Dear Dietitian – How can I keep the nutrients in canned salmon?

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Published Friday, May 1, 2020
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

To increase consumption of EPA and DHA, I've started eating wild canned pink salmon with skin and bones. As you know, salt is added to such products, and I'd rather not consume excess sodium. If I drain and rinse the salmon with water, how much EPA and DHA would I lose either from the fluid surrounding the salmon or from the salmon itself? My real questions, then, are: where are the EPA and DHA in canned salmon, and how securely are they locked in place so that they either would -- or would not -- be washed away by water?

Thank you in advance for your time and any suggestions.


Dear Evan,

Omega-3 fatty acids, like Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, and mackerel. These nutrients have been associated with good heart health.

Canned salmon is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get omega-3s in your diet, and the bones offer calcium. For readers who may not have tried this, the salmon bones crush easily between your index finger and thumb, and mix with the rest of the fish without producing an unpleasant texture.

In an effort to provide thorough information on this topic, I sought the expertise of a food scientist. According to Dr. Andrew Clarke, Associate Professor of Food Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia, "Fatty acids, such as omega-3s, are components of the oils and triglycerides, and therefore are not highly soluble in water. Rinsing [with water] is not likely to reduce omega-3s from the drained fish.

"An overlooked factor is that canning involves a significant heat treatment and omega-3s, like all fats and oils, will melt during the canning process and become part of the liquid which is in the can.  When one drains the liquid from the canned fish (either oil- or water-packed), nutrients are discarded.  Rinsing the liquid from the fish flushes away more but is unlikely to remove more [omega-3s from the fish itself]."

While there is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for EPA and DHA, the American Heart Association recommends consuming fatty fish twice a week, even if you don't have heart disease. That said, fresh or frozen salmon contains twice the amount of omega-3s as canned, and has considerably less sodium. Remember, when it comes to food, fresh is best!

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans. may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

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