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is tuna good for you

Is Tuna Good For You?

Is tuna good for you? Whilst tuna is one of the understated staples of the kitchen cupboard, making a quick and easy addition to salads, sandwiches, pastas, and pizzas, the truth about its nutritional value is often questioned.

In this guide we’re going to explore the various nutritional aspects contained in fresh tuna and tinned tuna, and discuss any potential risks to eventually provide a clearer explanation of tuna’s potential benefits to our health. 

Before we dive in, if you enjoy learning about health and nutrition then take a look at our level 4 advanced sports nutrition course and kickstart your nutrition career with OriGym! We've got a range of personal training diplomas too!

Download our FREE course prospectus to find out more information about our other courses and diplomas.

What Is Tuna?

Is tuna bad for you

Tuna is a large saltwater fish, and a subgroup of the Mackerel family. There are a few different species, including the Atlantic Bluefin tuna, Bullet tuna, Albacore, Skipjack, and more. The tuna is actually one of the fastest marine species, and generally found in warmer climates.

The tuna family are some of the largest saltwater fish, with the largest ever recorded being 21 feet long and weighing three quarters of a tonne. Most tuna are not quite that large, but they can easily measure more than 6 feet long and weigh over 250kg.

Tuna is actually one of the most popular types of fish to eat, with recent reports from the UN’s State of Fisheries and Aquaculture stating that a massive 4.6 million megatons of tuna is caught across the world each year.

Many people claim that tuna is good for you, but is it?

Before we examine the possible health benefits, it is important to note that in regards to nutritional values, not all tuna are the same.

For example, the tuna steak calories are not the same as the canned tuna in brine calories. Tinned tuna in oil, is not the same as tinned tuna in spring water. 

We are going to discuss the major nutritional similarities and differences between fresh tuna and tinned tuna before we move on to answering ‘is tuna good for you?’. 

All the data for tinned tuna in the table below is for the spring water tuna, not tuna in brine or oil. 

Is Tuna Good For You Table.png

This data isn’t exhaustive as tuna also contains many essential micronutrients (such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc). 

However, the micronutrients not included here are present in such small quantities that they don’t constitute a significant contribution to your daily requirements, or they are available in such a wide variety of popular foods that tuna isn’t a particularly notable or interesting source for them. 

OriGym’s 23 best superfruits are better sources of these important micronutrients, so add some of these into your diet too.

So, the table shows us what nutrients tuna can offer, and the differences between tinned and fresh. 

We’re going to go into each nutrient into more detail to determine two things: is fresh tuna good for you, and is tinned tuna good for you? 

Protein Content in Tuna

Canned tuna omega 3

Dietary protein is essential for your physical wellbeing: it's necessary to regulate and support the majority of biological processes within the body, from building skeletal muscle, to proper organ function, to producing and coordinating neurotransmitters, and a lot more.

If you need some specific dietary sources, check out our blog post on vegan and vegetarian protein sources for some helpful advice. 

The recommended daily intake of protein is approximately 88g for men, and 64g for women, or 0.8g per kg of body weight. 

This is a sufficient amount to prevent protein deficiency, but needs also vary greatly depending on physical activity; for example an elite athlete may need to consume around 3g per kg of body weight!

Proteins are made up of smaller components, amino acids: these are formed within the body after protein sources are broken down. Some amino acids can be made within the body and don’t need to be consumed, while others (essential amino acids) are not synthesised internally and must be consumed as part of a healthy diet. 

If you’re still wondering “what are amino acids?” then check out our nutritional guide for all the benefits, foods, and structure of amino acids.

But, does tuna have protein?

Yes, fish is a great source of complete proteins, meaning that the protein in tuna contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs to continue to function and grow. 

Fresh tuna steak protein is comparable in content to other meat sources, generally containing roughly the same amounts as beef (26g per 100g) and chicken (27g per 100g). However, as you can see from the data above, the protein in a can of tuna is a lot less than its fresh counterpart. 

This difference occurs due to the way the fish is processed. Fresh tuna consists almost entirely of muscle fillet which consumers cook themselves, whilst tinned tuna goes through different processes which usually involves multiple cooking stages.

