It’s hard to pass up a sesame-crusted ahi steak or a spicy tuna roll when they pop up on a menu. Luckily, there are many reasons to embrace the health benefits of tuna. Tuna is a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and the vital micronutrient selenium, all packed in a fish that’s as tasty raw as it is cooked, canned or coated in mayonnaise (tuna salad, anyone?). Tuna is full of vitamins and minerals, too, such as vitamins A, B, and D, calcium and iron. Plus, tuna fits into many diets, whether you’re eating gluten-free, paleo, keto or kosher.

Tuna is a Great Source of Protein

Though we tend to use the term “tuna” generically, there are actually 15 tuna species, with the white-fleshed albacore the type most commonly found canned in grocery stores. At the other end of the cost and prestige spectrum is ahi or yellowfin, the species typically used raw for sashimi and sushi, or seared as a “steak.”

Seared ahi tuna steak on plate
Few gourmet treats can compare to the buttery richness of lightly seared ahi steak.

All varieties of tuna are excellent sources of protein. A six ounce serving of albacore boasts a whopping 45 grams. And tuna, like most fish, is very lean — over 75 percent of the calories in a typical serving come from protein.

Protein is a core component of any diet, and increasing your protein intake can have a number of health benefits. A 2015 review in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating more protein led to weight and fat loss, as well as reductions in blood pressure, triglycerides and waist circumference (Leidy et al., 2015).

Scientists think these benefits, especially weight loss, come from changes in metabolism and appetite. People who eat more protein often report feeling fuller for longer, helping cut down on overeating.

Getting Your Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids, like the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in tuna and other seafood, are key ingredients to a healthy body. EPA and DHA are building blocks that cells use to make compounds that fight inflammation in the body. They’ve been shown to lower your risk of heart attacks, contribute to essential brain function and more (Hu et al., 2019).

Tuna is a great way to add more of these omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Vital Choice’s canned wild albacore, for example, delivers 1370mg omega-3 fatty acids per 53g serving, putting it in the same omega-3-rich league as our canned wild sockeye salmon.

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the immune system and are tightly linked to the body’s inflammatory response (Gutiérrez et al., 2019). And the omega-3 in fish like tuna helps our skin by protecting against the adverse effects of aging, skin cancer, allergies and dermatitis (Huang, 2018). Tuna really is an anti-aging food.

Additionally, deficiencies in these essential fatty acids have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Preliminary studies have shown that DHA supplements can reduce the brain plaques linked to Alzheimer’s (Hooijmans et al., 2020). And other work has found DHA supplements can prevent neuron loss and cognitive decline (Zhang et al., 2015).

Other research has even suggested that the omega-3 in fish oil can offer protection against the damaging effects of alcohol. Science suggests that people who abuse alcohol have low DHA levels in their bloodstreams, and laboratory studies on rats found feeding them large amounts of DHA reduced their desire to consume alcohol. There’s also preliminary evidence that DHA may protect against inflammatory bowel disease by reducing inflammation in the gut.

A Source of Selenium

Skipjack tuna sandwhich on multigrain bread with lettuce and cucumber
Skipjack sandwich, anyone?

You may have heard that you have to be careful with tuna because of its mercury content, but there’s actually not a cause for concern, especially with the premium varieties Vital Choice offers.

Vital Choice works with its partners to ensure the sustainability of tuna stocks, and to keep the mercury content of its products well within recommended limits. For instance, by purchasing albacore only of a certain weight — 15 pounds or less — we can assure each individual fish is smaller, and hasn’t assimilated much mercury.

One other way to reduce mercury exposure is through another element: selenium. Tuna is a great source of selenium, and the element offers protection against the detrimental effects of mercury (Melgar et al., 2019). Selenium “competes” with mercury by binding to the cellular sites to which mercury would normally attach, essentially sequestering mercury and preventing it from harming the body (Raymond & Ralston, 2020).

Selenium protects against type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s also important for metabolism and thyroid function. There are many ways to get your selenium from foods. Selenium is found in meats, cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs, sunflower seeds, beans, mushrooms and more. Aside from brazil nuts, which contain an incredible 544 mcg per ounce, yellowfin tuna is one of the most selenium-rich foods out there, at 92 mcg per three ounces.

All these tuna nutrition facts add up to a simple conclusion: Tuna is a great choice if you’re looking for a new protein source to mix things up at dinner time, or hoping to get your omega-3, selenium and other vitamins and minerals from your diet.

Variety is the spice of life, after all. Adding tuna in its many forms is a great way to mix things up — especially when science confirms that the health benefits are worth it.

 

Sources:

  • Gutiérrez, S, Svahn, SL, & Johansson, ME. (2019). Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(20), 5028. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20205028
  • Hooijmans CR, Rutters F, Dederen PJ, et al. (2007). Changes in cerebral blood volume and amyloid pathology in aged Alzheimer APP/PS1 mice on a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) diet or cholesterol enriched Typical Western Diet (TWD). Neurobiology of Disease, 28(1),16-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2007.06.007
  • Hu Y, Hu FB, & Manson JE. (2019). Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease: An Updated Meta-Analysis of 13 Randomized Controlled Trials Involving 127477 Participants. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(19):e013543. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.013543
  • Huang TH, Wang PW, Yang SC, Chou WL, & Fang JY. (2018). Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil’s Fatty Acids on the Skin. Marine Drugs, 16(8), 256. https://doi.org/10.3390/md16080256
  • Leidy HJ, Clifton PM, Astrup A, Wycherley TP, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Woods SC, Mattes RD. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), 1320S–1329S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.084038
  • Melgar MJ, Núñez R, Ángeles García M. (2019). Selenium intake from tuna in Galicia (Spain): Health risk assessment and protective role against exposure to mercury and inorganic arsenic, Science of the Total Environment, 694, 133716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133716.
  • Raymond LJ & Ralston NVC. (2020). Mercury: selenium interactions and health implications, NeuroToxicology, 81:294-299. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuro.2020.09.020.
  • Zhang Y, Chen J, Qiu J, Li Y, Wang J, Jiao J. (2015) Intakes of fish and polyunsaturated fatty acids and mild-to-severe cognitive impairment risks: a dose-response meta-analysis of 21 cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(2):330-340. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.124081