The World's Healthiest Foods
Tuna, yellowfin

While the consumption of canned tuna accounts for more Americans eating tuna than any other type of fish, it doesn’t compare to the wonderfully firm, dense and meaty flavor and texture of fresh tuna. Both canned and fresh tuna are available throughout the year. December is the time to get fresh Hawaiian tuna.

Tuna is found in the warm water areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. People have been enjoying tuna as a food ever since time immemorial. And while fresh tuna has been enjoyed by coastal populations throughout history, smoked and pickled tuna was widely consumed since ancient times.

 


Health Benefits

Tuna fish are truly a nutrient-dense food. An excellent source of high quality protein, tuna are rich in a variety of important nutrients including the minerals selenium, magnesium, and potassium; the B vitamins niacin, B1 and B6; and perhaps most important, the beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are so named because they are essential for our health but cannot be made by the body; they must therefore be obtained from foods. Cold-water fish like tuna are a rich source of the omega-3 essential fats, a form of essential fatty acids in which the standard American diet is sorely deficient. (The other form of essential fatty acids, the omega-6s, are plentiful in a variety of commonly consumed oils such as corn and safflower oil. In fact, the omega-6s are so plentiful in the typical American diet that too much omega-6 is consumed in proportion to omega-3s--an imbalance that promotes inflammation, thus contributing to virtually every chronic disease in which inflammation is a key component.)

Cardiovascular Health

Omega-3 fatty acids provide a broad array of cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3s benefit the cardiovascular system by helping to prevent erratic heart rhythms, making blood less likely to clot inside arteries (which is the ultimate cause of most heart attacks), and improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to potentially harmful (LDL) cholesterol. And, as mentioned above, omega-3s reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turn cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques. In a recent population-based prospective study, modest consumption of tuna was actually found to be associated with lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease in individuals 65 years and older. Tuna is also a very good source of vitamin B6, which, along with folic acid, lowers levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine, an intermediate compound produced during the methylation cycle, is directly damaging to artery walls, and elevated blood levels of homocysteine are considered an important risk factor for atherosclerosis.

Special Cardiovascular Protection for Postmenopausal Women with Diabetes

Eating omega-3 rich fish, such as tuna, at least twice each week significantly reduces the progression of atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women with diabetes, suggests a Tufts University study published in the September 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The three year study included 229 women with atherosclerosis, 42% of whom also had diabetes. Although new atherosclerotic lesions were seen in all the women, regardless of fish intake, those who consumed 2 or more servings of fish per week had significantly fewer lesions—especially if at least one serving was chosen from those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel or sardines.

Women with diabetes eating less than 2 servings of fish experienced an average 4.54% increase in stenosis (thickening and restriction) in their arteries, compared to an average increase of only 0.06% in women eating 2 servings of any fish per week.

In diabetic women eating less than 1 serving of omega-3-rich fish per week, stenosis increased 5.12% compared to a 0.35% increase in those who ate 1 or more servings of omega-3-rich fish each week.

Eating fish rich in omega-3s is so beneficial because these fats:

  • lower the amount of lipids (fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides) circulating in the bloodstream
  • decrease platelet aggregation, preventing excessive blood clotting
  • inhibit thickening of the arteries by decreasing endothelial cells' production of a platelet-derived growth factor (the lining of the arteries is composed of endothelial cells)
  • increase the activity of another chemical derived from endothelial cells (endothelium-derived nitric oxide), which causes arteries to relax and dilate
  • reduce the production of messenger chemicals called cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response associated with atherosclerosis
(October 20, 2004)

Stroke Prevention

A recent study showed that eating fish lowers the risk of certain types of strokes. The study, which involved almost 80,000 nurses during a 15-year period revealed that those women who ate fish 2 to 4 times per week had a 27% reduced risk of stroke compared to women who ate fish one a month. Eating fish five or more times per week reduced the risk of certain strokes 52%.