Nevertheless, tinned tuna still contains a notable amount of protein, and it’s a worthy addition to a wholesome family meal or as a protein source in a fitness programme.

Fat Content in Tuna

Tin of tuna nutrition

The recommended daily intake is less than 70g of fats, with saturated fats taking up 30g of this for men, and 20g for women (but preferably less). This can vary depending on individual circumstances and requirements.

One portion of fresh or tinned tuna will only constitute around 1% of this allowance. Tuna are a powerfully muscular fish, so as a result the fat content of their meat is almost 0.

Overconsumption of fats can lead to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Various cancers
  • Obesity

Fat itself is not an entirely bad thing to have in your diet; it is actually an essential nutrient that you consume in order to maintain a healthy immune system, proper hormone production, and complete cell function. 

If you need some more concise guidance about fats specifically, check out our article on the types of fats: risks, benefits, and fat loss tips.

Around 15-30% of your nutrient intake comes from dietary fats, with non-saturated fats being the healthiest option. 

However, fat has a higher calorie density than other nutrients, meaning the body requires less consumption of it to obtain the necessary amounts. Overconsumption presents a more prevalent danger to humans than underconsumption of fats, which has led to the unfortunate fact that obesity affects 1 in 4 adults within the UK. 

Sources of high protein and low fat, such as tuna, are fantastic inclusions to a healthy and balanced diet as they allow us to easily consume high quantities of essential protein without worrying about the impact they have on your overall daily fat intake. 

So, is tuna good for you in terms of fat content? Yes!

Did you know that the keto diet has a particular focus on burning fats? Read our article on what is keto and how does it work without exercise for more info!

Calcium Content in Tuna 

Does tuna have protein

Calcium is another essential nutrient which actually cannot be synthesised by the body, therefore our diets must contain sufficient amounts of calcium. The recommended daily amount of calcium is roughly 700mg.

Calcium plays a pivotal role in a variety of bodily functions, including (but not limited to): efficient muscle control, regulation of hormone release, production of neurotransmitters, as well as the more commonly attributed benefits it has to bone and tooth health. 

If your diet doesn’t contain sufficient calcium levels then your body has to get it from other sources within the body, and this means the bones. If your body repurposes calcium from your bones, it can lead to increased risk of fractures in your weakened bones, or osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis is particularly prevalent in post-menopausal women, as well as the elderly, meaning that effective calcium intake is crucial throughout all stages of life. This condition means that sufferers are much more likely to break or fracture bones even from minor falls or knocks, with even sneezing being able to break a rib. 

Growing children require calcium to facilitate complete bone growth and proper physical development as a calcium deficiency can cause Rickets, bow legs, or even stunted growth.

To ensure healthy bones and bodily functions a variety of sources should be used to consume all the calcium your body needs. For another great tasting source of calcium, try coconut water!

A serving of 100g of tinned tuna provides around 2.5% of your recommended daily intake, and unfortunately fresh tuna only provides about 1%. This is because tinned tuna contains varied parts of the fish, offering a more diverse supply of nutrients. 

Tuna isn’t a particularly rich source of calcium compared to a lot of other sources, such as milk which contains around 125mg per 100g; but it does definitely contribute to your overall daily intake. 

Download your FREE Food Diary from OriGym to help keep track of these essential nutrients!

Vitamin D Content in Tuna

Can you eat too much tuna

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is made in the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight, however this isn’t always in sufficient amounts. The recommended daily amount is 10mcg of vitamin D for adults and children over the age of 1.

There are a number of crucial biological functions that need vitamin D in order to work efficiently, including:

  • Facilitation of the uptake of calcium and phosphorus from the gut
  • Contribution to the health of the immune system
  • Protection against some forms of cancer
  • Improving bone health

Whilst it is possible to get certain amounts of vitamin D from the sun, there are particular times of the year in the UK where this isn’t enough. From March up until the end of September most people will be able to get enough vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, but during the colder seasons it is often advised to take Vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to fatigue and pains, it can also ultimately lead to rickets, a condition in which individuals have soft weak bones which can lead to deformities. 

If you were wondering about tuna’s vitamin D content, then you’ll be pleased to know that tuna is a great source of this essential vitamin!

