WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Cooks who've had their fill of cooking these past few weeks -- and diners who've had their fill of celebratory food -- will turn to the simplicity of fish.
But if you're reaching for salmon, take heed. Depending on where it's from, it may be less healthy than you think.
While farmed Atlantic salmon has more Omega-3 fatty acids -- better for the heart than wild Pacific salmon -- children should be kept away from it. The fish can contain levels of chemical contaminants that cause neurobehavioral changes in the young.
Grown-ups, too, should beware. It can cause cancer and memory impairment in adults.
A study published in May 2005 in Environmental Health Perspectives found chlorinated pesticides, dioxins, PCBs and other contaminants now familiar to the lexicon of the untrained consumer at levels 10 times higher in farmed salmon than in wild Pacific salmon.
But they're not as high as the levels of contaminants found in salmon farmed in Europe.
While he was the head of Britain's Food Standards Agency, John Krebs had to deal in 2004 with claims from scientists that British farmed salmon was too dangerous to eat more than a few times a year.
Now a study from Cornell University states that in the opinion of its researchers, "Consumers should not eat farmed fish from Scotland, Norway and eastern Canada more than three times a year."
The study, in the new Journal of Nutrition, was co-authored by Barbara Knuth, Cornell professor of natural resources specializing in risk management associated with chemical contaminants in fish, and Steven Schwager, Cornell associate professor of biological statistics and computational biology. They compared the benefits and risks of eating farmed vs. wild salmon.
Said Schwager, "For a middle-aged guy who has had a coronary and doesn't want to have another one, the risks from pollutants are minor ones, and the Omega-3 benefits him in a way that far outstrips the relatively minor risks of the pollutants. But," he continued, "for people who are young -- and they're at risk of lifetime accumulation of pollutants that are carcinogenic -- or pregnant women -- with the risks of birth defects and IQ diminution and other kinds of damage to the fetus -- those risks are great enough that they outweigh the benefits."
The study agrees that eating salmon brings rewards. Farmed salmon, it found, contains roughly two to three times more beneficial fatty acids than wild salmon, a fact it suggests comes from the difference in each fish type's diet.
But considering the risks it also brings, Knuth said, "Our results also support the need for policy and regulatory efforts to limit pollution of our waters and clean up pollution that has occurred."
And she called for the country of origin of fish sold to be clearly labeled so consumers could make informed decisions.
If you're confident in your fishmonger's source for salmon, here is a simple recipe that will please both exhausted cooks and jaded eaters.
Prosciutto-wrapped salmon fillets
-- 4 8-ounce fillets of salmon
-- 8 slices of prosciutto
-- bag of baby spinach
-- knob of butter
-- salt and pepper to taste
-- Preheat oven to 425 F.
-- Roll up each piece of lightly peppered fish in two overlapped slices of prosciutto, leaving each end exposed by an inch.
-- Set on a baking tray, brush with a little olive oil and roast for 10 minutes.
-- Gently heat a knob of butter in a wok and toss the spinach around till wilted. Lightly salt and pepper to taste and squeeze over the juice of a lemon.
-- Toss and divide the spinach among four warmed plates, lay a salmon fillet on top of each and serve.