halibut or cod, the color should look almost translucent. If the meat looks opaque or cloudy just move along.

torn up

Notice if any of the white lines in the meat are cracked or coming apart. These myelin sheaths are a good indication of freshness or mishandling. IF the fillets are breaking apart at the seams this means the muscle tissue is degrading, and you guessed it, not a fresh fish.


Fish oil supplements are an easy way of getting a regular dose of omega-3. Unfortunately, supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way drugs are, which means there can be a large variance in doses.

Companies know that omega-3 is a buzzword and that this heart-healthy fat is a marketing point.

Last week when I walked through whole foods I found an alarming amount of omega-3 supplements that literally offered hardly any EPA or DHA. In fact, to get a therapeutic dose you would almost have to take the whole bottle on some of them.

If you want to take a supplement, you should talk to your doctor. I’m only writing a supplement guide so you don’t get taken by the health food industry.

When looking for a fish oil supplement there is one main part of the label you should focus on. Turn to the back of the bottle and look for the total amount of EPA and DHA. The front of the bottle may say 1,000 mg of fish oil, but it isn’t specifying which omegas are being used in the supplement.

Don’t trust the front of the bottle when it boasts – flips it over and read the back.

ALA is a plant form of omega-3 that doesn’t convert well in the body, thus, making it a less potent source. The most beneficial omega-3’s are EPA and DHA.

There should be at least a combined total of 350-500mg of EPA and DHA per capsule. 

Anything less is a marketing gimmick. It’s also likely you will see other fish besides salmon in the ingredient list. Cod liver and krill oil are both popular types of omega-3 supplements. If you have an aversion to shellfish make sure to look at what type of fish the fish oil came from.

Last but not least, like any oil, fish oil can go rancid. Don’t store your fish oil near a source of heat or in direct sunlight. I prefer to store my in the fridge to prevent any premature oxidation. Most fish oil supplements will have vitamin E added to extend their shelf life and act as a natural preservative.