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Salmon vs Beef - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Salmon
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Introduction

Salmon and steak are two of the most popular choices for dinner at restaurants. Besides taste and origin, they also have many differences in their nutritional compositions and impacts on health. In this article, we will talk about that and much more.

Classification

Salmon classifies as part of the oily fish species, that are known for containing a high level of oils and, therefore, fat-soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Beef, commonly referred to as just steak, is the meat from the skeletal muscles of cattle, that is cows or bulls. 

Stake is classified as red meat, whereas fish is considered to be white meat.

Appearance

Salmon and beef are distinctly different from each other by their appearances. Salmon usually has a red or orange hue when raw, which loses its colour as it gets cooked, becoming closer to shades of pink or white. Salmon meat also has visible wavy white lines, called marbling. These lines can appear to be stronger or barely visible, depending on whether the fish was farm raised or wild caught.

Raw beef, on the other hand, has a bright red colour that gets darker when exposed to oxygen. Beef also has marbling, however, it looks irregular and less orderly compared to salmon. The marbling in beef depends on the cattle, as well as which part of it the meat is from. 

Taste and Use

Salmon, being high in fats, tastes rich and oily, whereas steak has a more tender and juicy flavor. 

Both salmon and beef can be used in similar ways in the kitchen: grilled, broiled, stir-fried and more. 

Beef is arguably more versatile in use. One of the most popular dishes from beef is beef steak or just steak, others include roast beef, burgers, beef stroganoff, casserole and shepherd’s pie. Salmon can also be eaten as a steak or burger. Most often it is fried, grilled or broiled and consumed with flavourings and sauce.

Varieties

Several species of fish are combined in the term salmon. The six major species of salmon include the Atlantic, King (Chinook), Sockeye (Red), Coho (Silver), Pink (Humpback) and Chum (Dog, Silverbrite). Depending on the species, the taste and nutrition may differ. The King salmon is the biggest among them, also containing the highest percentage of fat. In contrast, Chum contains the lowest amount of fat. The different types have similar contents of protein.

You can also find a difference in salmons depending on whether they were wild caught or farm raised. Farm raised salmon may be higher in certain toxins, contaminants and antibiotics compared to wild caught salmon. 

There are different varieties of beef based on the cut of the animal. The popular cuts of beef are the chuck (shoulder), brisket (breast), plate (belly), rib, shank (leg), flank (abdominal muscles), loin (back, above the abdomen) and the round (back, above the legs). These varieties can differ in texture, nutrition and taste. 

Based on the level of marbling and maturity, beef is divided into eight grades. The top three grades for beef are Prime, Choice and Select

Nutrition

For this article, we are using the nutritional information about the wild Atlantic salmon and ground beef with 85% lean meat.

Macronutrients and Calories

Beef is more dense in nutrients, as it consists of 58% water, whereas salmon consists of 69%.

Calories

Beef is higher in most macronutrients and is, therefore, much higher in calories, compared to salmon. A 100g serving of salmon contains 142 calories, whilst the same amount of beef has 250 calories.

Protein and Fats

Beef is also considerably higher in both protein and fats.

Beef and salmon are abundant in protein. Both of these meats contain high levels of all essential amino acids. Even though beef is richer in overall proteins, salmon contains greater amounts of these essential amino acids.

Beef contains almost three times the amount of fat that salmon does. Naturally, beef is also higher in cholesterol.

Salmon fat is considered to be healthier, as the predominant type of fat found in it are the polyunsaturated fatty acids, followed by monounsaturated fats. Among those polyunsaturated fats, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It is an essential fat with numerous health beneficial properties.

Beef fat, on the other hand, consists mainly of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, containing low amounts of polyunsaturated fat.

Carbohydrates

Both salmon and beef, as most other meats, contain no carbohydrates.

Vitamins

Salmon is undoubtedly the winner in this category, being richer in almost all the vitamins. These include vitamin A, vitamin E and all the B vitamins. Salmon also contains vitamin D, which beef completely lacks (1).

The only vitamin beef contains more of is vitamin K.

Both of these meats completely lack vitamin C and the folic form of vitamin B9.

Minerals

Salmon and beef are both rich in minerals. Salmon contains higher amounts of potassium, magnesium, selenium, copper and manganese. Salmon is also considerably lower in sodium.

Beef, on the other hand, is richer in iron, calcium, zinc and choline.

Beef and salmon contain similar amounts of phosphorus, with salmon being only slightly higher in it.

Glycemic Index

As salmon and beef do not contain carbohydrates, the glycemic index of these foods is considered to be equal to 0.

Acidity

Many aspects can alter the pH of meat, however, the acceptable pH value for beef falls within the range of 5.3 to 5.7 (2). This shows us that beef is an acidic product. When the pH value of beef starts to get higher, it is an indication of decomposition.

The pH value of salmon is a little higher ranging from 5.4 to 6.5, making salmon slightly acidic (3). 

The potential renal acid load or PRAL is another way of measuring acidity. The PRAL value demonstrates how much acid or base the food produces inside the body.

