Canned Tuna: Risks and Benefits

Canned Tuna: Risks and Benefits

( – Remember the commercial encouraging us to “ask any mermaid you happen to see” about the so-called “best tuna?” Well, we are fond of mermaids. But we don’t choose our tuna based on animated creatures. (Sorry, Charlie.)

Discover what you should consider before buying another can of tuna below. (Hint: It’s not advice from a talking fish).

What Are The Risks of Canned Tuna?

Tuna fish wins as the second most popular seafood in the United States. But that popularity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one of the safest.

This seafood also ranks high on the list of foods containing mercury. Although tunas are not born with mercury in their bodies, it results from contaminated water and bioaccumulation.

Mercury enters our rivers and seas when industries dispose of the chemical. Bacteria in the water transform mercury into methylmercury, which small fish eat.

Tuna and other larger fish eat the small fish as part of the natural food chain. Over time, mercury accumulates in those larger fish.

When we eat tuna and other foods containing mercury, the chemical begins to accumulate in our bodies. For some individuals, mercury exposure is particularly risky.

Other fish, like shark and swordfish, also contain this chemical. But tuna takes the top place as a mercury source.

Who Should Avoid Tuna?

The following groups may benefit from avoiding tuna or consulting a healthcare professional before consuming this seafood:

  • Youngsters: Infants’ and children’s growing brains take in nutrients. Mercury may harm the brain’s ability to absorb nutrition, potentially resulting in physical and intellectual disabilities.
  • Pregnant Women: Fetuses might be harmed by mercury. Risks may include eyesight and hearing problems, along with impaired cognition. Women who are breastfeeding might also be advised to limit or completely avoid tuna.
  • Some Adults: Those of us who want to have children or are concerned about hypertension might want to reduce our consumption of tuna. Mercury toxicity may impact our ability to regulate blood pressure, as well as our fertility.

It’s not only the above groups, though, who may be impacted by tuna’s mercury levels. Studies have shown that excess amounts of this chemical might cause health issues for all of us.

Researchers found that too much mercury may result in memory problems, motor skill concerns, and challenges performing logic tests. Another study indicated that mercury exposure may even increase our chances of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

What Are the Benefits of Canned Tuna?

Despite the risks described above, canned tuna does offer some mighty tasty rewards. This seafood ranks high on our list of favorite pantry staples for that reason.

From health perks to tradition, canned tuna offers the following benefits:

  • Versatility: We love to plop tuna straight from the can on a salad, mix with mayonnaise for a sandwich filling, or even take a small can for an office lunch. (Tip: Don’t forget the fork!)
  • Health: One water-packed 6.5 ounce can of tuna contains 31.7 grams of protein. Tuna also provides calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and B vitamins.
  • Less Can Be More: Concerned about the mercury? Use tuna like a condiment, putting just a spoonful on salads or mixing with black beans to layer it in a sandwich.
  • Tradition: Be it ever so humble, there’s no food like mom’s (or dad’s) traditional tuna noodle casserole. Add cans of soup and peas to a can of tuna, stir in cooked noodles, sprinkle on bread crumbs, and bake.

What Variety of Tuna Is Best?

Those tuna commercials were right about one aspect of choosing the right canned seafood: Some choices are better than others.

Here’s what we may want to consider in buying canned tuna:

  • Classification: Buy tuna labeled “light” or “skipjack,” which have lower levels of mercury, rather than albacore or bigeye tuna.
  • Certification: Choose cans of tuna certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certify only fish that are sustainable.
  • Contents: Look at the ingredient list. Some canned tuna is packed in water, while other types feature oil. Common ingredients also include broth and salt. Decide what, if anything other than water, you want to consume with your fish.

How Much Tuna Is Safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established guidelines for fish consumption. The organization recommends eating a minimum of 8 ounces of seafood weekly for those who consume 2,000 calories per day, with choices ranked from “best” to “good” to “avoid.”

Light or skipjack tuna is included in the FDA’s “best choices” chart. Fish in that category can be eaten two to three times weekly.

Albacore and white tuna are in the “good choices” category, limited to one serving per week, while bigeye tuna is in the “choices to avoid” group due to its high concentrations of mercury.

While canned tuna may have some risks, the benefits are significant as well. From versatility to advantages, tuna deserves its popularity. And if mermaids could talk to humans? We think they’d give this seafood five tails up.

~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!

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