Ah, canned tuna, that dependable hockey puck on your pantry shelf. You might keep canned tuna on hand for a variety of reasons: it’s quick, versatile, and cheap.

Tuna is a lean protein packed with essential minerals and is safe in recommended portions.

But is it healthy? And how does it compare to fresh tuna?

Benefits of canned tuna

So, is canned tuna good for you? Depending on the type and quantity, yep, yep, yep.

Tuna is:

  • a solid source of lean protein
  • rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • a great way to get vitamin D and selenium
  • convenient to buy, store, and eat
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Next time you’re grocery shopping, pick up a few cans and net the benefits of this unpretentious fish.

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Canned tuna comes preserved in water or oil, and the nutrients may vary.

This table breaks down how many calories, protein, fat, and micronutrients you get from a 100 gram (g) / 3.52 ounce (oz) serving of tuna.

Canned tuna in waterCanned tuna in oil
Protein19 g29 g
Fat1 g8 g
Selenium67.8 micrograms (mcg)76 mcg
Vitamin D1.2 mcg6.7 mcg

Canned tuna vs. fresh tuna

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a diet that includes fish may be beneficial, particularly for heart health.

Does it matter if your tuna is canned or fresh?

Not really. Canned and fresh tuna have similar nutritional benefits.

A serving of raw or cooked (steamed or poached) fresh tuna contains more protein, vitamin D, and selenium than canned tuna, but it’s higher in calories than canned tuna according to the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA).

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There are several reasons to sail past the seafood counter and set your sights on the nonperishables:

  • Canned tuna is more widely accessible than fresh tuna.
  • Canned varieties cost less than fresh tuna.
  • Canned tuna lasts much, much longer on the shelf.

Different types of canned tuna

Not all cans of tuna are created equal.

Besides price and brand, pay attention to food labels before you start chucking cans in your cart.

Type of fish: Light vs. white

Generally, light tuna comes from Skipjack tuna, sometimes combined with Yellowfin tuna. Light tuna is usually tannish pink (“tannish pink tuna” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, however).

White tuna is specifically albacore tuna. It’s lighter in color than light tuna, which is usually tannish pink.

Opinions on the taste between the two vary. But either way, keep it out of the break room microwave — it’s a stinky endeavor.

Texture: Solid vs. chunk

Chunk tuna has flaky pieces in various small sizes. Solid tuna has larger, firmer pieces, such as in tuna steaks.

No matter the chop, light tuna lends a softer texture.

Canning liquid: Water vs. oil

Tuna in water contains less calories, fat, and sodium than tuna in oil. However, tuna in oil (usually olive, soybean, or sunflower oil), has more protein and Vitamin D than tuna in water. Obv steer clear if you have a soy allergy.

Canned tuna provides a bunch of excellent benefits as part of a balanced diet.

Solid source of lean protein

Canned tuna is a lean protein, so it’s low in fat. You need the amino acids from protein to help build and maintain muscle.

Even when you eat it plain, a serving of canned tuna can supply up to half of your daily protein needs according to the USDA. That’s more than beans, Greek yogurt, or even eggs provide.

Better still, canned tuna in water has half the calories of tuna in oil and contains a lot less fat (8 grams in oil compared to less than 1 gram in water).

Contains omega-3 fatty acids

We often hear the term omega-3s and think of the “unicorns” of food like flaxseed.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) tout omega-3 fatty acids as helpful for a ton of your internal systems (yay!). But these fatty acids don’t naturally occur in your body (rude!).

Luckily, a simple tuna salad can help cover your omega needs.

Wellspring of vitamin D and selenium

Vitamin D is partially responsible for helping you build a tough immune system and strong bones.

Though we get a bunch of the stuff from sunshine, the rest of our vitamin D intake comes from food.

Adults, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, need about 15 micrograms of vitamin D every day according to the NIH. A serving of canned tuna can give you at least 10 percent of your daily quota.

Selenium is a crucial mineral that aids in reproductive, endocrine, and immune health. Just three ounces of yellowfin tuna contains 167 percent of your daily value of selenium, the NIH reports.

In one study, the selenium in canned tuna decreased human vulnerability to mercury. White tuna was found to have marginally lower concentrations of selenium than light tuna.

In general, tuna in oil provides more selenium than tuna in water. But that’s a trade-off for increased fat content, so make sure it fits with your current diet or eating plan.

Convenient to buy, use, and store

There are so many easy reasons to keep tuna on hand at home. It lasts for years and takes up little space (and stacks oh-so nicely!).

Canned tuna (especially light tuna) is highly affordable and compatible with every imaginable food budget.

Plus, it’s already cooked. Unless you’re being extra, your meal can be as simple as scooping it out of the can with a cracker (but you can work it into some bomb recipes, too).

This is one type of seafood you can feel good about buying on the reg.

Evaluating the safety of seafood as a whole is difficult because there are so many factors to consider.

Specifically for fish, one of the major concerns is mercury content. Mercury, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEH) is an organic but toxic element that can cause major health issues in high doses.

Overexposure to mercury can cause motor, muscle, and nerve impairments, as well as cognitive problems. Consuming large amounts of certain types of fish may increase your exposure to mercury, so moderation is key.

In a study from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETC) that tested mercury content in canned tuna, white tuna contained three times more mercury than light tuna.

But wait! Although canned light tuna does contain traces of mercury, the FDA lists it among the five most common “low mercury” fish, so don’t feel bad for eating it several times a week.

Mercury consumption during pregnancy

The FDA advises that eating fish during pregnancy can have a positive effect on fetal development.

Pregnant and breastfeeding individuals can safely consume low mercury seafood, such as canned light tuna. It’s best not to exceed the recommended intake of tuna.

Recommended intake for adults and children

This table shows how much tuna is safe to eat every week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Adults and children older than 10 yearsAdults (pregnant/breastfeeding)Children aged 2–3 yearsChildren aged 4–7 yearsChildren aged 8–10 yearsChildren aged 11+ years
Canned albacore/white tuna4 oz. (113 g)No more than 4 oz. (113 g)1 oz. (28 g)2 oz. (56 g)3 oz. (85 g)4 oz. (113 g)
Light or skipjack tuna2–3 (4-oz. / 113 g) servings per week2–3 (4-oz. / 113 g) servings per week2–3 (1-oz. / 28 g) servings per week2–3 (2-oz. / 56 g) servings per week2–3 (3-oz. / 85 g) servings per week2–3 (4-oz. / 113 g) servings per week

Canned tuna is a low calorie and low fat lean protein. The nutritional benefits of canned tuna are impressive and the risk of mercury is low in light tuna varieties.

If you’re not a tuna fan but want to reap the benefits of the lean protein and minerals, you might just need a fun recipe. Whip up a quick tuna salad for work, or go a little fancier and try canned tuna poke.

Tuna’s also available in packets — exactly what’s in the tin, just in flat packets.

Canned tuna doesn’t seem like a “pinkies out” type of food, but for all it does for your body, prime that pinkie for celebration. (But we don’t recommend an all-tuna diet.)