The PRAL value for beef has been calculated to be 12.6, while the PRAL value for salmon is less than half of that - 5.9. This means beef is a lot more acidic in the organism, compared to salmon.

Weight Loss & Diets

Salmon and beef are highly nutritious foods, also high in calories. Salmon contains less calories compared to beef.

Salmon is the preferred choice between the two on low fat and low calorie diets. Steak and salmon both fit in a low carb or low glycemic index diet.

Unlike beef, salmon can also be consumed on a pescetarian diet.

Despite the high caloric value, a high protein diet, rich in red meat, such as beef, has been studied to help with weight loss and improve body composition (4). However, high meat availability has also been correlated to an increased prevalence of obesity (5), whereas a vegetarian diet has been associated with reduced body weight and lower rates of obesity (6).

An addition of seafood, including both lean or fatty fish, in a balanced energy-restricted diet may boost weight loss (7). Another study has found the supplementation of a protein found in salmon, called hydrolysate, to have a positive effect on body mass index in overweight subjects (8).

Overall, both salmon and beef are high in calories, however, salmon may have certain anti-obesity properties that make it the better choice between the two on weight loss diets. 

Health Impact

Various studies have centered around the correlation between the consumption of seafood and red meat and its negative or positive effects on health. In this part, we will look at some of those studies.

Health Benefits

Cardiovascular Health

The inclusion of lean red meat or partial replacement of carbohydrates with protein in a low saturated fat and low sodium diet has significantly decreased total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (9). A similar study showed that high protein diets, with or without red meats, can improve cardiometabolic health (4).

Supplementation of fish products rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, during a weight loss program can substantially reduce cardiovascular risk in overweight patients with high blood pressure (10). Overall, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to possess anti-triglyceridemic, antihypertensive, hemostatic, antiarrhythmic, anti-atherogenic, vasodilatator and antithrombotic effects (11). They are also beneficial in the prevention and treatment of heart disease by improving the heart’s structure and function (11).

Diabetes

Research has suggested that a hypocaloric diet with higher protein content from lean red meats can improve risk markers of type 2 diabetes in obese adults (12).

Lean fish consumption has been studied to have an overall beneficial effect on type 2 diabetes  mellitus (13).

Intake of oligopeptide proteins found in salmon skin has significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, expressing antidiabetic activities (14). Salmon skin gelatin has also been studied to enhance insulin secretion and improve glycemic control (15).

Cancer

There is limited suggestive evidence that fish consumption has a correlation with a decreased risk of liver and colorectal cancer (16).

Due to contamination, farmed salmon might lead to an increased risk of cancer. Therefore, individuals concerned with reducing the possibility of cancer may choose wild salmon or farmed salmon with lower contaminant concentrations (17).

Inflammation

Intake of salmon and omega-3 fatty acids has been correlated with lower inflammation levels, due to salmon’s inhibitory properties on pro-inflammatory compounds (18, 19, 20). 

Downsides and Risks

Cardiometabolic Health

In contrast to the potential beneficial effects on heart health, consumption of red and processed meat has been found to lead to an increased risk of cardiometabolic disease and cardiometabolic mortality, as well as all-cause mortality (21).

Substituting processed and unprocessed red meats for high quality plant products, such as legumes, nuts and soy, has been associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease (22).

Diabetes

Meat consumption has been consistently associated with an increased diabetes risk, due to its nitrate content and effects on body weight, visceral fat and intracellular lipids (23).

Another study has come to the similar conclusion that the intake of total cholesterol, animal protein and heme iron is significantly associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (24).

A diet moderate to low in meat, preferably unprocessed and lean, is recommended to people with diabetes (25).

There is a potential association between an increased risk of diabetes and the consumption of farmed salmon, as it may contain persistent organic pollutants, that cause insulin resistance and obesity in mice (26).

Cancer

The consumption of red and processed meats has long been associated with an increased risk of cancer. In particular, red meat elevates the risk of nasopharynx, colorectal, lung and pancreas cancer (16), as well as breast and prostate cancer (27). In addition to those, processed meat also increases the chance of esophageal (squamous cell carcinoma) and stomach cancer (non-cardia) (16).

Depending on the preparation methods the cancerogenic effects of meat can change. Both beef and salmon, when cooked in high heat by grilling, broiling or barbecueing can increase the risk of stomach cancer (16).

Inflammation

Unprocessed and total red meat intake has been associated with higher C-reactive protein levels. Reduction of red meat intake could benefit inflammation (28).

Summary

In summary, beef is higher in most macronutrients, including fats, protein and calories. Salmon is richer in all vitamins except for vitamin K. Salmon also contains higher amounts of potassium, magnesium, copper and selenium, whilst beef is higher in iron, calcium, zinc and sodium.

Salmon is the preferred choice for low fat and low calorie weight loss diets. It is also, overall, a healthier choice for people concerned with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Sources.