A serving of 100g of tuna, either fresh or tinned, can provide around a quarter of your daily requirements. This is hugely beneficial as roughly around 1 in 5 people in the UK have low vitamin D levels!

Taking vitamin supplements is an easy way to boost your nutrient levels, so check out OriGym’s 13 best vitamins for energy to help reduce any fatigue.

Magnesium Content in Tuna

Nutritional value of tuna

Magnesium is another essential mineral that the body gets from dietary sources, and has a huge number of important biological roles. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is between 300mg to 400mg, depending on gender and age. 

Magnesium is essential to almost everything that happens in your body, including; 

  • Creation of proteins
  • Production and reparation of DNA
  • Regulation of neurotransmitters
  • Control of muscle contraction and relaxation. 

It plays an important role in muscle building. Need another supplement to boost your magnesium levels and help muscle growth? Check out zinc magnesium aspartate, or ZMAs.

It is estimated that around half of the UK doesn’t get the recommended amount of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can increase the risk of several chronic diseases if left long term.

Due to the amount of biological functions that require magnesium input, this mineral has been linked to a variety of other positive effects on the body. A few of these include aiding exercise performance, improving pain relief, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure.

Both fresh and tinned tuna nutrition include magnesium, with 100g providing around 13% (fresh) and 8% (tinned) of the RDA.

Fresh tuna contains significantly more magnesium than tinned, however both are good sources which will contribute to your overall daily intake. 

For some other healthy foods and snack to add to your diet, take a look at some of our other articles:

Omega-3 Content in Tuna

How healthy is canned tuna

Omega-3s are long-chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids, also called n-3-PUFAs within the scientific community, and are a combination of 3 main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). 

The recommended daily intake of omega-3 is 250-500mg of a combination of EPA and DHA.

Some of the most popular supplements available are fish oil and cod liver oil; for more information on the benefits, side effects, and nutrition of cod liver oil check out our article!

This is because of the abundance of scientifically supported health benefits that they can provide. Omega-3 has been proven to have positive effects on heart health, including triglyceride reduction, blood pressure management, and reduction of plaques in your arteries. 

Milk thistle is a plant that can also boost your heart health!

Omega-3 is also associated with improved eye health, and reduced cases of macular degeneration are linked to omega-3 consumption. Incorporating eggplant into your regular diet can also improve your eye health!

There are academic studies that show that sufficient omega-3 intake is linked to protection against the development of various autoimmune diseases. Sufficient intake has also been seen to reduce the risk of certain cancers by up to 55%. 

Omega-3 has even been seen to modulate and reduce mood swings in patients with psychiatric problems. The uses and benefits are incredibly numerous and well founded. 

Dietary sources of omega-3 are excellent ways to contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, and canned tuna omega-3 content provides around 55% of your recommended daily intake (per 100g).

Contrary to popular beliefs, fresh tuna actually offers less, at around 25%

Now, fish is one of the most widely known and popular sources of omega-3s, and the government recommends two portions of fish per week, with one of these being oily. Oily fish has higher levels of omega-3s, offering a significant contribution to the recommended amounts. 

Many people often wonder, is tuna an oily fish?, and unfortunately, no it is not.

Tuna used to be classed as an oily fish until 2018. After a governmental dispute, the nutritional value of tuna was researched (predominantly the levels of omega-3s) and determined as more comparable to the likes of white fish, which are generally not considered oily. 

As a comparison, an oily fish (tinned), such as salmon, contains 1.3g of omega-3s which is roughly 5 times more than tuna. Similarly, fresh salmon has around 2.2g which is 20 times more than tuna. 

So, although tuna is a solid source of omega-3s, it is nowhere near as beneficial as other, oily fishes. The limitations of omega-3 in tuna isn’t necessarily a negative, it just suggests that other fish may be more beneficial for this nutrient. 

Is Tuna Bad For You?

tinned Tuna mercury uk

However, the fresh and tinned tuna nutritional value isn’t completely beneficial, and there are recommendations to the upper limits of tuna consumption.

Many people ask, does tuna contain mercury?, and unfortunately the answer is yes.

Mercury is a liquid metal, also commonly known as quicksilver, that is found in water, earth, and air. However, when it occurs within organic sources such as fish, it is referred to as methylmercury (for ease we’ll just refer to it as mercury). 

