There’s little doubt that fish is healthy. It’s packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which are well-known for promoting heart health, decreasing inflammation, and even having mental health benefits. There is one outlier though – canned tuna. Is canned tuna good for you?
Fish has its dark side too, as our oceans are often contaminated and the fishing industry can often cause considerable harm.
For some types of fish, like salmon, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. The balance is less clear for other types of fish and tuna is one of these debatable fish.
We’ve looked at whether tuna is healthy or not in the past, so today, we’re taking a closer look at the canned version. This version of tuna is undoubtedly convenient, but is canned tuna good for you too?
Is Canned Tuna Good For You?
- Benefits Of Canned Tuna
- How Canned Tuna Could Be Harmful
- Is Fresh Tuna Healthier Than Canned Tuna?
- Is Canned Tuna Better In Oil Or Water?
- Final Thoughts
Benefits Of Canned Tuna
It’s Rich In Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3s are the main reason that we’re told to eat fish regularly. This is a type of polyunsaturated fat that’s been heavily researched.
The potential for benefits is so high that doctors often recommend that patients take fish oil supplements.
And, honestly, the list for omega 3 benefits really is impressive. For one thing, the fats can help with your brain, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, while also helping people with those conditions to recover faster.
Omega 3s can also decrease inflammation, which can reduce the risk of various diseases. There’s still more, including how omega 3s may help manage symptoms of autoimmune diseases, improve eye health, and aid with cognition.
That’s an impressive list and we still haven’t covered all the possible benefits. There may be many more of them that we’re still learning about.
You do get omega 3 fatty acids from any type of fish or seafood, but the levels vary dramatically. Fatty fish are the most powerful approach. Both tuna and salmon fall into this category.
Contains Protein And Nutrients
Omega 3s aren’t the only reason to eat fish regularly. You’re also getting plenty of plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
The benefits of vitamins and minerals go without saying. Each of these plays plenty of roles throughout your body. If your intake is too low, then you may experience some notable side effects.
Being consistently low in nutrients can even make you seriously sick.
Protein doesn’t need much introduction either. It’s essential for growth and maintenance. We’re not just talking about your muscles either. Protein is relevant in many other parts of your body as well.
Protein also helps to keep you satisfied. This is why you’re often hungry soon after a carb rich meal, like pasta, while a protein rich meal fills you up much more.
This makes tuna relevant for weight loss as well – even with the fat it contains. After all, the fat helps to fill you up too and we are talking about healthy fats.
A Great Source Of Vitamin D
One of the most important nutrients in canned tuna is vitamin D. Sometimes you can actually get around 50% of your daily vitamin D needs from a single 3-ounce serving.
This is impressive, as there aren’t that many good food sources of vitamin D.
Getting vitamin D from food is particularly relevant if you’re not spending a large amount of time outside or if it is winter. In those situations, your body mightn’t be creating enough vitamin D, so it’s logical to make up the difference with your diet.
It’s Inexpensive And Practical
The health benefits of tuna are powerful, but are only part of the reason for eating canned tuna regularly. Convenience plays a role too.
For one thing, canned tuna is often much cheaper than buying fresh fish. It’s easier to work with too, as you can often just use tuna straight out of the can.
This makes canned tuna perfect for lunches at the office and picnics. Fresh fish isn’t nearly as practical.
The canning process also dramatically extends the shelf life of tuna. In fact, fresh fish just lasts a couple of days, then it needs to be either cooked or frozen.
On the other hand, if canned tuna is stored well, then an unopened can will easily last a few years. It still only lasts a few days once opened, but that’s not a big deal, as the cans are small and you can easily use an entire can at a time.
The low price and long shelf life really are powerful features. They make fish much more accessible for people on a tight budget and those who live a long way from the sea.
Plus, having some tuna in your cupboard means that you can always have fish when you want it.
Can Be Low In Mercury
Tuna varies considerably in mercury content. Some types are high in mercury, including yellowfin and albacore tuna.
Thankfully, canned light tuna is much better than other types, making it a safer and healthier choice. Most people can eat between two and three servings of this type of tuna per week, without any problems at all.
How Canned Tuna Could Be Harmful
You Can Still Overdo It With Mercury
While canned light tuna is low in mercury, it certainly isn’t mercury free. It’s easy to forget this and overdo it with your tuna consumption.
For example, if you love tuna, you might start having tuna sandwiches every day for work. Doing so would easily get you above the three servings per week target and start to put your health at risk.
So, you need to be cautious and keep your tuna intake at reasonable levels.
