Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught Fish – Is There a Difference?
Fish is healthy for your heart, your brain, and your entire body in general. Plus it’s a great source of protein, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals.
But not all fish are created equal. What makes the difference is a fish’s life before it makes it to your plate. The quality of life determines the impact on your health.
This is such a significant factor that retailers in the U.S. who sell unprocessed, fresh, or frozen fish are required to include on their label information about where it came from and if it’s caught wild or farm raised.
Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught Fish
Farm raised fish are grown in pens or nets that have been submerged in salt water, ponds, lakes, or sometimes in large tanks on land.
Wild caught fish are harvested from their natural environment – oceans, rivers, or lakes.
Some fish can be both if they’re caught in the wild when they’re young and transferred to a fish farm to be fattened up. But in a case like this, a U.S. retailer should indicate that the fish was farm raised. Just don’t be confused if the packaging says both farm raised and some other statement like “born or caught in the wild”.
Bottom line: If it’s been on the farm, you should avoid it.
A Closer Look at Farm Raised Fish
One of the reasons to eat fish is to consume healthy Omega-3 fats. If you trace the development of Omega-3 fats back in the food chain, it starts with algae. Fish accumulate Omega-3 fats by eating the smaller fish that feed on the algae.
But here’s the kicker… Farm raised fish don’t live in their natural environment, so there’s no food chain. Instead, these fish are directly fed a grain feed or fish meal fortified with algae. This fattens them up quickly. In some cases, they may even have more Omega-3 fats than wild caught fish, but it hardly can be considered healthy because the grain diet is completely unnatural for a fish. Grains contain Omega-6 fats that fuel inflammation in your body.
If you eat an animal that is raised on Omega-6 fats from grain feed, you consume the inflammatory producing Omega-6 fats – with the potentially dire health consequences that an inflamed body brings.
Aside from the harmful Omega-6 fats, fish meal given to farmed fish contains toxic contaminants called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Researchers have found significantly higher concentrations of PCBs in farm raised fish. PCBs cause cancer and disrupt your endocrine system (creating hormonal problems).
Studies have even shown a link to autism. PCBs in fish meal are loosely regulated by the FDA, so some fish farmers are switching to a genetically modified soy-based feed – which is also a problem because you don’t want soy in your diet. Soy contains phytoestrogens (sometimes called xenoestrogens) that mimic estrogen and can disrupt your hormone balance.
On top of all that, farm raised fish have higher rates of disease from living in crowded tanks. While the U.S. doesn’t allow the use of antibiotics or growth hormones in farm-raised fish, most other countries don’t have that restriction. So, when you eat fish raised on farms outside the US, you’re risking the chance of eating antibiotics and growth hormones.
Now Let’s Look at Wild Caught Fish
Fish in their natural environment eat what is available to them. This ensures they contain healthy Omega-3 fats, without the problematic Omega-6 fats. They also contain significantly less, if any, carcinogens, contaminants, antibiotics, and food coloring. While it’s true that some wild caught fish (unfortunately) test positive for antibiotics, due to their close proximity to fish that are farm raised, it’s not common and not likely to be anywhere near as problematic as the fish on the farm.
Granted, wild caught fish usually cost more than farm raised fish because there’s a lot more work involved in sourcing them. But the health benefits of eating wild caught far outweigh the extra cost.
Beware Of Imported Fish
About 80% of the fish for sale in the U.S. is imported. And over half of that is farm raised.
Overall, more than half of the fish for sale in the US is farm raised. In the next 10 years, that number is projected to grow to two thirds.
Go Wild Moving Forward
You really want to consume wild caught fish. Avoid farm raised fish because it leads to inflammation, which is the root of just about every chronic disease.
When ordering at a restaurant, don’t be shy about asking where the fish comes from and pay attention to the answer your server gives you. Sometimes the server isn’t really sure and may be too lazy to check with the chef. So, it’s up to you to ensure you get the correct information.
It’s worth the time and effort to learn about fish (and other foods), considering you eat several times every single day and your life depends on it – literally. So, remember… go wild!
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