Salmon has rightfully established itself as a nutritional superstar. Its health benefits are often synonymous with the fabulous omega-3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient needed for good health (essential meaning the body cannot make them itself, and so it must be consumed through the foods we eat). However, it is also a great source of protein, and while this may not always championed like its other glitzy cousin, omega-3, the protein content of salmon is well worth a mention, both for its health benefits, and its ability in helping us maintain a healthy body weight.
What is protein? Protein is a macronutrient, which are nutrients we need to eat in larger amounts for good health. Its building blocks are known as amino acids, in which there are 20 different kinds active in the human body. Whenever we consume a protein-rich food our digestive system will digest (break down) the protein into amino acids and then absorb them (take up), for rebuilding different proteins for our body to use. Like little Lego blocks, these amino acids come together to build new structures, whether that be immune cells to fight illness, skin cells to line the outside of our body, muscle cells to help us move, enzymes to break down the food we eat, or general body growth and repair of cells and tissues - in a nutshell, they’re needed just about everywhere!
Why is dietary intake so important? Similar to omega-3, protein is known as an essential nutrient, meaning the body cannot produce it completely itself, and so it must be obtained through diet. In protein’s case, nine of the 20 amino acids needed to build all of the proteins in our body can only be sourced through the foods we eat, and so are considered “essential” amino acids.
While our diet provides ample opportunity to consume all necessary essential amino acids, it is important to keep in mind that not all protein-rich foods are created equal when it comes to amino acids composition. Animal products, including salmon, will contain all nine essential amino acids, and are deemed “complete proteins” whereas (and while still wonderful and vital for our health) plant-based protein sources lack one or more amino acids, and are considered “incomplete proteins”. This makes salmon a wonderful high-quality protein source to enjoy regularly as a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
The amount of protein we need to consume daily varies depending on our weight, age, health, activity levels, gender, and our health and fitness goals. With the latter, ensuring we’re consuming enough will not only help keep a healthy body weight, but is important in supporting muscle growth and repair after a work-out. Here’s how:
Protein helping to keep a healthy body weight. When it comes to weight management, ensuring we’re eating enough protein-rich foods at main meals is important for both regulating our appetite, and providing feelings of satiety or fullness. This comes down to the metabolic fate of protein in the body - out of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat), protein takes the longest to be digested and metabolised. It’s slow to vacate the stomach, and so is wonderfully filling, helping to keep us feeling fuller for longer between meals. Making sure to start the day with a substantial protein-rich breakfast will assist with stable blood sugar levels, the prevention of overeating, and excessive snacking between main meals. Putting this into practise, this may mean trading in your morning cereal for a protein-rich meal like salmon and avocado on toast or a salmon and veggie egg scramble - yum!
If we’re on a weight-loss mission, proteins cumulative effects of slower digestion and appetite satiety can be hugely beneficial in helping keep us full between meals. It’s also important in preserving our muscle mass when we’re losing weight - while in an ideal world we’d be able to just lose fat, we’ll typically lose both if we don’t keep up exercise, along with an ample protein intake.
Protein in exercise and recovery. Another important role of protein is it’s importance in supporting muscle growth and maintenance. As amino acids serve as the building blocks of protein, they’re an essential part of recovery after exercise. During muscle-building exercises, such as weight-lifting or strength training, our muscles may be challenged to the point where they’ll experience small microscopic tears in the tissue. This is totally normal, and with rest and sufficient nutrition, especially protein intake, muscle tissue will grow back stronger than before. Consuming a protein-rich food post-workout, like a slice of salmon frittata, is a great way to support the muscle recovery process.
So, next time you’re filling up your shopping list, don’t hesitate to add a tray or two of salmon! As a high quality protein, it serves as a wonderful healthy addition to any main meal.
Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantega, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clincial Nutrition, 1558-1561.
Bio: Danijela is an Auckland-based nutritionist and health blogger. She divides her time across both community and clinical nutrition work, and also runs the health and wellness blog Healthy Always. Here she loves to share recipe ideas, as well as health and wellness tip with her online community. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition and Physiology.