A meta-analysis of eight studies published in the July 2004 issue of Stroke provides further support that eating fish is protective against stroke in men as well as women. Eating fish, such as tuna, as little as 1 to 3 times per month may protect against ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by lack of blood supply to the brain, for example, as a result of a blood clot), suggests

Data on nine independent groups participating in eight different studies found that, compared to those who never consumed fish or ate fish less than once per month, risk of ischemic stroke dropped:

  • 9% in those eating fish 1 to 3 times per month
  • 13% in those eating fish once per week
  • 18% in those eating fish 2 to 4 times per week
  • 31% in those eating fish 5 or more times each week
(October 11, 2004)

Protection Against Atrial Fibrillation (Heart Arrhythmia)

Eating tuna that's broiled or baked, but not fried, may reduce risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, especially in the elderly, according to a Harvard study published in the July 2004 issue of Circulation. In the 12-year study of 4,815 people 65 years of age or older, eating canned tuna or other broiled or baked fish 1 to 4 times a week correlated with increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a 28% lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Eating broiled or baked fish 5 times a week lowered risk even more— a drop in atrial fibrillation risk of 31%.

Eating fried fish, however, provided no similar protection. Not only is fried fish typically made from lean fish like cod and Pollack that provide fewer omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, frying results in the production of damaged, free-radical-laden fats in the fish as well as the frying oil. (December 13, 2004)

Grumpy Teenagers? Tuna May Help Reduce Hostility and Protect Hearts

Feeling really grumpy? Eating more cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines may help. A study published in the January 2004 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a statistically significant relationship between consuming fish rich in omega-3 fats and a lower hostility score in 3581 young urban white and black adults. Those with the highest intake of omega 3 fats had only a 10% likelihood of being among those with the highest hostility scores. Eating any fish rich in omega 3 fats compared to eating no omega-3-rich fish was also found to drop subjects’ chances of being hostile by 12%. One reason this finding is important: hostility has been shown to predict the development of heart disease, and the young adults in this study were already also enrolled in the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study—a study that is examining how heart disease develops in adults.(March 25, 2004)

Promote Detoxification

In addition to tuna's omega-3s, the selenium it contains is a necessary component in one of the body's most important antioxidants--glutathione peroxidase--which is critical for a healthy liver, the organ responsible for detoxifying and clearing potentially harmful compounds such as pesticides, drugs, and heavy metals from the body. Selenium also helps prevent cancer and heart disease.

Cancer Protection

Eating even small amounts of fish may protect against ovarian and digestive tract cancers. A total of 10,149 cancer patients with 19 different types of cancer and 7,990 controls were included in a recent study conducted in Spanish hospitals. The researchers determined that eating more fish correlates with a reduced risk of certain cancers. Fish eaters had less cancer in the ovaries, pancreas, and all parts of the digestive tract including the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.

Lower Your Risk of Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Fishermen have, in epidemiological studies, been identified as having a lower risk of leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an occupational benefit that researchers thought might be due to the fact that they eat more fish. Now, a Canadian study published in the April 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention suggests that persons whose diet includes more weekly servings of fresh fatty fish have a much lower risk of these three types of cancer. Data drawn from a survey of the fish eating habits of 6,800 Canadians indicates that those consuming the most fatty fish decreased their risk of leukemia by 28%, their risk of multiple myeloma by 36%, and their risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 29%. Overall, frequent eaters of fatty fish reduced their risk for all forms of lymphomas by 30%.(August 3, 2004)

Some of the cancer protective effects of fish, such as tuna, may come from its being a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which have themselves shown impressive anticancer effects, especially important in protection against breast cancer. Recent in vitro (test tube) evidence suggests that this beneficial effect is related to the fact that when omega-3s are consumed in the diet, they are incorporated into cell membranes where they promote cancer cell apoptosis via several mechanisms including: inhibiting a pro-inflammatory enzyme called cyclooxygenase 2 (COX 2), which promotes breast cancer; activating a type of receptor in cell membranes called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-ã, which can shut down proliferative activity in a variety of cells including breast cells; and, increasing the expression of BRCA1 and BRCA2, tumor suppressor genes that, when functioning normally, help repair damage to DNA, thus helping to prevent cancer development.

