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Is Tuna Healthy?

This pantry staple packs a surprising nutritional punch

Affordable, convenient and generally kid-friendly, tuna is a staple in almost any busy mom's pantry. Tuna is relatively low in calories and high in nutritious protein, and even offers healthy fats that make it welcome in a balanced diet. However, there are some health concerns to consider when serving tuna, so choosing the right variety of tuna and practicing portion control are important.

Tuna Nutrition Basics

Tuna supplies lots of protein for relatively few calories. A 3-ounce portion of canned light tuna packed in water, for example, has 17 grams of protein for just 73 calories and less than a gram of fat. Fresh skipjack tuna has 19 grams of protein, 88 calories and just one gram of fat. That protein supports lean muscle, so it complements your active lifestyle to keep your family fit and healthy. And tuna's naturally low saturated fat content means it's heart-healthy.

The Benefits: Healthy Fats

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Although tuna is lean, the fats it does have are the healthy unsaturated kind – including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s play a role in fighting inflammation, which could otherwise contribute to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Getting omega-3 fatty acids is especially important for your kids, since the fats are linked to healthy cognitive functioning and development. Tuna has up to 0.7 grams of omega-3 fats per 3-ounce serving, and it counts toward the two weekly servings of fatty fish you're supposed to eat each week.

Potential Concerns

When it comes to tuna, there are three major health concerns: mercury, food-borne illness and – for canned tuna – sodium content. Keep your mercury intake in check by choosing light tuna over white (albacore) tuna, which is higher in mercury. Avoid food-borne illness by choosing canned or fully cooked tuna over raw tuna, including in sushi. And limit your sodium intake by choosing lower-salt varieties of canned tuna, as well as rinsing and draining the meat thoroughly to wash away lingering salty residue.

Intake Recommendations

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Tuna has a place in a healthy diet, but it shouldn't be the only fish on the menu. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends serving two to three servings of fish and shellfish each week. That works out to between 8 to 12 ounces of fish weekly for you and for older children (over 10 years old), and slightly less for younger children due to smaller portion sizes. If you're serving older children, feel free to introduce them to raw tuna at a reputable restaurant with a reputation for food safety. If you're pregnant, expecting or feeding young children, though, go for canned tuna as your healthiest option.