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    You Ask, I Answer: Dyes/Farmed Salmon

    Are the synthetic dyes [fed to farmed salmon] harmful?

    I googled astaxanthin and found a website talking about how it’s an antioxidant and prevents cancer and is necessary for the healthy growth of the farmed salmon.

    Surely that can’t be true.

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    That is technically true, but there is more to this story.

    While both astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (although people trust that organization to varying degrees), certain concentrations of canthaxanthin have been associated with eye defects.

    Interestingly, different countries have different ideas of how many parts per million of that synthetic dye are “safe.”

    That being said, the vast majority of salmon farmed in the United States and Europe is only fed astaxanthin.

    In other parts of the world, though, farmed salmon is only fed canthaxanthin (it is the cheaper of the two dyes.)

    I still would not be too worried. You would need to be eating a LOT of salmon dyed with canthaxanthin to be affected.

    What all of this ties into, though, is another controversial topic – COOL (Country of Origin Labeling.)

    Although it is required for all fish sold in the United States, I have seen it very sparingly in supermarkets.

    As far as I am concerned, the core issue surrounding these food dyes isn’t so much possible health repercussions, but rather truthful advertising to consumers.

    If farmed salmon were to either remain gray or be dyed another color (say, white), then consumers would immediately know they are not purchasing a wild variety, and there would be no room for mislabeling (remember this infamous study by Marian Burros of The New York Times?).

    Since farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to its wild counterpart (more saturated fat, higher Omega 6 fatty acid content, lower Omega 3 fatty acid content), people should not be left in the dark.

    This is not to say farmed salmon should completed avoided or viewed in the same light as deep fried fish nuggets, but consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting on their plates.



    1. Mark Didham said on December 7th, 2009

      A better statement on carotenes in salmon and trout (wild and farmed) is: both wild and farmed salmon/trout receive carotenoids in their diet. It is required for health and also happens to pigment the flesh. The word ‘dye’ does not apply here.

      But more concerning is the comment “farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior”. Please point me to a few (not just your favorite) peer reviewed study that proves that statement. And remember, there are 5 species of wild salmon, so don’t just point to one species in an attempt to prove your point.

      While your at it – why not mention mercury levels are higher in wild salmon than farmed? I’ll bet you won’t mention this because it doesn’t bolster your biased ‘opinion’.

    2. Andy Bellatti said on December 7th, 2009


      I’m not sure why this post sparked such a strong reaction from you, but I will answer your concerns:

      Farmed salmon are nutritionally inferior because they offer lower amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. That is not even a “controversial theory”, it is an absolute fact. All you have to do is look at nutrient composition analyses for either kind.

      As for your belief that a better statement is that both wild and farmed salmon receive carotenoids in the diet: that’s like saying that a food fortified with vitamins is just as healthy as one that naturally contains the same vitamins. Remember, nutrition is about synergy and nutrients working efficiently within a matrix. If you choose to eat fish, it is preferable to eat those that get their diet from actual food than in pellet form. As with humans, a diet of whole foods provides better health than getting nutrients in pill/capsule form.

      FYI: the word “dye” most certainly applies in this case. The sole reason these fish are given pellets is to turn their flesh a certain color. Again, this is not me taking a “way out of left field” stance. Read the data and you will see for yourself.

      As for mercury levels being higher in wild salmon than farmed — not sure where you got that statistic from. Salmon has some of the lowest mercury levels of fish. Even if wild salmon has higher levels of mercury (which I have never heard), the values are still among the lowest out of all seafood, so it is a moot point.

      Also, if you take just a brief look at the scientific literature, you will realize that farmed salmon have significantly higher levels of toxins than wild salmon — especially PCBs and dioxin.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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