Is too much salmon bad for you?

by Listener Archive / 18 June, 2011
Can too much of a good thing be bad?

Question: I eat salmon every other night but the pack label says it has about the same amount of fat as cheese. I know salmon contains good fat, but I am still eating fat – is it making me fat?


Juicy thick fillets of salmon are full of good fats that benefit our heart health, are necessary for healthy growth and development in children, reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and, if emerging research is correct, play a role in improving mental health. But can too much of a good thing be bad?

To optimise our health and lower chronic disease risk, the Ministry of Health recommends men consume 0.61g of long-chain omega-3 fats daily and women 0.43g. A fresh king-salmon fillet contains 3.1g of omega-3 fats per 100g, of which 2.8g is the desirable long-chain omega-3 fats.

Eating a typical salmon fillet weighing 170g gives you 4.8g of long-chain omega-3 fats, enough to last you a week.

Still, a typical Mediterranean diet includes at least two meals of fish each week, and this dietary pattern is revered for its heart-health benefits. What’s more, the New Zealand Heart Foundation recommends eating one to two servings of fish a week, with oily fish like salmon considered a great option.

Of course, a Mediterranean diet also limits red meat intake to no more than a few times a week and includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. So we need to look at our entire dietary pattern and ensure it’s


Ideally, fat should provide 20-35% of the energy in our diet, with saturated and trans fats accounting for no more than 10%. A 170g salmon fillet contains nearly 40g of fat, and although that’s mostly so-called “good” fats, it still adds up to a whopping 2270kJ of energy. Compare that to a 170g lean, grilled beef fillet steak, which contains 17g of fat and just 1410kJ of energy.

Still, it’s not fat that makes you fat, but excessive food intake beyond your energy needs. So choose smaller salmon fillets and ensure the rest of your diet balances this out by including lean protein sources on other days – for example, chicken with no skin, and lean beef, which is a rich iron source, or legumes – and plenty of low-energy, nutrient-packed fruit and vegetables.

Question: The use of coconut milk and cream in curries and Asian food is rarely if ever specifically addressed in terms of good fat, bad fat, cholesterol and the like. What is the place of coconut milk and cream in a normal diet?


Coconut milk and cream, like coconut flesh, have a relatively high fat content. Coconut cream is typically 20-30% total fat, of which the vast majority is saturated, while coconut milk averages 15-20% of fat, again mostly saturated.
Websites selling coconut products often quote a handful of studies that suggest coconut fat is good for heart health. However, they fail to acknowledge in quoting these cherry-picked studies that although the study participants had low rates of heart disease, they also had drastically different diets from the average westerner. Coconut is a traditional part of the Sri Lankan diet, too, yet people there have had a relatively high incidence of coronary heart disease, and a 2001 study found replacing coconut fat with soybean and sesame oils markedly reduced their cholesterol levels.

The advice remains: limit your intake of coconut and coconut products. Lite coconut milk has around half the fat content of standard coconut milk, and coconut-flavoured evaporated milk has just 1.5% fat (though it does contain slightly more sugar). Either of these is a great option to get that coconut milk taste without the fat.
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