Tuna Canning – Eating Tuna in Oil vs Tuna in Water


Living on a planet where over 70 percent of the surface is covered with water that’s abundant with edible life, fishing is a sport and an enjoyable hobby with delicious prizes. But if fishing is not your avenue of feeling peace and serenity or thrill and excitement, you probably buy fish at the supermarket every now and then. Fish not only satisfies your appetite, but supplies generous amounts of valuable protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. More specifically, fish is the best source of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which play a balancing act with animal fats found in plentiful amounts with most of our meals.

Eating fish just three times a week helps to boost your immune system, assists in blood clot formation and hormone production, balances your cholesterol levels, prevents heart disease, reduces joint and muscle pain, supports healthy brain and nerve function, fights depression and slows down the aging process to help keep your body youthful. According to many researches, fish-eaters are hot only happier, but they tend to have more pleasant personalities than people who don’t eat seafood.

Fish Fats
The main reason is the unique chemical nature of fish fats which work on the cellular level. Every cell in our body is surrounded by a cell membrane composed mainly of fatty acids. This membrane checks that the proper amounts of necessary nutrients enter the cells and ensures efficient excretion of harmful toxins and byproducts of metabolism. Made up of fat, cell membranes depend on the type of fat we eat.

To maintain integrity and fluidity, cells need a healthy membrane. This ensures good communication with other cells and efficient ability to hold water and vital nutrients. All the fats you eat get incorporated into cell membranes, and the type of fatty acids dictate how your cells respond and grow. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats stay liquid even in the refrigerator. Researchers believe that diets containing large amounts of saturated or hydrogenated fats produce cell membranes that are hard and lack fluidity, while diets rich in Omega-3 fats promote membrane fluidity.

Omega-3 fats are also famous for their ability to improve blood flow, prevent cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of arrhythmia, lower the amount of lipids in the blood, and prevent extreme blood clotting.

Did you know that you may be able to shed extra kilos almost effortlessly if you eat your Omega-3s? The reason is found in the wonderful ability of its constituents – the Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – to work with the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin released from your fat cells. When leptin goes up, you put down the fork down sooner because you feel satisfied and full. So, when you eat your fish, your hunger disappears thanks to the team work of EPA and leptin. Since all hormones work synergistically, your insulin also stays in check regulating your food intake, body weight and metabolism.

Researchers found that Omega-3 fatty acids affect cell growth by activating an enzyme called sphingomyelinase, which ultimately causes cancer cell death. Additionally, fish is full of other anti-inflammatory compounds known as resolvins which, unlike drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and the COX-2 inhibitors, do not have negative side effects on our gastrointestinal or cardiovascular systems.

Nutritious Tuna
tuna-canningTo stay healthy and safe from premature aging or onset of chronic disease, eating tuna twice a week is a great option. This truly nutrient-dense food gives you high quality protein, no carbohydrates, minerals selenium, magnesium, and potassium; the B vitamins niacin, B1 and B6; and perhaps most important, the beneficial Omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Besides the healthy fats, fish has more digestible complete protein than most foods, high amounts of vitamins A, B, D, and K, as well as calcium, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. Tuna is also a very good source of Vitamin B6 which, along with Folic Acid lowers levels of artery-damaging homocysteine and prevents atherosclerosis.

With all the fabulous benefits tuna has to offer, moderation is still the key to success. Consider that overdoses of nourishing fish nutrients, just like underdoses, may also impair immune function, elevate LDL cholesterol, alter blood lipids and blood clotting, and worsen Type II diabetes. Moreover, fish oil naturally contains high levels of the two potentially toxic vitamins, A and D.

Canned Tuna
If you established that fresh tuna fish is excellent for your health, can the same be attributed to canned tuna? If you are think canned foods are less nutritious than fresh options, you are not far from the truth. But canning may not be as bad as you think.

Canning foods is a very effective method of preservation. The process protects against the growth of micro-organisms and kills harmful bacteria, but the high heats used for canning rob foods of vast amounts of nutrients, especially vitamin C, Thiamin and Riboflavin which are sensitive to light. You still benefit from the mineral supply of the canned foods, and the macro-nutrient nourishment may even be better than what you find in fresh products.

So, canned food is not always worse than fresh or frozen. If the food’s overall quality is high, it is best in all forms – canned, frozen, or fresh.

Canned tuna can be a good source of Omega-3 fats, but the specific amounts depend on the product you choose. You’ll find a variety of different terms used to describe tuna on canning labels. The market name “light” tuna may refer to many different species of tuna, including Skipjack, Bluefin, Yellowfin, and Tongol, but the specific name”albacore” or ”white tuna’ comes from a biological species of tuna Thunnus alalunga, which includes Longfin, Tombo, Ahi, and Ahi Palanacanas tuna.

