Is smoked salmon healthy?

A nutritionist explains the health benefits of this cured oily fish, from omega-3 fats to vitamins and minerals, plus what a healthy portion size looks like.

A plate of smoked salmon

Once considered a luxury product, smoked salmon is now widely available all year round and has become popular in a variety of dishes. But is it really good for you, and what does a healthy portion size look like? We asked a nutritionist to take a closer look at this flavourful ingredient...

What is smoked salmon?

It's salmon that has been cured by either hot or cold smoke. Each method gives the salmon a different taste and texture.

Hot smoked salmon is typically smoked at 120-180F, allowing it to cook all the way through, compared to cold smoked salmon, which is cured in salt for up to 24 hours before being smoked at 75-85F – this is considered raw.

Nutritional profile of smoked salmon

Hot smoked salmon is high in protein with around 22g per 85g portion, but it's also high in salt, containing 1.8g per serving – 30% of the Reference Intake. Being an oily fish, hot smoked salmon is relatively high in fat. One portion contains around 7.5g unsaturated fat, which includes omega 3, and about 1.6g of saturated fat.

Cold smoked salmon is very similar nutritionally to hot-smoked salmon in that it's high in protein with 19g per 85g portion, and it's a little higher in unsaturated fat with 8.6g per portion and 1.8g of saturated fat. Because cold smoked salmon is typically cured in salt, its salt content is higher with 2.5g per serving, making it over 40% of the Reference Intake.

Both types of smoked salmon are a good source of B vitamins (needed for energy), selenium, which helps our immune system to function properly and prevents damage to our cells and tissues, and vitamin D to help regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body, important for healthy bones and teeth, and may also help to support the normal function of the immune system.

Smoked salmon canapes

What is a healthy portion size?

The NHS recommends one portion of oily fish a week, such as salmon, and this serving is 140g, which is the size of a palm-sized fillet. However, smoked salmon this would significantly increase your daily salt content as one 140g portion contains over 4g of salt, making it 68% of the recommended daily allowance. Therefore, it would be advisable to have one palm-sized portion of smoked salmon a week, hot or cold, which is about 85g and contains 2.5g of salt (42%).

How to buy the healthiest smoked salmon

Whether you're buying hot or cold smoked salmon, check for any added ingredients, such as extra salt or sugar for flavour. The smoking process naturally adds plenty of flavour, so the healthier option is to buy smoked salmon with no added extras.

Wild salmon is less widely available and is typically more expensive. Nutritionally, there isn't much difference between the two, so make your decision based on your flavour preference and value.

There are also different types of salmon to consider, and each one carries a slightly different fat content, but the taste will come down to personal preference.

Should I worry about the mercury levels in smoked salmon?

The NHS advises that the general population eat no more than four portions of oily fish, such as salmon, per week. A portion is around 140g.

Women who are planning to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week, as mercury can affect the future development of babies in the womb.

Read more from the NHS on how much fish is safe to eat.

Smoked fish, including smoked salmon, is considered safe to eat during pregnancy but keep an eye on portion sizes because of the higher salt content.

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This page was published on 20th November 2018.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

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 healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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Bertram Sømme's picture
Bertram Sømme
25th Nov, 2018
yes smoked fish is good food, wild caught fish is good food and healthy on the whole but farmed fish isnt. Here in Norway there are many articles on the internet from NRK the state tv and radio saying that you should be very careful about how much you eat as the levels of pcbs and dioxins are far too high. Also pregnant women should not eat these fish at all. The use of dangerous chemicals to kill crustaceans in the salmon pen areas is regulated by the state who do as the businesses want - in other words, no regulation - so you dont know what you are eating. The big question is are you happy about this?
Giacomo Montalcino's picture
Giacomo Montalcino
25th Nov, 2018
Always have wondered why people in the UK don't eat more Mackerel and Herring. These fish are plentiful in the waters so you can buy wild fish very cheaply. Both fish taste fantastic and also can be smoked or cured - as most of the nations around the Baltic and North Sea have proven over centuries. Somehow the Vikings failed to make these habits take off on these Islands - more's the shame.
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