Tuna is high in protein, and low in calories and saturated fat. It is inexpensive, quick to prepare, and keeps in the pantry for several years. Tuna contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, although not as much as some of the fattier fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. Tuna also contains vitamin D and selenium, a mineral that helps support thyroid function.
There are so many ways to incorporate tuna into our diet. From comfort foods like deli tuna salad and tuna melts to the French classic salad Nicoise and a multitude of Italian tuna pasta dishes. Tuna is a mild-flavored protein that can be added to all kinds of salads, sandwiches, pasta, and omelets. It can be combined with herbs and spices; tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, and other vegetables; and beans for endless combinations.
As delicious and easy to prepare as tuna is, there are some risks associated with eating it regularly. Our oceans have been polluted with heavy metals and other toxins. One of these heavy metals is mercury. Tuna, like other large fish, eat smaller fish that have been exposed to mercury, causing mercury levels to concentrate in tuna.
Over a period of time, mercury levels can start to elevate in people who eat high-mercury fish, even just once a week. Mercury can cause fatigue and neurological symptoms in adults. It is best to limit our intake of high-mercury fish to one four-ounce serving per week.
Mercury can be especially toxic to children. The FDA recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and small children avoid eating fish high in mercury. Albacore tuna generally is higher in mercury than smaller tuna varieties such as skip jack, tongol, and sometimes yellowtail.
In addition, manufacturers often line the cans food is packaged in with bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that can leach into food and has been linked to cancer, infertility, brain and nervous system issues, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity. We are still learning what the health effects of BPA-free chemicals are. One way to avoid BPA and other toxins is to buy tuna in glass jars or tetra packages.
The seafood industry is complicated, international, and nuanced. People around the world rely on seafood for their nutrition and economic livelihoods. Yet, our oceans are being overfished, and fishing is damaging sensitive habitats and polluting our waters.
The word “sustainable” is not an official certified designation. It does not mean anything specific and can be used by any company in any context. Both the way seafood products are caught and the way they are farmed can harm the ocean. Different countries have different policies regarding fishing and fish farming. The United States and Canada have some of the strictest environmental guidelines for fishing, guiding how, where, and when fishing can be done. Other countries are not as focused on protecting the oceans and marine wildlife.
When looking for ocean-friendly tuna, it is important to do your research and read labels. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website is a great source of information, and they even publish a sustainable tuna guide.
Seafood Watch recommends avoiding tuna caught internationally with drifting longlines and several tuna varieties caught in the Indian Ocean. Pole-caught, pole-and-line-caught, troll-caught, FAD-free, free school, or school-caught are considered less harmful to the oceans than other fishing methods. Often times when a tuna company fishes with more protective methods, they highlight it on the label.
I was recently interviewed for an article on tuna by www.mindbodygreen.com on this topic. Check it out at https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/is-tuna-good-for-you. If you are interested in learning more about sustainable seafood, check out my blog post, where I go more in-depth on this topic at https://barbsobel.com/2021/06/sustainable-seafood/