Tuna vs. Salmon: How They Compare, According to Dietitians

If you are like most Americans, about 80% to 90%, to be exact, you could probably use more fish in your diet. Although the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating seafood two to three times a week, only 10% to 20% of Americans achieve this goal.

In particular, oily fish such as tuna and salmon are an excellent addition to meals due to their high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which can raise good cholesterol in small amounts and lower triglycerides (the association with the results of heart disease remains obscure). Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for children's brain development, and growing evidence suggests that they help prevent cognitive disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

To top it all, tuna and salmon also provide substantial amounts of protein and important vitamins and minerals. Plus, they taste great!

Ever wonder which of these healthy seafood options is best for you? We consulted nutritionists for a complete comparison of tuna and salmon in terms of nutrition, health benefits, culinary use, and other factors.

Nutritional information

Tuna and salmon are very nutritious sources of fish. The USDA provided nutritional information for 3 oz (85 g) of yellowfin tuna4 and 3 oz (85 g) of wild Atlantic salmon.

 Tuna (3 oz.) Salmon (3 oz.)
 Calories 93 121
 Fat <1g 5g
 Sodium 38mg 37mg
 Fiber 0g 0g
 Sugar 0g 0g
 Protein 21g 17g
 Vitamin D (IU) 40 IU 570 IU
 Selenium (µg) 77 µg 31µg
 Niacin (µg) 16 µg 6.7µg
 Vitamin B12 (µg) 1.8µg 2.7µg

Nutritional Similarities

Since tuna and salmon are considered fatty fish, it is not surprising that they have many similarities. Both are high in desirable omega-3 fatty acids (although wild and farmed salmon outperform tuna, with more than 1,500 mg of these fats per serving versus 1,000 to 1,500 mg for tuna)

Neither salmon nor tuna contain carbohydrates, which means they have no fiber or sugar. Its sodium content is also nearly identical, with 37 mg per serving of salmon and 38 g of tuna. And both offer plenty of protein to help you reach your daily goal.

Keep in mind that marinades and seasonings can affect the nutritional profile of fish, so it is important to be aware of fish preparation, especially if you are aware of sodium, added sugars or carbohydrates intake.

Nutritional differences

Despite all their similarities, these fish differ significantly. An ounce for an ounce, salmon contains about a third more calories than tuna. This is due to its fat content, which is also higher than 5g per serving versus 1g per serving of tuna. Remember that dietary fat can be beneficial. Salmon fat helps promote satiety, aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and is rich in heart-healthy omega-3s.

You will also find differences between salmon and tuna on the level of micronutrients. Salmon outperforms tuna in vitamin D6 and vitamin B12, while tuna is king in selenium and niacin.

It is also important to note that farmed and wild varieties of fish, especially salmon, have some nutrient differences. For our purposes, we examine wild salmon.

Tuna Health Benefits 

Tuna is a nutrient-rich source of fish packed with health benefits. So what does eating more tuna mean for your health?

Good source of omega-3

Although tuna does not meet the gold standard for omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, this fish prides itself on having many of these good fats for improving heart and brain health. “These polyunsaturated fatty acids help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering triglyceride levels and blood pressure,” says nutritionist Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN. "They're also an important part of brain development and eye health, so they're essential during pregnancy and early childhood."

Rich in selenium

Meanwhile, tuna is among the greatest dietary sources of the important - but often overlooked - mineral selenium. “Selenium is a trace mineral that offers a number of health benefits,” says nutritionist Jen Scheinman, MS, RDN. “It acts as an antioxidant, protecting against DNA damage from free radicals. In this way it can play a role in cancer prevention. ” And there is one organ in particular that benefits from selenium: your thyroid. “Selenium plays an essential role in thyroid health. Its antioxidant properties help protect the thyroid gland,” says Scheinman. Selenium also plays a role in reproduction.

Reduces cholesterol and increases the functioning of the nervous system

In addition, large amounts of niacin in tuna can lower cholesterol, while its ample vitamin B12 helps the central nervous system function and keeps red blood cells healthy.

Salmon Health Benefits

Excellent source of omega-3

Compared to tuna, salmon is even more of an omega-3 potency. Its more than 1,500 milligrams per serving of these fats meet (or nearly meet) daily omega-3 recommendations of 1.1 g for women and 1.6 g for men.

Higher amounts of omega-3s can have a positive impact even higher than those in tuna on heart health and brain function.

In addition, they can also help with mental health and reduce inflammation. “Omega 3s seem to play a role in our mood, helping with stress and anxiety, and they have an anti-inflammatory effect on our body, which can contribute to reducing muscle and joint pain after exercise,” says Ali.

Can increase satiety

The extra fat in salmon can also keep you fuller than the lower fat content in tuna.

Beneficial for energy and bone health

As for micronutrients, salmon contains more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than tuna. Getting enough vitamin D helps absorb calcium, supports bone health and reduces inflammation.

Taste, Preparation, and Cooking

The choice between tuna and salmon usually comes down to taste preference - do you prefer the milder flavor and flaky texture of tuna or the richer, fattier salmon? Whichever you choose, there are many tasty ways to prepare tuna and salmon.

"Tuna and salmon are really versatile protein options and perfect replacements for meat and poultry in many dishes," says Ali. Or egg muffins. It is also a delicious addition to fish tacos or as part of a rice or cereal dish.

" Tuna, on the other hand, is easily combined with other more powerful ingredients. "Because it is firm and has a mild flavor, it works well in stir-fries and salads, where it holds its shape and captures the flavors of the dish," recommends Ali.

When preparing fish-based meals, don't neglect canned tuna and salmon. “Canned versions of both are great for making salads or sandwiches. Both are also delicious on sushi or as sashimi, ”says Scheinman.

However, canned fish may not have the stellar nutritional profile of fresh ones. "Typically, most of the stable tuna is cooked and then canned, so some omega-3 and vitamin D are lost with processing," Ali says. To ensure better nutrition, look for canned fish labeled "canned raw." "'Raw can' means that the fish is cooked in the can and retains all the nutrients in the can," says Ali. "But remember, if you drain it, you will lose those extra nutrients."

Possible concerns

Sometimes it seems like there are too many factors in making healthy and informed food choices. Sustainability issues are especially important when it comes to seafood, and salmon and tuna vary in this regard depending on their supplier. Feel free to ask your local dealer about the environmental compatibility of your product. A certification from the Marine Stewardship Council is also a useful indicator of sustainably sourced fish.

Mercury content is another concern with fish. "Tuna tends to have a higher mercury content than salmon," Scheinman says. "Mercury is a toxic heavy metal and in excess it can have negative health effects." Specifically, pregnant and / or lactating women should limit their consumption of high-mercury fish and focus on low-mercury options, according to the FDA.

Last but not least, the price of tuna and salmon may be quite high. When budget is an important factor, choose the fish that best suits your family's finances.

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