And how often should you be eating canned fish? A dietitian answers all.

By "Isadora Baum"
July 02, 2021
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Canned fish makes for an easy, quick meal when you’re pressed for time and need something high in protein and fat to fill you up.

There are various ways to use canned fish in your meals and snacks. Throw it on a bed of salad greens as a protein topper, stuff it in a wrap or sandwich, or create a creamy dip to go with whole grain crackers or chopped crudité.

Salmon and tuna are two of the most popular kinds of canned fish you can buy, and while both are nutritious and versatile, you might be wondering if one is a healthier choice than the other. Here’s a dietitian’s answer to that question.

What Are the Health Benefits of Canned Fish?

Both kinds of canned fish offer essential nutrients—and if you’re thinking canned is inferior to fresh, you’re wrong. The health benefits of canned salmon are exactly the same as those of fresh salmon, so don’t think you’re getting less nutritional bang for your buck by going with the more affordable and convenient form.

“Salmon is loaded with key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, and a slew of vitamins and minerals,” says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook.

“Eating tuna offers similar benefits as canned salmon does, as tuna also contains important healthy fats, high quality protein, and important vitamins and minerals,” she says.

One key nutrient found in both tuna and salmon is DHA omega-3 fatty acid. “This nutrient supports a baby's brain and eye development during pregnancy, and this is one reason why pregnant people are advised to eat seafood two times a week,” she says.

“These fish also contain selenium (an antioxidant that helps protect the body's cells), vitamin B6 (for carbohydrate metabolism), and vitamin B12 (helps keep nerve and blood cells healthy), to name a few,” she adds. All of these nutrients are found in both salmon and tuna.

Both types of fish are versatile and can be interchangeable in most recipes and salads, but salmon works especially well with tropical fruit (like mango) and in Asian-inspired recipes that use teriyaki or soy sauce. Canned tuna tastes great with mayonnaise, as well as more herbaceous and nutty ingredients, like grapes, walnuts, dill, or celery.

Which is Healthier: Canned Tuna or Salmon?

“While both canned salmon and tuna are excellent staples to keep on hand for a quick protein source, salmon may be a slightly better choice,” says Manaker.

“Certain varieties of tuna can contain higher levels of methylmercury, a metal that, when consumed in large amounts, can cause harm to our health,” she explains. Salmon is typically a "low mercury" choice, so it’s a bit better to reach for. Manaker also notes that skipjack tuna contains less mercury than albacore varieties, on average, so that’s a good tip for tuna shoppers.

For a bonus, go with canned salmon that has bones in it. “You will get the extra benefit of additional calcium in your diet,” she says, which can lower the risk of osteoporosis later in life and build bone density and strength.

Manaker suggests Wild Planet as a brand for both salmon and tuna. “This brand practices sustainable fishing practices and the products are delicious and high quality,” she says.

Aim to eat two to three servings of low mercury fish or seafood a week. If you’re eating fish with higher levels of mercury (like swordfish and orange roughy), eat fewer servings of fish that week to balance it out. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has a handy chart that breaks down fish varieties and their mercury levels to help inform your seafood consumption.

“Two to three servings of salmon per week is a great choice for an overall healthy diet, as long as no other seafood is being enjoyed,” advises Manaker. Tuna is a little more tricky to navigate. “Canned chunk light and skipjack can be enjoyed two times a week, but canned albacore should be enjoyed fewer times,” she says. These suggested servings are assuming no other seafood choices are being enjoyed that week, though.

NEXT: Curious about vegan “toona”? Learn more about canned faux fish here.