Are we what we eat? Changes to the feed fatty acid composition of farmed salmon and its effects through the food chain

J Exp Biol. 2018 Mar 7;221(Pt Suppl 1):jeb161521. doi: 10.1242/jeb.161521.


'Are we what we eat?' Yes and no. Although dietary fat affects body fat, there are many modifying mechanisms. In Atlantic salmon, there is a high level of retention of the n-3 fatty acid (FA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) relative to the dietary content, whereas saturated FAs never seem to increase above a specified level, which is probably an adaptation to low and fluctuating body temperature. Net production of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and especially DHA occurs in salmon when dietary levels are low; however, this synthesis is not sufficient to maintain EPA and DHA at similar tissue levels to those of a traditional fish oil-fed farmed salmon. The commercial diets of farmed salmon have changed over the past 15 years towards a more plant-based diet owing to the limited availability of the marine ingredients fish meal and fish oil, resulting in decreased EPA and DHA and increased n-6 FAs. Salmon is part of the human diet, leading to the question 'Are we what the salmon eats?' Dietary intervention studies using salmon have shown positive effects on FA profiles and health biomarkers in humans; however, most of these studies used salmon that were fed high levels of marine ingredients. Only a few human intervention studies and mouse trials have explored the effects of the changing feed composition of farmed salmon. In conclusion, when evaluating feed ingredients for farmed fish, effects throughout the food chain on fish health, fillet composition and human health need to be considered.

Keywords: Atlantic salmon; DHA; EPA; Farmed fish; Fish feed; Lipid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Aquaculture*
  • Dietary Fats / analysis
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Food Chain*
  • Humans
  • Norway
  • Salmo salar / metabolism*
  • Salmon / metabolism


  • Dietary Fats