Tuna vs. Salmon: Which Fatty Fish is Better For Your Health?

tuna vs. salmon

Health organizations like The American Heart Association recommend eating fish at least twice a week to help ensure you receive the heart-health benefits from key nutrients like omega-3 fats. Tuna and salmon are among the most popular seafood choices and most consumed fish in the United States. 1 Nonetheless, when it comes to choosing which fish to eat, you may wonder how they compare. Sounds like it is time for a tuna vs. salmon faceoff.

Tuna and salmon are both considered fatty or oily fish. Fatty fish contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than leaner white fish. This is because fatty fish store their lipids (fats) in the flesh. Lean fish, on the other hand, store most of their lipids in the liver.

Fatty fish are also cold-water fish, which naturally makes these fish richer in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. This is because the fat of cold-water fish is adapted to the temperature of the water. In other words, the oil in fish acts as an antifreeze in the cold water, so the colder the water, the better the oil has to be, meaning cold water fish are higher in unsaturated, healthier fats.

These healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support healthy levels of inflammation and potentially lower the risk of heart disease. Yet, different types of fish contain different nutrients as well as different amounts of fatty acids and ratios of EPA to DHA. These different amounts and ratios of EPA and DHA occur because of the different metabolic characteristics of the fish and differences in their diet, season, etc.

Tuna vs. Salmon

Fish Composition

While most people are familiar with tuna from the can, it comes from large fish found throughout all oceans. And depending on the variety, its flesh can range from pink to dark red. The color comes from myoglobin, which is a protein found in muscle needed to store oxygen. 2 Salmon, on the other hand, ranges from pink to deep red orange. This is a result of its diet, which is rich in colorful carotenoids. 3

Both tuna and salmon are extremely nutritious and provide protein as well as a wide range of vitamins and minerals. However, one of the main differences distinguishing the two fish is their body composition. Tuna is considered the leaner of the two due to its higher protein content, while salmon’s moist texture and oily flavor is largely due to its higher fat content.

Correspondingly, salmon is higher in calories than tuna because it is richer in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Most omega-3s are essential fatty acids; that is, the body is unable to make them, so you must obtain them from the foods you eat. These omega-3 fatty acids play critical roles in your body and have been linked to lowering cardiovascular disease risk by helping lower blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Nutrition Facts

Even with salmon’s high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, it is still an excellent source of protein. Salmon provides 22 to 25 grams of clean protein per 3.5-ounce serving, making it an ideal protein to support a healthy lifestyle and aid in weight loss.

Salmon is also an outstanding source of vitamin D. The daily recommended value of vitamin D is 400 IU for adults and children ages 4 and older. A 3-ounce serving of salmon contains 570 IU of vitamin D, making salmon a great choice since naturally occurring vitamin D is not present in many foods.

Beyond supporting bone health, one serving of salmon is also chockful of other important vitamins such as 45% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin B12, 25% of the DV of riboflavin, 15% of the DV of thiamine, and 6% of the DV of folate.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a food that’s high in protein and low in calories and fat, tuna is a clear winner. Cooked Skipjack tuna contains 110 calories, 24 grams of protein, and 278 milligrams of omega-3 fats in a 3-ounce serving. The same-sized serving of cooked wild Atlantic salmon contains 160 calories, 22 grams of protein, and 1,564 milligrams of omega-3 fats.

Don’t be fooled: less omega-3 fatty acids doesn’t make tuna any less nutritious. Skipjack tuna is rich in minerals, providing 25% of the DV for phosphorus, 10% of the DV for magnesium, and 8% of the DV for iron.

While they’re both highly nutritious, salmon is better when it comes to healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Alternatively, tuna is the winner if you’re looking for more protein and fewer calories per serving.

Types of Tuna vs. Salmon

That’s not all that needs to be considered in the debate of tuna vs. salmon though. The type of tuna or salmon you buy can make a big impact on its nutritional value as well. When it comes to salmon, you commonly come across farm raised or wild, but what is the difference?

Typically, farmed salmon is higher in fat, specifically in omega-6 fatty acids. Conversely, wild salmon typically is higher in minerals, including potassium, zinc, and iron. While both farmed and wild salmon are packed with health benefits, when given the choice, opt for wild caught.

As for tuna, one factor that has become an increasingly important consideration is mercury content. When larger fish eat smaller fish, contaminates from those fish, like varying amounts of mercury, can accumulate in the flesh. Generally, this means that larger fish like tuna contain more mercury because they are long-lived and near the top of the food chain in their environment.

With this in mind, it is best to buy smaller sized tuna when possible. Broadly, Bigeye, and Bluefin tuna should be avoided due to their elevated mercury content. Moreover, when shopping for canned tuna, opt for light tuna, which generally comes from smaller, less contaminated breeds of tuna.

Regardless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that tuna does not typically have as much mercury content as some other fish, but consumption may need to be limited, especially for pregnant women and children.

Tuna vs. Salmon: The Verdict?

So, what’s the verdict? While both tuna and salmon have their plusses and minus, the final answer is—eat both. Fish are commonly referred to as some of the healthiest foods you can eat and are staples in many of the best diets.

With both tuna and salmon providing healthy fats, clean protein, and valuable nutrients, each is welcomed as part of a healthy diet. Depending on your own nutrient needs, you can make the decision on which of the two is best for you and your body.

Still, despite their countless health benefits, overall fish intake is fairly low for most people. If you are trying to incorporate more fish into your diet, here are some delicious recipe ideas, including a healthy and savory everything bagel-crusted salmon and a seared ahi tuna. Enjoy!