Canned Tuna: All You Need to Know

Canned Tuna: All You Need to Know

Dubbed the “chicken of the sea”, tuna is one of the most common canned items, and a versatile one at that—canned tuna can be used in a variety of ways, be it in a salad, casserole, or sandwich. Let’s take a closer look at this common food product and see if there’s anything people should know.

Why Buy Canned Tuna?

Simply put, tuna is surprisingly nutritious. As with most fish products, tuna is packed with protein and is very low in fat—for an even more low-fat option, you could go for tuna that’s been canned in water rather than oil. In addition, it is a great source of iron and omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart function. It also has all the essential amino acids for growing and maintaining lean muscle. A can of tuna contains upwards of 45% of the daily recommended amount of phosphorus and Vitamin D as well. Its mild taste makes it a great choice for picky children as well.

On top of being a nutritious, protein-rich food, it’s very easy to whip up a quick meal with a can of tuna. If you’re on a time crunch or just don’t feel like making anything fancy, there are hundreds of simple yet filling snacks you can come up with. Simply putting some tuna on crackers takes no time at all and hits a nice balance between carbs and protein. For something that requires a bit more work, there’s always tuna salad—whether you want to use mayo, yogurt, or something else, it’s a filling yet somewhat healthy meal option.

Depending on where you live, a can of tuna could be one of the most budget-friendly items to stock up on. Not only can a 5 oz go for as low as a dollar, but it also keeps for years with no drop in quality. So, even if you’re not feeling like fish, it might be a good idea to buy a couple of cans (especially if they’re on sale) and let them sit in the pantry until you happen to crave it. After all, it doesn’t hurt to have something that you can improvise a quick meal with. 

Is Canned Tuna Healthy?

As we’ve mentioned, tuna is a great source of protein and is packed with nutrients that are essential for body growth and development. In addition, its low-fat content and benefits for lean muscle make it a superfood for athletes and bodybuilders. However, as with anything, moderation is key.

It’s fairly known that a pregnant woman should avoid or restrict her tuna consumption; however, eating excess tuna can hinder a developing baby/child as well. This is due to the mercury content in certain fish like sharks, king flounder, and bigeye tuna. Larger fish that are higher on the food chain typically contain higher amounts of mercury, so the bigger tunas (which are typically not canned) will pose more of a risk for a pregnant woman and her child. However, other types—albacore, for example—are significantly smaller and don’t pose as much of a threat. So how much canned tuna is safe to eat, and what is the impact of its mercury content?

As mentioned, the bigeye tuna is one of the most mercury-dense fish, which is why the FDA outlines that any woman who is pregnant, looking to get pregnant, or nursing should avoid eating it entirely. As for other fish, children and at-risk women should eat 2 servings or fewer per week of things like salmon and light canned tuna. However, white tuna—in the U.S., this is exclusively albacore—should only be eaten once a week. 

Mercury impacts the development of a child’s nervous system, so the more mercury a baby or child ingests, the more likely they are to have damage. A pregnant woman can pass it on to her baby, so any foods containing mercury should be avoided or strictly limited. So, if you’re pregnant and find yourself craving a starkist tuna, remember to moderate for the health of your baby. 

Canned tuna is typically made from smaller fish (with less mercury content), while larger tuna is usually reserved for steaks and sashimi. As a result, canned tuna (especially light tuna) is far safer to eat, but should still be limited or avoided for the aforementioned at-risk groups. For the rest, the mercury content in canned albacore or yellowfin tuna is unlikely to contain enough mercury to pose any threat. Regardless, while canned tuna is a nutritious food, it should still be consumed in moderation to be safe. For light tuna, a limit of 2-3 servings a week is generally considered safe.

Storing Canned Tuna Fish

While canned products typically last for years, there are some things to keep in mind. If stored in a dark, cool place (like any old cupboard or pantry), a can of tuna can safely last until the printed best by date—if not beyond it. It’s important to keep it away from excess light or heat, as this can spoil the tuna or cause the can to rust. With proper storage, tuna usually maintains top quality three years after canning.

If any of your cans are leaky, rusty, or are bulging, this means the tuna is likely spoiled and should be thrown out. Don’t ever buy cans if they are dented, cracked, or any of the above, as they are likely spoiled due to mishandling. If you have leftover tuna, store it in airtight tupperware in the refrigerator or freezer—it should last for 4 days and 3 months, respectively. All in all, canned tuna will last quite a while in a drawer, pantry, or cupboard.

Things You Can Make With Canned Tuna

Tuna is very versatile—you can make anything from a salad to a sandwich, or even get creative.

Here are some basic canned tuna recipes to stir your imagination:

  • Tuna sandwich—Pretty straightforward; you can use just about any ingredients you want, but the most common method is mixing it with mayonnaise and ingredients like egg or onion.
  • Make a spread—Another common use for tuna is making a simple spread for crackers, celery, or bread. Mix it with mayo, yogurt, and any vegetables that sound good; red or green bell peppers are a common choice. 
  • Boiled potatoes and tuna—This is a simple recipe with just a couple ingredients; boil and cut up potatoes into bite-size chunks (add butter for flavor if you like) and have them with tuna on the side. Potatoes and tuna are generally a great combination.
  • Tuna pasta—Simply adding a bit of tuna in any basic pasta dish can greatly enhance the flavor and add a lot of protein to a carb-heavy meal.
  • Tuna melt—If you’re feeling too fancy for a sandwich, you can make a tuna melt instead. Top your bread of choice (bagels are great for this) with tuna salad and a fair amount of grated cheese and cook in the oven until the cheese has melted. 
  • Casserole—Lastly, tuna is a great addition of protein to any potato or pasta casseroles. You could add canned peas and canned corn to make the simplest yet still a delicious and balanced meal.

Overall, you can get as creative as you want—keeping some tuna and crackers for an emergency snack is certainly a good idea for when you don’t have the time or energy to cook something up. Canned tuna is a very versatile ingredient with countless applications, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How is canned tuna made?

A: The caught tuna are usually gutted by hand and cooked for a predetermined amount of time (anywhere from 1 to 3 hours). Then, the cooked tuna is cleaned, filleted, and canned in oil, water, brine, or a sauce. The sealed can then goes through a process called retort cooking for a few more hours—essentially, it is heated to kill any bacteria inside the can. The key to the best canned tuna is an organized and careful process.

Q: What’s the healthiest kind of canned tuna?

A: Light tuna is generally considered safer and healthier than other types (such as albacore tuna, also called “white meat” tuna). Essentially, the recommended limit on light tuna consumption is higher than other types. However, pregnant women or women nursing a baby should avoid eating more than two servings per week of light tuna and one serving per week of albacore tuna. The recommendation holds for any young, developing child. For low-fat options, look for canned tuna that is sealed in water or brine rather than oil.

Q: How can you tell if canned tuna is bad?

A: Usually, you can tell if your tuna is bad without even opening the can. If your can is bulging, it means that decomposition has begun; the gases forming inside push the walls of the can outward. A bulging can should always be thrown out, as it means the fish inside is rancid. In addition, immediately throw out any cans that are rusty, mangled, cracked, leaking, or damaged in any significant way. If your can is fine but the fish itself has an odd, rancid odor or mold, play it safe and discard it as well. Tuna in particular should have a fairly mild smell.

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