Prevent Macular Degeneration

Eating fish, especially tuna fish, may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a currently untreatable disease that causes fuzziness, shadows or other distortions in the center of vision.

In a recently published study, investigators tracked participants for several years and calculated the types of fat and total fat they ate. Those who ate the most fat overall increased their risk of AMD, while those who ate fish reduced their risk of developing the eye disease. Diets containing saturated fats from animals and unsaturated fats from vegetable oils were associated with modest increases in the risk of developing AMD, although omega-3 fats from fish, especially tuna fish, actually reduced the risk. A specific omega-3 fish fat, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is concentrated in the retina of the eye and may help protect and promote healthy retinal function.

Protect against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like yellowfin tuna provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less.(August 23, 2004)

The significant amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in cold-water fish, such as tuna, may also translate into protection against Alzheimer's disease. In a paper published in the September 2004 issue of the journal Neuron, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine reported that a diet rich in DHA reduced the impact of a gene linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Using mice bred to have genetic mutations that cause lesions typical of Alzheimer's, the researchers found that those fed a diet containing omega-3-rich fish did not develop the expected memory loss or brain damage. In contrast, mice fed safflower oil, which is low in the omega-3 fats and high in the omega-6 fatty acids, showed signs of synaptic damage in their brains that closely resemble those of people with Alzheimer's.(December 13, 2004)

Description

Tuna fish is one of the most loved fishes in the world, thanks in part to the popularity of canned tuna. Yet, while canned tuna is a delicious and nutritious food, if you have never tried fresh tuna, you have been missing out on an even healthier culinary treat since fresh tuna retains more of its beneficial omega-3 fats than canned.

Tuna is firm and dense and has the meatiest flavor and texture of any fish.

There are several varieties of tuna including bluefish, yellowfin and albacore. The bluefish and yellowfin are deep red in color, while albacore is pale pink. Oftentimes, the tuna will be streaked with dark brown flesh that has a stronger and more intense flavor.

History

People have been enjoying tuna as a food ever since this beautiful fish appeared in the Earth’s waters--basically, since time immemorial.

While fresh tuna has been enjoyed by seacoastal populations throughout history, tuna in other forms of preparation has also been popular. In ancient times, smoked and pickled tuna were widely enjoyed. Today, canned tunafish is extremely popular throughout the world and in the United States, in which canned tuna is the most widely consumed fish of all.

Tuna is found in the warm water areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Tuna:

After you unwrap your fish, rinse it under cool running water, then pat dry before cooking.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Tuna is a featured ingredient in the classic French dish, Salad Nicoise, which pairs tuna fish with steamed green beans and potatoes.

The sky's the limit when making tuna salad since so many different ingredients nicely complement tuna's mild flavor. Some of our favorite tuna salad ingredients include olives, chili peppers, leeks, fennel and walnuts. Try using fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and a little mustard for a healthier way to make a tuna sandwich instead of mayonnaise. Stovetop Sear a tuna steak and add it to a salad of mixed greens and vegetables.

For an Asian-inspired meal with a hot streak, lightly brush a tuna steak with wasabi and soy sauce, and Quick Broil.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised that pregnant women and women of childbearing age who might become pregnant not eat certain fish, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. It also recommends that nursing mothers and young children steer clear of these fish.

Two groups, the Environmental Working Group and the U.S. Public Interest Group have asked the FDA to add Gulf coast oysters and eight more types of fish to the list including tuna, sea bass, halibut, marlin, pike and white croaker. Their recommendations are based on a report on mercury contamination in fish. In addition, their report says canned tuna, mahi-mahi, cod and pollack should not be eaten more than once a month.

