When it comes to convenient protein sources, canned tuna easily takes the gold. Whether you’re making a quick tuna salad, sandwich, or casserole, having canned tuna in your pantry is a staple. But, not all canned tuna on the market is created equal, with some of the best canned tuna brands having much better nutritional values and sustainability practices than other popular options.
We spoke to dietitians and nutrition experts to guide you through the ocean of options that deliver exceptional taste, quality, sourcing, and nutritional value. Additionally, we’ll alert you to the canned tunas that might not live up to our standards. Get ready to make informed choices, and elevate your tuna game.
When it comes to canned tuna, the terms “white” and “light” refer to different species of tuna. White tuna, also known as albacore tuna, is a larger species that tends to have a milder flavor and a firmer, flakier texture. It typically has a lighter color and higher fat content, making it richer and more buttery in taste. White tuna is often used in dishes where a meatier texture is desired, such as tuna steaks or salads.
Light tuna vs. white tuna
On the other hand, light tuna refers to smaller tuna varieties, like skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Light tuna is darker in color and has a stronger, more pronounced flavor compared to white tuna. It has a softer texture and tends to be more affordable than white tuna. Light tuna is commonly used in sandwiches, casseroles, and recipes where a bold tuna taste is wanted.
Both white and light tuna offer nutritional benefits, as they are excellent sources of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various essential vitamins and minerals. The choice between white and light tuna ultimately depends on personal preference, the intended use in recipes, and budget considerations.
Oil-packed tuna, as the name suggests, is canned with oil, usually vegetable oil or olive oil. This method helps preserve the tuna’s flavor and texture while providing a rich and moist product. Fat-soluble vitamins and the tuna’s nutrition are also preserved here. The oil enhances the taste and adds a lusciousness to the fish. However, it also means that oil-packed tuna tends to have a higher calorie count due to the added oil.
Oil-packed vs. water-packed
Water-packed tuna, on the other hand, is canned with water, typically with a small amount of salt or broth added for flavor. This method results in a lighter and more natural taste, allowing the singular flavor of the tuna to shine through. Water-packed tuna is often preferred by individuals who are watching their calorie or fat intake, as it generally has fewer calories and less fat compared to oil-packed tuna.
When choosing between oil-packed and water-packed tuna, consider your personal preferences in terms of taste, texture, and dietary needs. Oil-packed tuna may be more suitable for recipes that benefit from the richness of the oil, such as pasta dishes or salads, while water-packed tuna can be a healthier option for those looking to reduce their fat intake or enjoy a simple, more straightforward tuna flavor.
What about mercury in tuna?
It is crucial to remain aware about the presence of mercury in seafood, particularly if you are pregnant. Mercury, in high amounts in the diet, can have adverse effects on the nervous system, including brain development in infants and young children.
Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are advised to be more cautious about their consumption of high-mercury fish. Different species of tuna contain varying levels of mercury. Generally, larger and longer-lived tuna species tend to accumulate higher levels of mercury in their tissues.
The following tuna varieties are more likely to contain higher mercury levels:
It’s important to note that the health benefits of consuming fish, such as the omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and protein they contain, should also be taken into account. Balancing the potential risks of mercury exposure with the nutritional benefits of fish is important.
The bottom line: Fish, in general, is recommended in lower amounts for folks who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The FDA advises breastfeeding moms and moms-to-be eat 8 to 12 ounces of lower-mercury fish each week.