  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/175167/nutrients
  2. https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/effect-of-ph-on-beef-eating-quality_sep11.pdf
  3. https://www.webpal.org/SAFE/aaarecovery/2_food_storage/Processing/lacf-phs.htm
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598025/
  5. https://bmcnutr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40795-016-0063-9
  6. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/64/4/175/1911289
  7. https://www.nature.com/articles/0803643
  8. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297727596
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3238465/
  10. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/70/5/817/4729086
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712371/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31771921/
  13. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089845
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20541363/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25946069/
  16. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/meat-fish-dairy
  17. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/135/11/2639/4669888
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712371/
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20551965/
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19221636/
  21. https://jech.bmj.com/content/73/Suppl_1/A15.1
  22. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/full/10.7326/M19-0655?journalCode=aim
  23. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4141
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942738/
  25. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/9/2108
  26. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/9/2108
  27. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0025170
  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19221636/
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Profession: Yerevan State Medical University
Last updated: June 27, 2021

Infographic

Salmon vs Beef infographic
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Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Salmon
5
:
3
Beef
Contains more Potassium +54.1%
Contains more Magnesium +38.1%
Contains more Copper +194.1%
Contains less Sodium -38.9%
Contains more Iron +225%
Contains more Calcium +50%
Contains more Zinc +885.9%
Equal in Phosphorus - 198
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 30% 4% 44% 21% 84% 18% 86% 6%
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 98% 6% 29% 15% 29% 173% 85% 10%
Contains more Potassium +54.1%
Contains more Magnesium +38.1%
Contains more Copper +194.1%
Contains less Sodium -38.9%
Contains more Iron +225%
Contains more Calcium +50%
Contains more Zinc +885.9%
Equal in Phosphorus - 198

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Salmon
8
:
3
Beef
Contains more Vitamin A +344.4%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +391.3%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +115.9%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +46.2%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +152.9%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +114.1%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +20.5%
Contains more Folate +177.8%
Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 0% 3% 0% 0% 57% 88% 148% 100% 189% 398% 0% 19%
Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 0% 1% 3% 0% 12% 41% 101% 40% 89% 331% 3% 7%
Contains more Vitamin A +344.4%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +391.3%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +115.9%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +46.2%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +152.9%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +114.1%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +20.5%
Contains more Folate +177.8%

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
83
Salmon
52
Beef
Mineral Summary Score
36
Salmon
55
Beef

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
119%
Salmon
156%
Beef
Carbohydrates
0%
Salmon
0%
Beef
Fats
29%
Salmon
71%
Beef

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Salmon Beef
Lower in Cholesterol ok
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in price ok
Lower in glycemic index Equal
Rich in minerals Equal

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Salmon Beef
Low Calories diet ok
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet Equal
Low glycemic index diet Equal

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Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Cholesterol?
Salmon
Salmon is lower in Cholesterol (difference - 33mg)
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Salmon
Salmon is lower in Sugar (difference - 0g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Salmon
Salmon contains less Sodium (difference - 28mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Salmon
Salmon is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 4.914g)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Salmon
Salmon is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food is cheaper?
Beef
Beef is cheaper (difference - $11)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
?
The foods have equal glycemic indexes (0)
Which food is richer in minerals?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Salmon Beef Opinion
Calories 142 250 Beef
Protein 19.84 25.93 Beef
Fats 6.34 15.41 Beef
Vitamin C 0 0
Carbs 0 0
Cholesterol 55 88 Salmon
Vitamin D 2 Beef
Iron 0.8 2.6 Beef
Calcium 12 18 Beef
Potassium 490 318 Salmon
Magnesium 29 21 Salmon
Sugar 0 Salmon
Fiber 0 0
Copper 0.25 0.085 Salmon
Zinc 0.64 6.31 Beef
Starch
Phosphorus 200 198 Salmon
Sodium 44 72 Salmon
Vitamin A 40 9 Salmon
Vitamin E 0.12 Beef
Vitamin D 0 Beef
Vitamin B1 0.226 0.046 Salmon
Vitamin B2 0.38 0.176 Salmon
Vitamin B3 7.86 5.378 Salmon
Vitamin B5 1.664 0.658 Salmon
Vitamin B6 0.818 0.382 Salmon
Vitamin B12 3.18 2.64 Salmon
Vitamin K 1.2 Beef
Folate 25 9 Salmon
Trans Fat 0.572 Salmon
Saturated Fat 0.981 5.895 Salmon
Monounsaturated Fat 2.103 6.668 Beef
Polyunsaturated fat 2.539 0.484 Salmon
Tryptophan 0.222 0.094 Salmon
Threonine 0.87 0.72 Salmon
Isoleucine 0.914 0.822 Salmon
Leucine 1.613 1.45 Salmon
Lysine 1.822 1.54 Salmon
Methionine 0.587 0.478 Salmon
Phenylalanine 0.775 0.725 Salmon
Valine 1.022 0.914 Salmon
Histidine 0.584 0.604 Beef
Fructose

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Salmon - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173686/nutrients
  2. Beef - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174032/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.