INTRODUCTION: IS TUNA HEALTHY?
I admit it — I’m a tuna lover. Fresh or canned, I like them both. But, is tuna healthy to eat?
It’s versatile and you can prepare it in so many different ways. And like any food, it has its benefits as well as its not so good side. This fish is relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain at your local market. Read on for more on its health and nutrition benefits.
WILD CAUGHT VS FARMED
Wild-caught fish are caught by fishermen either the old-fashioned way with a pole or with a net in their natural environment in the wild. Wild-caught tuna can be found in either freshwater or saltwater. Some believe wild-caught seafood has a wider variety of nutrients since these tuna consume a more varied diet than farmed.
Farmed fish may be either fed premium food or contaminated food! Farmed tuna is raised on a fish farm in a controlled environment. Their pens or tanks are closely monitored in order to keep the fish healthy and produce as much tuna as possible.
However, quality control at fish farms is variable as some farms don’t use sustainable practices which may cause harm to both the environment and consumers. Farmed-raised fish may be fed lower quality food and given antibiotics or medications which may be passed onto consumers — and let’s not forget about environmental pesticides!
Which is better — wild-caught or farm-raised? It depends — for one thing, diet in large part determines how nutritious a fish is. Farm-raised may be more contaminated if fed a lower quality diet or have more medications in their system due to disease and illness.
Wild-caught may have higher mercury levels due to polluted waters. Larger fish like tuna tend to be higher in mercury than smaller types of fish. Skipjack is lower in mercury than albacore. Both are high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, B vitamins, and potassium.
It’s important to do your homework and know where your market is getting their fish as this determines how nutritious and sustainable that fish really is. Which one is best depends on the fisherman or fishery supplying the tuna.
Canned tuna, salmon, sardines & anchovies packed in water, olive oil, tomato sauce & mustard are great quick sources of protein, omega-3s, vitamins & minerals. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind when buying canned.
- Sodium content. Choose low sodium varieties of canned as they may be high in sodium which counteracts the beneficial effects of potassium.
- Is it packed in oil or water? Tuna packed in water will contain fewer calories and less fat but also allows for the loss of omega-3 fatty acids to occur. Water-packed also dilutes the natural juices and flavors contained within the fish and can lead to a less refined taste. Oil-packed fish is typically packed in vegetable or soy oil and helps to trap vital nutrients deep within the fish where they can be unlocked by your body during digestion.
- Mercury content. Larger tuna like albacore and yellowfin take longer to reach maturity. The amount of mercury within a fish increases as time goes by so larger fish contain more mercury than smaller fish. On the other hand, skipjack reaches maturity much more quickly than albacore. Since they live for a shorter period of time, less mercury is able to build up within their muscle tissue.
On the plus side, there are benefits to eating canned tuna.
|1. Inexpensive source of protein and low in calories|
|2. Long shelf life; It can last 2-5 years in your pantry. An inexpensive source of protein and low in calories|
|3. Good source of omega-3 fatty acids|
|4. Canned tuna is also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D and selenium.|
|5. Many brands of canned tuna are minimally processed, containing only tuna, water or oil, and salt.|
Based on 1 can of water-packed light tuna with no added salt
IS TUNA HEALTHY: BENEFITS
1. Cardiovascular disease – This fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and potassium which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. This combo equals lower pressure, and a lower risk of stroke, heart attacks, and complicated problems, like clogged arteries. Its high iron and B vitamin content may help improve circulation and strengthen blood cells.
2. Vision problems – The omega-3 acids may help lower the risk of developing macular degeneration and dry eye. In a study of 40,000 female health professionals, women who ate multiple servings of tuna per week had as much as a 68% lower risk of developing dry eye.
3. Kidney disease – Rich in potassium which helps regulate fluid balance and support kidney function. Tuna’s high omega-3 content may help lower blood pressure which is a risk factor for kidney disease.
4. Cancer – Tuna’s omega-3 fatty acids are also believed to slow the growth of tumor cells and reduce inflammation in the body. Research shows that people eating diets with a moderate amount of seafood have a lower risk of cancer and other chronic diseases and longer lives.
5. Weight loss – High in protein but relatively low in calories, tuna helps you feel more satisfied and full longer so you end up eating less. Protein is harder for your body to break down during digestion than carbohydrates and fat so you end up burning more calories when you eat it.
IS TUNA HEALTHY: RISKS
Tuna is higher in mercury than many other fish like salmon or tilapia as it feeds off of smaller fish already contaminated with mercury. Mercury tends to build up in the tissues as it’s not easily excreted. Skipjack is lower in mercury than albacore.
Elevated levels of mercury in the body can cause brain cell death leading to cognitive problems. Mercury buildup in the body may also increase your risk of heart disease due to the role mercury plays in fat oxidation. However, some studies show the heart health benefits of eating fish may outweigh the risk of mercury exposure.
Infants, young children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury overexposure and so should limit their intake.
HOW MUCH TUNA IS SAFE TO EAT
One serving per week or 4 ounces for adults — a little more than one 3- ounce can of white tuna per week. Albacore or white tuna has 3 times the amount of mercury as skipjack or light. It’s safe to eat 2-3 servings of light tuna — about 8-12 ounces per week.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE TUNA?
- Tuna with mustard: canned fish + mustard + wholegrain crackers or lettuce cups is a quick and easy snack.
- Better Tuna Nicoise: 1 cup mixed leafy greens, 1/2 cup sliced tomatoes, 1/4 cup boiled white potatoes, 1/4 cup steamed green beans, 3 anchovies 1/4 can of tuna, 5 olives + Vinaigrette dressing: 1 T. olive oil, 1 T. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard. This makes an easy, breezy lunch.
Give these tasty recipes a try!
Thai Tuna Patties with Cilantro Cabbage Slaw
CONCLUSION: IS TUNA HEALTHY?
Tuna is a versatile, inexpensive food source that’s easy to prepare in a variety of ways. While you do need to be aware of its mercury content, its many health benefits may make it a good overall choice for busy families or professionals looking for a quick and tasty meal to prepare.
Are you a tuna lover? Leave a comment and let me know your favorite way to eat tuna.
***Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice***