(NOTE: nothing in this article should be construed as health advice. Ask your physician if you have questions.)
Tuna has some health benefits we are all well aware of. It has lots of protein and very little fat. Can you believe that 90% of the calories in tuna are from protein? Beef’s calories, by comparison, are only about 35% protein-based.
Besides being a low-fat protein, tuna carries some essential nutrients that may decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure. What are some of the most surprising benefits that tuna could have on our health?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Twenty years ago, no one talked about omega-3 fatty acids. These days, most people know that omega-3’s are good for us, and that fish are great sources of these fats. So perhaps this isn’t a truly surprising health benefit of eating tuna, but it’s worth mentioning.
Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids. This means our bodies can’t produce them on our own so we must get them from our diet. While some plants have impressive amounts of omega-3’s, our bodies metabolize animal-based omega-3’s much better. Humans can metabolize only 5-15% of plant-based omega-3’s.
Mackerel, salmon, and oysters have the highest amounts of omega-3’s in seafood. Tuna has about a third as many omega-3’s as these other kinds of seafood. With about 500mg per serving, that’s still a good amount of healthy fatty acids.
Omega-3’s reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States! They also increase brain function and help prenatal development in pregnant women (pregnant women should avoid tuna because of its mercury content).
Have you heard much about this micronutrient? Probably not. Selenium is a non-metal element in the periodic table. Just like all nutrients, our bodies need selenium every day to function properly. It turns out that tuna is the second-best source of selenium in all food sources behind Brazil nuts.
Selenium deficiency is uncommon in developed places. However, recent research suggests that increased levels of selenium could have profound positive health effects.
While the research is mixed, some studies suggest that selenium has anti-cancer properties. It may work as an antioxidant in your body. It may also reduce age-related declines in brain function, increase heart health, and reduce the risk of thyroid diseases.
There are lots of different B-vitamins. Like omega-3’s, our bodies can’t produce B-vitamins on its own. In fact, B-vitamins are only available in animal products and vitamin supplements. Tuna is rich in many types of B-vitamins, especially B-12. One can of tuna has your supply of B-vitamins for the day!
B-12 keeps our blood healthy and prevents anemia. You don’t want to miss out on this important nutrient.
We all know that bananas are a good source of potassium. However, did you know that potassium is the third most common nutrient in our bodies? We need almost five grams of it every day to stay healthy. That’s a lot! Three ounces of tuna has about the same amount of potassium as a banana. Both these foods contain about 500mg or about 10% of your daily value.
Our bodies use potassium as electrolytes, which means they carry electrical charges. This charge helps our bodies move water into cells and keep the right amount of pressure. It’s really important! 97% of Americans consume too little potassium. Other great sources of this nutrient are potatoes, spinach, lentils, and Brussel sprouts.
Health for Our Oceans
Unfortunately, while tuna is a surprisingly healthy food, many tuna fisheries are deeply unhealthy for our oceans. Most tuna species, like bluefin, yellowfin, and albacore are overfished due to poor fishery management. Many tuna fishers also use of dangerous nets that snare other animals, such as turtles and dolphins.
It’s possible to not jeopardize the health of our oceans by choosing the right kinds of tuna. Sustainably caught skipjack tuna is a smart choice among tuna varieties when it comes to the health of our oceans. These fish are more abundant in the oceans and reproduce more quickly than other species. This short lifespan replenishes the wild population faster, and also leads to less mercury in the fish meat itself!
Written by Evan Leavy on January 22, 2020.