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Is Canned Tuna Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Canned tuna

Is Canned Tuna Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

For many, canned tuna is a staple in their pantry. It has a long shelf life, is very affordable, and can be used in a variety of ways. Despite these benefits, is canned tuna actually healthy for you? Canned tuna can be a healthy protein option for you and your family. Let's take a look at everything you need to know about canned tuna, its nutritional value, health benefits, risks, and more.

What Is Canned Tuna?

Canned tuna is cooked tuna fish that is preserved and canned to have a long shelf life. The most common types of tuna that you find in a can include Albacore and Skipjack. Albacore is a favorite because it's light and has a mild flavor. It's also less fishy tasting. Skipjack offers a soft texture, and you'll normally find the cans of tuna labeled “chunky” are Skipjack. It has a strong, fishy, and salty flavor.

Top view of Tuna tataki on black plate, Isolated on white background. Japanese food.
Seared tuna is a common way to prepare fresh tuna.


Nutritional Value

How your tuna is prepared will determine its exact nutritional value. Overall, tuna is high in protein and low in calories and fat. Canned tuna packaged in olive oil will have more fat and calories than tuna packed in water. Here is a comparison of fresh tuna, canned tuna packed in water, and canned tuna packed in water.

Fresh TunaCanned In OilCanned In Water
Fat>1 gram2 grams>1 gram
Cholesterol11 mg5 mg10 mg
Sodium13 mg118 mg70 mg
Protein7 grams8 grams6 grams

In this chart, you will see that canned tuna is higher in sodium than fresh tuna. Canned tuna packed in oil will offer more calories and fat content than fresh tuna and canned tuna packed in water. The fat in tuna, no matter how it is packaged, offers unsaturated fats, which is good for you and offers some health benefits. Whether fresh or canned, tuna is also a good source of important minerals and vitamins, including selenium and vitamin D.

Health Benefits

Canned tuna is an excellent source of protein. It can be a great source of protein if you're looking to lose weight since it offers high protein but is also low in calories. It is known that diets high in protein can increase weight loss as protein reduces cravings by increasing the feeling of fullness.

Although tuna is low in fat, it still offers a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids, also known as unsaturated fat. Omega-3s are essential and great for eye, heart, and brain health. Consuming fish is a great way to ensure you are consuming unsaturated fat, but you can also get it from plant-based foods. Because of this, it is recommended that adults consume approximately eight ounces of seafood a week.

Vitamin D and selenium are important vitamins and minerals you can get from consuming canned tuna. Vitamin D is critical for the body to retain calcium and phosphorus, which we need for bone strength and anti-inflammatory properties. Selenium plays an important role in our metabolism, DNA synthesis, thyroid hormones, and protection from cell damage and infections.

Light tuna in olive oil canned dressed with herbs and spices on a burlap and a wooden background
Adding capers and olives to a can of tuna is a common way to eat tuna in olive oil.

©Angel Simon/Shutterstock.com

Health Risks

The major concern when it comes to consuming canned tuna is its mercury content. Mercury is a heavy metal found in fish that are in contaminated waters. High exposure to mercury is proven to cause health problems and damage to the central nervous system. Tuna can be high in mercury because it's found in contaminated waters, but tuna also eats other fish that are contaminated with mercury. Mercury contamination can vary depending on the type of tuna. Larger tuna fish like Albacore will be higher in mercury compared to smaller tuna fish like Skipjack, which will be lower in mercury.

Health Risks In Adults

Studies conducted have shown that anyone who consumes a fish with high levels of mercury just once a week will have increased mercury levels and, in turn, likely experience some fatigue. If you plan to consume fish with high levels of mercury, like albacore, it is recommended only to consume four ounces per week. If you plan to consume more than four ounces of tuna, consider a low-mercury option like Skipjack.

Health Risks In Children

If you're feeding tuna to your family, it's important to know how high mercury levels can affect children. Research shows that mercury is toxic to a developing nervous system, and mercury consumption should be monitored. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that children ages 2-10 should only have up to one ounce of low-mercury fish at a time, up to three ounces in a week.

Tuna salad is also a fan favorite when it comes to preparing canned tuna.

©Sergii Koval/Shutterstock.com


Canned tuna can be a healthy protein option for you and your family. It's low in calories and has omega-3s and other vitamins and minerals that help our bodies perform important functions. The most important thing to be aware of when consuming canned tuna is how much mercury you are consuming. High levels of mercury can be very damaging. Make sure to follow the guidelines given by the FDA on how much tuna can be consumed per week.

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