You may need to decrease your intake still further if you are pregnant or nursing. The same is true for children under 6 years.
If you fall into one of these groups, it’s worth talking to your doctor to work out how many servings of fish you can safely eat each week.
Some Canned Tuna Is Higher In Mercury
Canned tuna isn’t all equal either. Chunk white tuna is a common type, which relies on albacore tuna. This is much higher in mercury than canned light tuna.
In fact, people who are sensitive to mercury may need to stick to a single can of white tuna per week.
Products labeled with tonno or gourmet can be a problem too. While these are sometimes still called canned light tuna, they rely on yellowfin tuna and are higher in mercury than regular canned light tuna.
There May Be Other Contaminants
Mercury is the most famous contaminant, but other heavy metals and concerning compounds can make their way into your fish as well.
You can’t tell whether the fish is contaminated just by looking at it. So, to protect your health, it’s important to focus on high quality companies, ones that fish in uncontaminated waters and have plenty of quality control processes.
Chemicals Could Leach From The Can
An ongoing concern with canned food is that chemicals from the cans could leach into your food. The issue has been made famous by BPA, which is known to cause health issues.
Thankfully, many companies are phasing out BPA. Plus, the amounts that actually end up in your tuna are very low indeed.
Still… the topic is worth talking about, as companies that move away from BPA are using other chemicals in their cans instead. These new chemicals appear to be safer, but they haven’t been used for nearly as long as BPA, so there are gaps in our knowledge.
So, it’s possible that chemicals from the can could influence your health, even if this isn’t likely. The best way around the issue is to choose products from reputable suppliers and avoid relying on canned food too heavily.
In the case of seafood, this might mean having canned tuna every so often, but focusing on fresh fish and shellfish the rest of the time.
The Environmental Impact
There’s also debate about how fishing harms the environment. This is a serious issue, especially as some companies aren’t environmentally conscious at all.
However, being considerate of the environment is becoming more and more popular, so many companies are following good practices, including catching tuna via pole and line fishing.
It only takes a few quick searches online to find good brands that are consistently kind to the environment.
The Sodium Content
Canned food is almost always higher in sodium than the fresh version. This is true for canned tuna as well. Sometimes you’re getting more than 240 mg of sodium in a single serving.
That’s a decent amount of sodium, especially if you’re already getting plenty of sodium elsewhere. We bring this up because too much sodium can lead to various health issues, like increasing blood pressure and raising your risk of heart disease.
You can avoid the problem by focusing on low sodium tuna instead. This will often be canned in water and may contain around 60 mg of sodium per serving.
Alternatively, you can rinse your tuna before using it. This reduces the sodium content too, making your tuna much healthier.
Is Fresh Tuna Healthier Than Canned Tuna?
Fresh food is almost always the healthiest choice, allowing you to avoid all additives, chemicals from the can, and any loss of nutrients.
Canned tuna defies this pattern somewhat. The main reason is that fresh tuna relies on relatively large fish, while canned tuna must rely on much smaller fish.
Because larger fish accumulate more mercury than small ones, canned fish tend to be a lower mercury choice. This is fantastic, as tuna is normally on the high side for mercury.
However, as we discussed earlier, mercury levels aren’t consistent. Regular canned light tuna is your best choice, containing less mercury than any other type.
Is Canned Tuna Better In Oil Or Water?
Some canned tuna is canned in oil, while other types are canned in water instead. Both are healthy, but there are some differences between them.
The water versions are lower in calories and are excellent as a source of protein. The tuna flavor also tends to be fairly subtle.
Tuna packed in oil has a stronger flavor. It’s also softer, which can be a useful feature. However, the higher calorie content can be a problem for those trying to lose weight.
You can mostly run with whichever type of tuna you prefer. The main issue is that some of the fatty acids from tuna can end up in the oil, so you lose some benefits.
You can easily avoid the issue by simply using the oil to make a salad dressing or as part of some other recipe.
Also, if you’re focusing on weight loss, you might want tuna packed in water, as this is lower in fat.
Canned tuna sounds like an inferior choice to fresh fish, but really, it isn’t at all. Instead, this type of tuna is a convenient and practical way to increase your omega 3 intake, while getting plenty of protein and nutrients at the same time.
The biggest issue is the mercury content. You can keep the mercury down by focusing on chunk white tuna. Even then, you need to make sure you don’t overdo it. Three servings of canned tuna is the most you should be eating a week, while pregnant women and children may need to keep their intake even lower.