Even minute amounts of mercury exposure can be detrimental to the human body, but there are several factors that determine how severe the effects could be, including:

  • Amount
  • Duration
  • Age 
  • How the person is exposed (e.g. inhaled or ingested)

Mercury in organic sources happens through a complex process. Natural volcanic productions, along with industrial pollutants, contribute to the bioaccumulation of mercury in the environment. 

This mercury ultimately ends up in bodies of water and enters into plants and small organisms through passive uptake: fish consume the microorganisms, then bigger fish eat them, and so on. This results in the biomagnification of mercury through the food chain as the predators increase in size and dominance. 

The body struggles to filter out mercury, and as a result it builds up in the tissues of the animal.  

It's difficult to determine exactly how much mercury in tuna builds up, but as most of the types of tuna are large fish, their mercury intake is high and therefore, the build-up in their tissues is high. 

Mercury exposure is linked to several health concerns in humans. Studies have shown that excess consumption of mercury can lead to neurological problems, such as mental deterioration, loss of muscle control, and ataxia.

Furthermore, there is increasing evidence proving the negative impacts of mercury on cardiovascular functions, with one study stating that:

“The vascular effects of mercury include increases in oxidative stress and inflammation, reductions in oxidative defense, thrombosis, and mitochondrial dysfunction, depolarization, and autoxidation of the inner mitochondrial membrane. Another mechanism through which mercury exerts toxic effects on the cardiovascular system is the inactivation of paraoxonase, which causes dysfunctional HDL to reduce reverse cholesterol transport to the liver.” (Genchi et al., 2017) 

Unfortunately there are a number of ways that mercury detriments the heart. This study goes on to conclude that:

"Mercury toxicity is indeed strongly correlated with hypertension, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmias, carotid artery obstruction, cerebrovascular accident, and generalized atherosclerosis."(Genchi et al., 2017)

However, other studies have argued that the risk to heart health from the mercury in tuna is outweighed by the multitude of benefits which tuna can offer (including the fresh and canned tuna nutrition we discussed above).

Everything You Need to Know About Tuna And Mercury (UK)

is tuna good for you after a workout

Ever wondered "can you eat too much tuna?". Well, the answer is yes. In fact, there are specific recommendations for how much tuna select groups of people can eat.

The negative implications and the potential risks from mercury for foetal development mean that, for women of childbearing age, there are recommendations for the limitation of dietary intake of tuna: a maximum of 4 tins of tuna a week and no more than 2 tuna steaks per week at 140g per portion. 

However, if you’re still wondering “is canned tuna good for you when pregnant?”, then the answer is still yes, as there are a great variety of essential nutrients, but just in moderation.

When deciding between fresh tuna steak or a can of tuna, take into account that the bigger the fish, generally the higher the mercury content. For example, Skipjack is a relatively small species of tuna and will have lower mercury content than the larger Albacore tuna. 

Is Canned Tuna Good For You?

is tuna good for you to eat everyday

The tin of tuna nutrition discussed above has been taken from the canned tuna in springwater. So what about tuna that is stored in oil and in brine?

Consuming tuna tinned in oil will provide 800% of the fat that you would find in the springwater option. The calories in a tin of tuna with oil is also double the amount, with some brands containing from 250 to 330 calories per 100g.

The sodium content is considerably higher in both tinned tuna in brine (around 500mg per 100g) and tinned tuna in oil (around 400mg per 100g), compared to the tuna in springwater (around 190mg per 100g). 

The recommended daily amount of sodium is 2.4g for adults, and 1.2g for children.

Excess sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure and risks to heart health, so this should be considered when making your choices, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Do you have a passion for health and nutrition? If yes, then check out the job role of a nutritionist as this could be a great career for you! Plus, the nutritionist salary in the UK is pretty good too.

So, how healthy is canned tuna exactly? 

The calories in tinned tuna, both the brine and oil versions, aren’t as good for you as canned tuna in spring water, but they still have good quantities of essential nutrients. Just be sure to consume these in moderation and as part of a balanced diet!

Don't forget to download your FREE Food Diary!

