Canned tuna may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of eating healthy. However, this low-fat, shelf-stable fish contains essential nutrients including a ton of protein! Canned tuna is a great way to get the protein you need in addition to vital nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and selenium.
Canned tuna may have a bad reputation because of some of the ways it is prepared. While most tuna is low in fat, tuna salad contains mayonnaise which quickly undermines tuna’s low-fat content. Canned tuna can provide a delicious and nutritious protein when prepared well.
Actually, some of the best-tasting tuna is packed in a jar!
How Much Protein Is in Tuna?
There are many types of canned tuna available in stores. There are 5 species of tuna that are commonly sold in the US. Canned tuna comes primarily from Albacore and Skipjack Tuna. Sometimes yellowfin tuna is also included with Skipjack. Albacore tuna is used in “white” tuna meat and has slightly more fat than skipjack. Skipjack tuna’s low-fat content has earned it the label of “light” tuna.
Both of these species contain 20-25 grams of protein per 3oz serving. This is similar to the protein content of chicken and pork, but with as little as a tenth of the fat! Light tuna, when packed in water, contains only 0.5 grams of fat per 3oz serving! This makes tuna a great way to add some heft to a meal without all the extra calories.
Why Is Protein Important?
Protein is an essential nutrient made up of amino acids. These are used to build the molecular machines that make your body run. They are responsible for nearly every process in your body.
Dietary protein is generally associated with building muscles. Though this is far from the only place protein is used, building muscle requires lots of it.
Tuna is a great way to get the protein you need when building muscle. However, it is also important to get enough fat when building muscle. A jar or can of tuna in oil might be a better choice than light tuna in these cases.
Tuna is also a great way to get protein while eating less meat. Eating meat has large environmental impacts in comparison to plant-based diets. However, completely removing meat from your diet isn’t always the healthiest option. Protein is an important nutrient, especially for young, active people. A pescatarian (only fish and plants) diet can provide protein with fewer environmental impacts. Tuna’s high protein content makes it simple to fill your daily protein needs with less meat.
If you're concerned with the sustainability of your diet, be sure to check where and how your fish was caught. Companies that have direct relationships with their fisheries will know the details of their product (where, when, and how it was caught). Another plus: sustainably caught fish tastes better than fish from large fishing operations!
Tuna is Rich in Many Nutrients
There are many other reasons to eat tuna than just for the protein (and taste!). Tuna contains many essential vitamins and nutrients. This makes tuna a wonderful option for anyone looking to add protein to their diet. Eating tuna makes it simple to add protein, healthy fat, and essential vitamins to your diet.
One of the most notable examples is omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for brain health. Eating omega-3s has been associated with lower rates of depression, ADHD, and dementia. Omega-3s may also be useful in a wide range of conditions including asthma, arthritis, eye health, and heart health! These fatty acids come in three forms, ALA, DHA, and EPA– each one is associated with different benefits. Tuna contains all three making it a great way to get these nutrients!
Selenium is an important trace mineral that can be difficult to include in your diet. Though humans only need a tiny amount of selenium to be healthy, it is hard to get! Canned tuna is a good way to make sure you are consuming this vital nutrient.
Selenium in tuna comes in the form of selenoneine which is a potent antioxidant. It is also capable of mediating the toxicity of methyl mercury. This may decrease the risks associated with consuming mercury-containing seafood.
Tuna is also rich in the essential nutrient Vitamin D. There are generally high levels of Vitamin D in fish. Vitamin D can be produced in the human body, but only with sun exposure. It is uncommon in most foods, however, people who do not get enough regular sunlight may need more vitamin D in their diets. It is also important to note that glass blocks the UV rays needed to synthesize vitamin D, so being near a window is not enough.
Why Eat Canned Tuna?
Canned tuna is a healthy option for getting protein into your diet. Unlike fresh fish, canned fish doesn’t spoil and is easier to prepare. Though many people like the flavor of fresh or even raw fish, these carry greater risks of disease. Foodborne illnesses from meats including fish can be severe.
Canned tuna does not have the same risks as raw meats. Canned tuna is immediately frozen after being caught. It is then put into cans and heated at high temperatures, which kills any contamination. This makes canned tuna shelf-stable without refrigeration! That way, you can add protein to your diet without worrying about spoiled meat.
Some canned tuna may be stored in BPA-containing tins. These should be avoided due to the detrimental effects of BPA. However, high-quality tuna is never in contact with BPA. Always check your tuna’s labeling to make sure it is BPA-free.
What About Mercury?
Mercury is a very real concern in seafood. Mercury occurs naturally in the oceans, however, human activity such as mining has greatly increased the concentration of this toxin. Mercury builds up in the food chain, with larger predatory fish having the highest concentrations.
Large tuna species such as bluefin, yellowfin, and bigeye have far more mercury than other, smaller fish.
However, some tuna species including skipjack are much smaller. Therefore, these fish have far lower mercury content. Eating one can of skipjack tuna per week is within the safe mercury levels for a healthy adult.
Though tuna can be consumed safely by many people, children, infants, and pregnant women should avoid tuna altogether. Young people are particularly sensitive to mercury and any possible exposure should be avoided.
Canned tuna is a delicious, easy, and protein-rich food. Tuna makes a great addition to your diet, providing essential nutrients that are difficult to get from common foods. Adding canned tuna to your diet is a great way to consume more protein without having to worry about the various effects of eating meat.
Disclaimer: this is an opinion piece, please consult your doctor before significantly changing your diet.
Written by Casey Hofford on November 28, 2019.