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Fishing for fast, easy nutrition? Consider canned

By Julianna Grimes Bottcher
and Dana Jacob
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We love fish. Americans are eating more than ever. And there are compelling reasons why. In light of the positive health benefits associated with fish, we're looking for creative ways to incorporate it into our diets.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week because it's a good source of protein and low in saturated fat. Fatty fish including trout, sardines, tuna, and salmon are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University, says the benefits of these polyunsaturated fatty acids reach beyond heart health and link omega-3s to the prevention of a variety of health problems. Because of their anti-inflammatory, anticlotting, and antiarrhythmic properties, omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Ample consumption of omega-3s may also enhance mood and sharpen memory.

Eating fresh or frozen salmon and tuna are good ways to obtain omega-3s, but for an easy and economical alternative, consider canned fish. It offers the same health benefits, and the culinary possibilities go well beyond sandwiches. ( All about fishexternal link )

Many varieties of each fish are available. For example, most large grocery stores carry canned (or pouched) fish. Specialty markets offer premium tuna imported from Italy and Spain. And an abundance of small fisheries in the Pacific Northwest have created a new category of canned fish available at specialty stores and via the Internet.


Many kinds of tuna are available in cans or tins, glass jars, or pouches.

Pouches filled with fish and no added liquid are a popular convenience item. Pouches and glass jars allow the pure tuna flavor to shine.

Most canned tuna is packed in water, broth, olive oil, or canola oil. Read the labels closely to determine whether any ingredients, such as salt or broth, have been added, and which type and cut of fish are contained.

The price of tuna varies widely and depends upon the cut of fish, fishing method, and canning process. For example, ventresca tuna, the prime cut from the fatty belly area of tuna (known as toro in sushi restaurants), is typically line-caught and canned fresh; therefore, it's the most expensive.

Tuna varieties offer differing amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Albacore, often labeled "white meat tuna," has the most: One (four-ounce) serving packed in water delivers 1.06 grams, while you'll get 0.5 gram from the same size serving of albacore packed in oil. Since omega-3s are oils, they don't disperse when the fish is packed in water, and draining the water allows most of these beneficial fatty acids to remain in the fish. But tuna packed in oil provides an environment where the fish's natural oils intermingle with the packing oil, so when the can is drained, some of the omega-3 oils are lost.

And, as we discovered, both tuna and salmon are available at varying prices, with a wide range of flavors and textures.


Canned salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids -- one (four-ounce) portion contains up to 2.2 grams. Because there's no significant difference in omega-3 levels among salmon varieties, let flavor and texture guide your choices.

There are three main types of canned salmon: pink, sockeye, and king (chinook). Pink salmon has the lightest color and mildest flavor. Sockeye has brighter salmon color and flavor. King salmon, a premium fish, also called chinook, is prized for its succulent texture and supreme flavor.

Salmon is usually packed in its cooking liquid or water, but check the label to be sure. The ingredient list will reveal any additions, such as salt. Refer to the label for other helpful information; many varieties of canned salmon contain bones and skin unless labeled "boneless, skinless." In some recipes, such as our Wasabi Salmon Burgers, it's easy to mash the bones, and they'll blend innocuously into the dish. The bones add a bit of calcium as well. The label should also indicate if the salmon is wild. Canned salmon allows you to serve wild salmon year-round, especially when fresh is expensive and hard to find. Wild salmon has a pure, pronounced salmon flavor. ( 20 seafood favorites in 20 minutesexternal link )

Hot-smoked salmon is another alternative. As the name implies, the fish is cooked over a smoldering fire until the texture is firm and the taste is similar to that of smoked bacon. It's available canned or filleted near the seafood section of most major supermarkets or through Internet sources. Hot-smoked salmon is different from cold-smoked salmon, which is most often thinly sliced and eaten on bagels,in salads, and used for appetizers.

Getting hooked

In the Pacific Northwest, small operations, such as Dave's Gourmet Albacore, fish with hooks and lines. The fishermen hand-select the highest-quality fish and handle them with care. This fishing technique allows them to net small, young fish with lower mercury levels. There's a notable flavor difference, too. Premium tuna is cut and placed in the can uncooked. The tuna at these small fisheries is usually cooked only once during the canning process. This yields a moist and pure-flavored tuna that's packed in natural juices. These are some of our favorite salmon and tunas, and where to find them.

• Dave's Gourmet Albacore: Albacore, yellowfin, and ahi tuna; sockeye and king salmon, regular and hot-smoked. Sold in gourmet markets and online at link.

• Vital Choice: Wild red sockeye salmon, regular and skinless, boneless salmon; albacore tuna. Sold only online at link.

• La Tienda: Imported Spanish tuna, such as Ortiz Bonito del Norte and ventresca tuna, are available at specialty food markets and online at link.

• The Great American Smokehouse and Seafood Company: Canned chinook and hot-smoked chinook salmon, albacore and hot-smoked albacore are available. Storefront business and online only at link.

• Buon Italia: Offers a variety of Italian tuna packed in olive oil, including ventresca, at www.buonitalia.comexternal link.

Safety concerns

Of late, there have been safety worries regarding salmon and tuna. Salmon has been linked with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). However, both wild and farm-raised salmon contain PCB levels well below the government's advisory level.

There also have been concerns about tuna's levels of mercury, which is linked to neurological damage in unborn children. Although tuna is not on the government's mercury advisory list, pregnant or lactating women and young children should limit their consumption to 12 ounces of light tuna or 6 ounces of albacore weekly. Mercury levels are generally higher in large, older predatory fish because the mercury accumulates over the fish's lifetime.

Despite these issues, many experts believe that the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks. For more information about PCBs and mercury in seafood, check out "The Fish Conundrum"external link at

Julianna Grimes Bottcher is an associate food editor at Cooking Light. New York City--based freelance recipe developer Dana Jacobi is the author of the "12 Best Foods Cookbook."

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Canned fish offers the same health benefits as fresh, and the culinary possibilities go well beyond sandwiches


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