Fresh fish can be pricey. Thank goodness for canned seafood — affordable, handy, healthy and versatile, it’s hard to beat!
Tuna and salmon dominate store shelves, in the form of chunks, flakes, slices, pieces, and also in sandwich (pulverised) style. Unflavoured tuna is canned in brine (salty water), spring water or oil, such as soybean oil and extra-virgin olive oil; unflavoured salmon usually has added salt.
You’re probably familiar with the wide range of flavoured tuna or salmon combos. These include mayonnaise, cracked pepper, lemon, chilli or tomato. Cans of sardines, mackerel, crab meat, and smoked oysters, mussels and anchovies are also available.
How much fish is in the can?
If you’re letting price guide you, it pays to compare the amount of fish in different cans. Check the ingredients list, which states the fish content as a percentage.
The actual amount of fish (in oil or water) can be anywhere from 60 to 93 per cent of the can’s total contents. Flavoured-seafood products range from 42 to 65 per cent seafood, whereas tuna spreads are about 23 per cent tuna. Cheaper products may simply contain less seafood and more oil, brine or spring water.
Packed with protein
Canned seafood is an excellent protein source. Depending on the kind of fish, 100g gives you about 15 to 30g of protein. (Two eggs provide 12g of protein.)
Crammed with calcium
Canned fish that has soft edible bones is also a good source of calcium, though product labels rarely mention it. The amount of this mineral varies from brand to brand, but sardines get the calcium gold star. A small can of sardines (about 90g, drained) contains approximately 500mg of bone-friendly calcium — almost the same amount that a 250ml glass of calcium-fortified milk has, and roughly half of most adults’ recommended daily intake (RDI).
Full of ‘good’ fats
Canned fish can be a top source of the heart-healthy long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. These fats slow the build-up of plaque in the arteries, enabling blood to flow more freely. One 95g can of salmon offers about 1.5 to 2.0g of omega-3s; the same amount of tuna provides around 0.1 to 0.4g of omega-3s. According to the National Heart Foundation, Australians should consume a combined total of 500mg (0.5g) of EPA and DHA every day. This equates to eating two to three 150g serves of oily fish, such as salmon, sardines or tuna, a week. When comparing canned-fish products, look at the labels and choose those that contain 0.2g (or 200mg) of total omega-3s per 100g or more.
Flavoured with fat
Most of the fats in canned fish are the heart-healthy unsaturated variety, but some products are packed in flavoured oil (such as basil or chilli) to enhance the taste. To reduce your fat intake, opt for seafood packed in spring water. (Doing so will also lower your kilojoule consumption.) And when buying flavoured varieties, check that a 100g serve contains fewer than 4g of saturated fat.
Swimming in salt
If it’s a choice between seafood canned in brine or spring water, choose the latter to lower the sodium content. Manufacturers usually add salt to products they pack in oil or flavoured sauces, so look for varieties with fewer than 400mg of sodium per 100g. And remember that anchovies are particularly high in sodium, though we tend to use these often unpopular fish sparingly.
How canned tunas compare
See how the liquids that fish is canned in make a big difference to its kilojoule and sodium content.
In spring water
Buy the healthiest canned seafood
Check nutrition panels for:
Energy: Less than 800kJ/191cal per 100g
Omega-3 fats (EPA & DHA): At least 0.2g (200mg) per 100g
Saturated fat: Less than 4g per 100g
Sodium: Less than 400mg per 100g
Many of us are concerned with choosing sustainably caught seafood. Keep an eye out for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo, and for products with responsibly fished or pole and line on their labels. For more information on sustainability, go to msc.org or sustainableseafood.org.au. You can also download the Sustainable Seafood Guide app in the Apple App Store.