Health Benefits of Tuna
The soggy, smelly, tuna-fish sandwich deserves another chance. I remember in elementary school hating the days when my mom sent me with tuna sandwiches. The moisture would soak through the wheat bread forming a dark, soggy dent in the middle. Mashed inside the zip-lock bag, it was unappetizing to say the least. It didn’t taste gross though. Even though it looked disgusting, I did always eat my lunch. Little did I know that the fish my mom made my lunches with carried a pretty impressive nutritional profile.
While I no longer eat tuna-fish sandwiches, tuna is definitely a go-to when I’m seeking a quick, protein option for a lunch or snack. I’ll have it on a salad or mix it with Dijon for a speedy snack. Yes, tuna is an excellent source of protein, and I’ll remind you why protein is so important, but there are many other health benefits of tuna. Let’s explore!
Tuna is an excellent source of B12, niacin (B3) and B6 and a very good source of thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B2). We hear a lot about B Vitamins, but why are they so important for health? According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, all B vitamins help with energy production because they enable the body to convert food into fuel. They also help us metabolize fats and protein. Even more, they help with nervous system function and are important for healthy skin, hair, liver and eyes. Here are some details about the B-Vitamins present in tuna.
- B12 (Cobalamin): This is probably the most popular of the B-Vitamins. It is necessary for production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material. Vitamin B12 pairs with vitamin B9 (aka folate/folic acid) to help make red blood cells and to help iron produce hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen to the rest of the body. B12 has also been shown to alter cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, combat depression and is associated with increased energy production and improved mood. B12 is only found in animal products so it is necessary for vegans to supplement in order to prevent deficiency.
- B3 (Niacin): Do you want to decrease heart disease risk? Increase your HDL (high-density-lipoprotein) numbers. Niacin plays a key role in this process. Apolipoprotein A1 is needed to make HDL. Research shows that niacin helps prevent breakdown of apolipoprotein A1. This means that it helps increase HDL levels in the body. Niacin has also been shown to lower triglycerides levels when consumed in therapeutic doses and may prevent some types of skin cancer because it protects skin cells from sun damage. One 5-ounce can of tuna provides 40% of daily recommended needs.
- B6 (Pyridoxine): The Mayo Clinic reports that B6 is involved in the process of making serotonin and norepinephrine, which help with energy and mood. Vitamin B6 also helps protect nerve function by aiding in the formation of myelin, a protein layer that forms around nerve cells.
- B1 (Thiamine): Thiamin helps the body convert carbohydrates into glucose for energy. It also helps the body breakdown proteins and fats. B1 is a key player in heart health as well because it helps to maintain healthy ventricular function, which helps treat heart failure. A study also found that thiamine supplementation helped cognitive function by improving reaction times.
- B2 (Riboflavin): Vitamin B2 is responsible for maintaining healthy blood cells, and like other B vitamins, it helps support a healthy metabolism and increase energy levels. B2 is also an antioxidant, so it helps combat free-radical damage.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
I’ve written a lot about health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, but reinforcement never hurt anyone. EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3s present in tuna have been shown to lower heart disease risk by improving blood vessel function. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s paired with the vasodilator capabilities of potassium (also found in tuna) help to lower blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure reduces cardiovascular stress and can help lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
The omega-3s in tuna are also beneficial for weight loss. Omega-3s help signal leptin production. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, leptin is the hormone that is responsible for signaling satiety in the brain. When you’re satisfied, you’re much less likely to snack on “empty-calorie” foods such as cookies and/or chips that lead to weight gain.
Other benefits of omega-3s found in tuna are that is has been found to help with prostate health and also assist in fetal brain development in pregnant women as well as brain development of young children.
- Selenium– This powerful antioxidant helps protect cells and DNA from free-radical damage. It is also said to counteract the harmful effects of heavy metals. Selenium is gaining popularity due to it’s role in thyroid health. It acts as a catalyst in the production of the active thyroid hormone. Low selenium levels are associated with male infertility, dementia, depression and a weakened immune system. One 5-ounce can of tuna provides 60% of daily recommended needs.
- Protein– I know, I know, you know this, so I’ll keep it short. Proteins break down to amino acids, which truly are the building blocks of life. Every cell, enzyme, and organ in our body is made from protein so we need it to survive! It helps support healthy growth and development. It is necessary for development of lean muscle mass, which increases basal metabolic rate. This helps with weight loss because it means that your body burns more calories at rest. Lastly, protein keeps you fuller longer.
What about Mercury?
Pregnant women used to be cautioned against consuming tuna due to its perceived high mercury content. The FDA has made changes in its regulations. Chunk light tuna has far less mercury than albacore and is considered safe for pregnant women and non-pregnant individuals. Recommendations are to consume up to 12-ounces of chunk-light/skipjack or other low-mercury fish per week. Albacore should be limited to no more than 6-ounces per week.
To ensure that you always have a healthy go-to, keep canned tuna in your pantry or even in your desk at work. It’s inexpensive; it will keep your hunger in check and provide many key nutrients to support overall health. Now you, like me, can forgive your mom for those tuna-fish sandwiches. She really did have your best health interests in mind. ☺