Is Tuna Good For You After A Workout?

is eating tuna good for you

Tuna is a great post-workout food for a number of reasons, including:

Protein in tuna

Protein is key to rebuilding muscle fibres, and as both fresh and canned tuna protein content is high, this makes a great workout recovery snack.

Calories in tuna

The low levels of calories in tuna steaks and tuna in springwater means that you won’t be adding to your daily calorie count too much by having a tuna snack after your workout. Be sure to choose a tin of tuna in water and not in brine or oil though.

Omega-3

The omega-3 in tuna not only contributes to a healthy cardiovascular system and improved eye health, but it also helps to reduce inflammation. Muscle fibres become inflamed after working out so eating tuna can help to reduce muscle inflammation and soreness.

Vitamins in tuna

Another key nutrient for effective muscle growth is vitamin D, and tuna is an excellent source, alongside other smaller amounts of necessary vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin B3.

To boost your workouts beforehand, try one of the best pre workout supplements.

Is Tuna Good For You To Eat Everyday?

tuna is good for you

There are a good number of reasons why tuna is healthy; however there are also some downsides, and too much tuna can be a bad thing.

As we discussed before, this is due to the potential of mercury poisoning from tuna. Whilst the chances of this happening are relatively small, the dangers of mercury exposure aren’t worth the risk.

Additionally, for women and children the risks are elevated as mercury can cause more damage, so it’s best not to eat it everyday.

So, Is Eating Tuna Good For You?

is tuna good for you

After looking at the beneficial nutritional content, and the risks that are linked to eating too much tuna, we can make a conclusion about the tuna facts we’ve presented.

Is tuna good for you and should it be included in regular diets?

Like all foods, tuna should be eaten in moderation. However, assuming you don’t eat more than the recommended amounts, tuna is an excellent, low fat source of protein which contributes to your omega-3 intake. It also acts as a beneficial source of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D.

You can make healthy and nutritious meals from fresh or tinned tuna, with the tinned option also being a simple snack to have on the go. 

Tuna is readily available from most supermarkets and is reasonably affordable in tinned forms. A tin of tuna will keep for long periods of time in standard storage conditions at home, making it an excellent and nutritious option for quick and easy meals. 

Be aware of the nutritional differences between the tinned versions, water, oil, and brine; the tuna in springwater option has lower calories and fat so is the best option out of the three. 

Conclusion

Hopefully after discussing the various nutritional values of tuna you’ll be able to decide whether tuna is a good fit for your diet and lifestyle. With tuna’s protein levels, plus magnesium, calcium, and omega-3 content, we think it’s a great addition to a salad or pasta.

Keep in mind that tuna is not an oily fish, so you should be incorporating two other portions of fish into your weekly meals.

If reading about health and nutrition is interesting to you then why not take OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course? Download our latest course prospectus for more information on all our courses and diplomas. 

Plus, keep track of all your food intake with our handy food diary!

References:

  1. Broussard, L.A., Hammett-Stabler, C.A., Winecker, R.E. and Ropero-Miller, J.D. (2002). The Toxicology of Mercury. Laboratory Medicine, 33(8).
  2. Fenton, J.I., Hord, N.G., Ghosh, S. and Gurzell, E.A. (2013). Long Chain omega-3 Fatty Acid Immunomodulation and the Potential for Adverse Health Outcomes. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 89(6), pp.379–390.
  3. Genchi, G., Sinicropi, M.S., Carocci, A., Lauria, G. and Catalano, A. (2017). Mercury Exposure and Heart Diseases. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 14(1), p.74. 
  4. Publishing, H.H. (2007). In Brief: Experts Say Benefits of Eating Fish Outweigh Possible Risks. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_Brief_Experts_say_benefits_of_eating_fish_outweigh_possible_risks [Accessed 10 Feb. 2021].

Written by Dee Hammond-Blackburn

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Dee on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Dee holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature, and is currently finishing her MA in Marketing Communications and Branding from Edge Hill University. Her passion for fitness and content writing brought her to OriGym, and she has since become a qualified Personal Trainer and a Sports Nutrition Specialist. Combining her skills in fitness and writing, Dee has a professional interest in fitness blogging, content creation, and social media. Outside of her writing role Dee enjoys reading, healthy cooking, and playing football with her dalmation.

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