What is salmon?

Salmon is an oily fish that's typically classified by the ocean in which it is located. In the Pacific, they are considered part of the genus Oncorhynchus, and in the Atlantic, they belong to the genus Salmo. There is only one migratory Atlantic species, but five existing species of Pacific salmon: Chinook (or king), sockeye (or red), coho (or silver), pink and chum. In the UK, the main source of salmon is from Scotland, although other varieties are available.


As with all fish, sustainability is an issue. Find out more information at msc.org.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our delicious salmon recipes, from a simple baked salmon to teriyaki salmon with sesame pak choi.

The health benefits of salmon include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart
  • Supporting the brain, including reduction in memory loss
  • Anti-inflammatory, easing affects of cancer and diabetes
  • Anti-oxidant, improving cholesterol and protecting brain and nervous system
  • Protein-rich, contributing to bone health and reversing muscle loss
  • Skin-care staple when maintaining skin elasticity, anti-aging and UV damage

Nutritional benefits of salmon

A 100g serving of salmon (farmed, cooked weight) contains:

More like this
  • 232 kcals / 969 kJ
  • 25.2g protein
  • 14.6g fat
  • 7.3mcg vitamin D
  • 20mcg selenium

What are the 5 top health benefits of salmon?

1. May support a healthy heart

Oily fish like salmon are rich in a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential because the body cannot produce them, so we must include them regularly in our diet. The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, known as long chain, occur naturally in oily fish in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are thought to contribute to a healthy heart and help maintain skin, joints and hormonal balance. In addition to heart disease, scientists are now investigating the role that fish consumption may have in protecting us against some cancers and conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis.

2. May support brain function

We’ve long been told that fish is ‘brain food’, and there’s convincing evidence to support this. Studies suggest regular consumption reduces age-related brain loss and may improve memory – it’s the omega-3 fatty acids that are responsible for this. Studies investigating the role fatty varieties of fish play have seen benefits for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, depression and multiple sclerosis.

3. May be anti-inflammatory

Oily fish plays an important role in dampening the effects of inflammation, which is key to helping manage a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Studies suggest that eating more oily fish like salmon could help lower levels of the markers that indicate inflammation.

4. May be protective

The pink colour of salmon comes from its rich levels of a protective antioxidant called astaxanthin. This compound has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol and working in combination with the omega-3 fatty acids to protect the brain and nervous system.

5. May support healthy ageing

Salmon is a good source of protein, which is important for maintaining bone health, preventing muscle loss and helping the body heal and repair. Its rich astaxanthin content may help maintain skin elasticity, reduce the signs of aging and protect the skin against UV damage.

Is salmon safe for everyone?

Oily fish is nutrient-dense and supplies beneficial omega-3 fatty acids; sadly, however, oily varieties of fish like salmon may contain low levels of pollutants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls. For this reason, certain groups are advised to minimise the amount of oily fish they eat to two portions per week. This includes:

If you are concerned about pollutants, removing the skin and any dark flesh of the salmon may help minimise levels.

Overall, salmon is a highly nutrient and protein-rich fish to add to your diet. Oily fish like salmon is a great way of getting essential vitamins and minerals to sustain a balanced diet. It is also hugely beneficial for general bodily health, improving the functions of all major organs and acting as a preventative to many illnesses and conditions. For similar ways to implement a healthy diet, read our guide on 10 healthy fish to eat.

Salmon recipes

Salmon & spinach with tartare cream
Spring salmon with minty veg
Sticky salmon with Chinese greens
Superhealthy salmon burgers
Salmon & ginger fishcakes

This article was reviewed on 9 February 2021 by Kerry Torrens.

Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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