Nutritionally, these different types of tuna are quite similar-except for their fat content, which can vary by as much as 10 grams per cup depending on the chosen species, additional ingredients used in canning, brand name, and season and water temperature where the fish was caught.

Choosing Canned Tuna
To get the most Omega-3 fats from your canned tuna, choose water-packed over oil-packed. The oil mixes with some of the tuna’s natural fat, so when you drain oil-packed tuna, some of its Omega-3 fatty acids also go down the drain. Since oil and water don’t mix, water-packed tuna won’t leach any of its precious Omega-3s.

Some manufacturers first bake tuna for easy de-boning, but it causes a loss of natural beneficial oils. Then the fish is mixed with additives and flavorings and put into the can – all you really get from these products are nutrient-lacking calories. When tuna is packed into the can raw and cooked only once, all the natural juices and fats remain.

Tuna in Oil vs. Tuna in Brine 
Trying to tingle your taste buds with canned tuna may be as challenging as choosing the right flavor, texture and nutrient profile of the product. The first question on the menu is: What is the best health and diet boosting canned fish, is it tuna in oil or tuna in brine?

Nutrients (per 1 cup serving)"Light Tuna" in Oil"Albacore" in Olive Oil"Light Tuna" in Water"Albacore" in Water
Calories from Fat10812911.446.1
Total Fat (g)121415
Saturated Fat2201
Monounsaturated Fat4.3N/A0.21.3
Polyunsaturated Fat4.5N/A0.51.9
Omega 3 (g)0.348.10.461.35
Omega 6 (g)N/AN/AN/AN/A
Cholesterol (mg)26554672
Protein (g)42.5473941
Carbohydrates (g)0000
Vitamin D (iu)345N/AN/AN/A
Vitamin K (mg)64.2N/A0.34.3
Niacin (mg)18.1N/A20.510
Vitamin B12 (mcg)3.2N/A4.52

So, if you are ready to give your body a healthy boost of nourishing gifts from the sea, get your knowledge ready to explore the “Canned Food” isle of the supermarket. After all, sometimes we all need a “food break”, and easy grabs, such as canned tuna, become handy.

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About Author

Elena Voropay is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and Certified Nutritionist. She also holds accreditations for her knowledge in Iridology and Herbal Medicine. Elena has conducted presentations and lectured on various health, fitness and science-related topics. See my profile page for more information!


  1. Unfortunately, along with the higher healthy fat in white tuna, you also get a significantly higher dosage of mercury (average of .407 parts per million versus .118 for light). Mercury in canned tuna: white versus light and temporal variation. Burger J1, Gochfeld M. Environ Res. 2004 Nov;96(3):239-49

    • Hi Lacey – The albacore tuna in the table showing 8.1 grams of omega-3 is a premium or “gourmet” type of Pacific Albacore tuna made by a specialty brand. These smaller tuna fisheries catch their fish in the cold waters of the Pacific and they are immediately fresh-frozen once they are hooked and brought aboard the boats. The way the tuna is processed also differs from the larger commercial canneries (cook their fish twice) and the smaller tuna fisheries. This results in a loss of natural beneficial oils with the larger commercial canneries.

  2. I like how you said that canned tuna is just as good as the other kinds of ways to buy it, whether fresh or frozen. It makes sense to me that this would be because canning doesn’t necessarily mean that they are really doing anything to the meat that would make it lose its nutrients. Putting it in a can isn’t going to remove any of the nutritional value from it. I bet the way that you prepare the meat would change its content of nutrients, but not necessarily the way that it is stored.

  3. If you’re going to eat tuna do yourself a favor and only eat “gourmet” albacore brands that consist of tuna that is wild caught in the Pacific. If you’ve never eaten a gourmet tuna you don’t know what you’re missing. Once you do you will NEVER eat the cheap brands again. These gourmet brands can be pricey. Wild Planet and Wild Selections will set you back about $4 per can and believe it or not the Genova brand is from Walmart and runs about $2.75 per can. Genevo is one of THE BEST gourmet tunas I have ever eaten and is right up there with Wild Selections and Wild Planet. The difference in flavor, texture, how the fish is caught and packaged is night and day. I have followed a strict Primal diet (The Primal Blueprint) for almost 2 years and these gourmet tunas are the only tuna I eat and only in oil which is recommended on the Primal diet as you want the saturated fats from the oil. I only drain out half the oil. You will be surprised by what you learn and I promise once you try a wild caught albacore you will never go back to that gross, mushy, stinky, big commercial tuna ever again!

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