Canned tuna, according to one study in 1991, was contaminated with mercury on average of 170 ppb (parts per billion) to levels of 750 ppb (parts per billion). Food contaminated with mercury, when coupled with other metabolic processes, can trigger human T cells (a type of immune cell) into programmed cell death. Low levels of mercury in the brain have been associated with neurotoxicity.

According to these two research groups, fish considered safe for pregnant women include farm-raised trout and catfish, shrimp, fish sticks, flounder (summer), wild Pacific salmon, croaker, mid-Atlantic blue crab, and haddock.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Tuna, Yellowfin, Baked/Broiled
4.00 oz-wt
157.63 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.38 g 118.8 13.6 excellent
selenium 53.07 mcg 75.8 8.7 excellent
protein 33.99 g 68.0 7.8 excellent
vitamin B3 (niacin) 13.54 mg 67.7 7.7 excellent
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 1.18 mg 59.0 6.7 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.57 mg 38.0 4.3 very good
phosphorus 277.83 mg 27.8 3.2 good
potassium 645.25 mg 18.4 2.1 good
magnesium 72.58 mg 18.1 2.1 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.33 g 13.2 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Bernard-Gallon DJ, Vissac-Sabatier C, Antoine-Vincent D et al. Differential effects of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene expression in breast cell lines. Br J Nutr 2002 Apr;87(4):281-9.
  • Calon F, Lim GP, Yang F, Morihara T, Teter B, Ubeda O, Rostaing P, Triller A, Salem N Jr, Ashe KH, Frautschy SA, Cole GM. Docosahexaenoic acid protects from dendritic pathology in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Neuron. 2004 Sep 2;43(5):633-45.
  • Cho E, Hung S, Willett WC, et al. Prospective study of dietary fat and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2):209-18.
  • CNN.com. Fish-mercury risk underestimated. CNN.com April 12 2001.
  • Connor W. Will the dietary intake of fish prevent atherosclerosis in diabetic women. <. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep;80(3):626-32.
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  • Erkkila A, Lichtenstein A, Mozaffarian D, Herrington D. Fish intake is associated with a reduced progression of coronary artery atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease. Am J Clin Nutr , Sept. 2004; (80(3):626-32.
  • Fernandez E, Chatenoud L, La Vecchia C, et al. Fish consumption and cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Jul;70(1):85-90.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Fritschi L, Ambrosini GL, Kliewer EV, Johnson KC; Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiologic Research Group. Dietary fish intake and risk of leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Apr;13(4):532-7.
  • He K, Song Y, Daviglus ML, Liu K, Van Horn L, Dyer AR, Goldbourt U, Greenland P. Fish consumption and incidence of stroke: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Stroke. 2004 Jul;35(7):1538-42.
  • Iribarren C, Markovitz JH, Jacobs DR, Schreiner PJ, Daviglus M, Hibbeln JR. Dietary intake of n-3, n-6 fatty acids and fish: Relationship with hostility in young adults-the CARDIA study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jan;58(1):24-31.
  • Iso H, Rexrode KM, Stampfer MJ, et al. Intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and risk of stroke in women. JAMA 2001; 285(3):304-12.
  • Levin B. Environmental Nutrition. Hingepin Press 1999.
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9.
  • Mozaffarian D, Lemaitre RN, Kuller, L H. Cardiac benefits of fish consumption may depend on the type of fish meal consumed the Cardiovascular Health Study. Circulation 2003 Mar 18; 107(10):1372-7.
  • Mozaffarian D, Psaty BM, Rimm EB, Lemaitre RN, Burke GL, Lyles MF, Lefkowitz D, Siscovick DS. Fish intake and risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Circulation. 2004 Jul 27;110(4):368-73.
  • Stoll BA. n-3 fatty acids and lipid peroxidation in breast cancer inhibition. Br J Nutr 2002 March;87(3):193-8.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-12-14 00:34:33
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation