While wild salmon might be your omega-3 MVP, it comes with a hefty price point that sometimes just doesn’t fit into your weekly allotted grocery budget. So as much as you want to choose the OG fish that health pros praise for its high concentration of healthy fats and strong overall nutritional value, sometimes defaulting to a farmed option—despite the presence of pink dye—is still a strong choice, according to Max Lugavere, co-author of Genius Foods.
“I like to inject sometimes into the nutrition conversation a little bit of real-world practicality and empathy for people who, you know, are living off not a lot of money,” says Lugavere in the most recent episode of the podcast That’s So Retrograde. “[W]ild salmon is, of course, going to be the best bet for you, okay. But it’s also more expensive.”
According to a side-by-side comparison by Healthline, farmed salmon contains about 38 percent more calories (412 verses 281 per a half fillet) than its counterpart and about 52 percent more fat (27 grams versus 13 grams per a half fillet). As for the pink dye, Lugavere says its real name is astaxanthin, and it’s decidedly less sinister than it sounds. In fact, the chemical compound—which is a carotenoid, or reddish pigment, that gives the fish its rosy hue—packs some anti-inflammatory health benefits, not to mention that it’s also found in wild salmon as well their farmed counterparts.
“I like to inject sometimes into the nutrition conversation a little bit of real-world practicality and empathy for people who, you know, are living off not a lot of money.” —Max Lugavere
Wild salmon naturally get the algae-derived substance from their undersea diet, and farmed fish also ingest it through their food—albeit an often synthetically produced version that’s added to their feed. Still, Lugavere says, farmed fish have the same healthy properties as wild fish do, just at a lesser concentration. And though at first glance the difference may seem damning, Lugavere argues that when you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet while making ends meet, choosing a piece of farm-raised salmon over a highly processed box of pasta, for example, is a major win.
“[Astaxanthin] is really good for your skin, protecting against photo-aging from the sun. Good for your eyes. Good for your brain,” he says. Some studies have even suggested that the pigment increases the expression of the FOXO3 gene, which has been found to promote longevity.
The takeaway? Next time you’re strapped for cash, don’t let the “pink dye” on the ingredient label deter your craving for a healthy chili salmon bowl.
More reads for savvy savers: How to travel on a budget, according to globe-trotting pros, and budget-friendly Airbnbs that will let you live out your tiny-home dreams.
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