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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Hidden dangers in salmon?

Battle over farmed vs. wild fish rages

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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(CNN) -- Salmon has long been considered a favorite menu item for the health conscious, a heart-healthy entree with benefits in every bite. But there might be bad news to swallow about salmon, as well. CNN anchor Daryn Kagan spoke with CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the benefits and risks of the fish.

GUPTA: I'll tell you, there's a lot of debate and there's a lot of concerns over farmed fish versus wild fish. This is something that people have been talking about a great deal. Let me explain: One of the important things about fish in the wild is they eat a lot of smaller fish, who even eat smaller fish, who eat algae. This algae is really good ultimately for the fish; and for you when you eat it, because it has what is known as omega-3 fatty acids. That's an important name to keep in mind, because that's the fatty acid that's good for you; it can actually lower your cholesterol. You'll find a lot of that actually in wild fish.

The debate over farm fish and wild fish has raged on. There's been a study now, a relatively small study. But they've actually looked and compared wild fish versus farm fish. Here are some of the things they've found: There are 10 times as many PCBs in farmed fish. Basically, that's a reflection of how much pesticides, antibiotics, other contaminants are used in raising these farmed fish. There's higher pesticide levels in the farmed fish.

The methyl mercury levels -- Daryn, you and I talked about this in the past: mercury levels in fish. They're actually about the same in farmed versus wild fish. So that's not a benefit of farmed fish either.

So all those sort of point to the benefits of eating wild fish versus farm fish.

KAGAN: So how do you know when you're served that chunk of salmon you're looking at on the plate (whether it is) is farmed or wild?

GUPTA: A lot of times you don't know. In fact, there's been some debate about that as well, as to whether these fish should be labeled. There is no regulation saying that it has to be labeled yet. What some people do is they label their wild fish, saying this is not farmed fish, to try and make that point, but there is no labeling, even in restaurants. Really good restaurants, for the most part, will use wild fish more because their quality tends to be better. There's more muscle mass in the wild fish versus the farmed fish, but for the most part, you just won't know.

KAGAN: I can't imagine they're dumping that in the water there.

GUPTA: It's all part of the farming process. They actually raise these farmed fish (with large numbers in pens) ... You actually have to give them antibiotics. And a lot of the PCBs and toxins are all part of the farming process that are used to try and keep these fish free of disease.

Daryn, they sometimes even inject fish like salmon with red dye or pink dye to make them look more pink, more like their wild counterparts.

KAGAN: Yes, well, that's no good. Let's get to the part about how good it is for you when you eat them, the nutritional aspects of it.

GUPTA: Right, and fish is no doubt a very good food. We don't want to dissuade people from eating fish, no question about it here. Just look at some of the numbers here, the wild salmon versus the farm-raised salmon:

•Calories: 234 in the farm, versus 206 in the wild

•Fat: 14 grams in the farm, versus 9.2 in the wild

•Cholesterol: 81 milligrams in the farm versus 71 in the wild

While one is higher than the other, those are still pretty good numbers for any kind of food. Maybe slightly better in the wild versus the farmed, overall.

But no doubt, fish is a very nutritious food, which is why it's become so popular. We eat about 15 pounds per year, on average ... It is a very healthful food.

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