There's a filet of salmon sitting in front of you, beaming with health benefits such as its rich omega-3 content. However, it wasn't baked, nor broiled. It was smoked. Should you eat it? It turns out this is a risky way to consume them. Why?
The Smoking Process
For one thing, the smoking process produces carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Eating foods with PAHs can expose a person to lifetime cancer risks, especially gastric cancer, if eaten frequently.
Research confirms that PAH concentrations in smoked fish are a product of sea pollution and the smoking process. Granted, smoking processes differ, some producing more PAHs than others. For example, mild treatment of fish produces less PAHs. PAH concentration in fish increases with increased temperature. Therefore, a cold-smoked fish (< 35°C) produces less PAHs than a warm-smoked (35- 50°C) or hot-smoked fish (> 50°C). PAH concentration can also depend on the type of wood used for smoke generation. For example, hard woods such as acacia and mangroves produce more PAHs. A safer smoke-generating wood for fish was sugarcane bagasse.
PAHs are far more concentrated in the fish skin and outer layer of fish muscle compared to the inner part of the fish muscle. PAH concentrations can even vary by type of fish. Salmon and trout are found to be lower in PAH compared to smoked herring and mackerel.
Smoked fish is not the only source of PAHs. Smoked meats (such as ham and sausages, which should be avoided anyway), grilled or charred meats, grains, and even cooking oils have PAHs in varying quantities. Unfortunately, even the air we breathe contains traces of PAHs due to pollution.
Do Benefits Outweigh Risks?
Our bodies have systems designed to detoxify and combat reasonable exposure to these toxins, especially when we supply the needed antioxidants. The problem is when we overwhelm these systems. Aside from PAH content, what else is there to consider?
Compared to baking and broiling fish, smoked fish is also significantly higher in sodium. A 3-oz serving of smoked salmon has 570 mg of sodium. A 3-oz serving of baked salmon? 50 grams of sodium. The excessive sodium content of smoked fish can ultimately offset any benefits expected from the omega-3 fatty acids.
So, have you decided if you'll eat the smoked fish after all? Before making a decision, consider one last reason to rethink your choice. If the omega-3 fatty acid content is what drew you to this smoked salmon filet in the first place, consider this:
-1 filet of baked salmon has 2.239 g DHA and 3.111 g of EPA
-1 filet of smoked salmon has 0.821 g DHA and 0.562 g of EPA
The numbers speak for themselves.
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