Canned tuna is a convenient and affordable source of protein, and having a stash of canned tuna in your pantry can be helpful when you want something quick or forget to prepare a meal. However, not all canned tuna is created equal. Some canned goods come in water, some in oil. Some are more sustainable. And of course, flavors will vary. If you’ve ever been confused about what’s on the label of canned tuna, here’s what you need to know.
1 There are two main types of canned tuna: ALBACORE and SKIPJACK.
Albacore, or white tuna, is low in fat and mild in flavor. Skipjack, on the other hand, has a higher fat content and a stronger flavor. Although albacore tuna is more popular, albacore tuna has three times the mercury content of bonito, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). For adults who only eat canned tuna a few times a month, this isn’t really an issue, but anyone who eats tuna on a regular basis is better off with skipjack.
2 Wild and farmed tuna are similar nutritionally, but wild tuna is more sustainable.
Wild-caught tuna is caught in its natural habitat, while farmed tuna is raised and caught in a controlled environment, such as a fish tank. According to research, there’s no black-and-white answer to which is healthier. Farmed tuna tends to be higher in heart-healthy omega-3’s because it is fed fortified foods, while wild tuna tends to be lower in saturated fats. However, wild tuna is more sustainable for the planet. This is because smaller fish need to be wild caught to feed farmed tuna, so overfishing still occurs and is often more destructive.
3 If possible, choose a product that is pole-shoot and colorfast.
Simply put, pole fishing for tuna is using one rod to catch one fish. It’s the most ocean friendly option because it’s the least invasive. Many large fishing companies use Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) to attract various species of fish to their boats and then use nets to pull all of these species out of the water. This is disruptive to the ecosystem, especially because any non-tuna fish generally do not return to the ocean unscathed. While pole fishing takes more time and effort, it is far less harmful to the environment.
4 Depending on your needs, fuel packs and water packs are both good options.
Water pack tuna means that the tuna is stored in water, so it’s a low-fat, low-calorie option. A 1/2 cup (75 gram) serving of water-packed tuna contains 66 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. Water-packed tuna tends to be dry if eaten alone, which is why it can be a good choice if you plan to dress up your tuna with heart-healthy olive oil or protein-rich Greek yogurt.
One 1/2 cup (75 grams) serving of oil-packed tuna contains 145 calories and 6 grams of fat. The oil helps lock in the flavor of the fish, so you get a richer flavor and moister flesh compared to water-packed tuna. It’s a good idea to look for olive oil-packed tuna rather than soy or vegetable oil, as it’s higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s a good choice for a salad – just watch out for the extra dressing – or eat it on its own as a snack on whole-grain crackers.
In both cases, if you’re watching your sodium intake, be sure to look for the “no salt added” or “low sodium” options.
If you’re concerned about sustainability, you can opt for pole-fishing for tuna. While albacore tuna (white tuna) is slightly higher in mercury than bonito (chunky light tuna), it’s also milder and many people prefer a less fishy taste, so just be mindful of how often you consume canned tuna. Finally, when it comes to olive oil-packed or water-packed, it can be a healthy choice, provided you keep the sodium content in mind.