HuffPo’s Latest No-No
In the Huffington Post, a freelance journalist and “brand strategist” offers advice on buying and eating canned tuna which, she says, is “especially relevant…in the age of the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter-in-place mandates.”
Canned tuna has always been a widely available, affordable, and nutrient-packed pantry staple, but given the unique stakes of the moment, it’s even more important than ever that people purporting to offer the public advice that could impact their health do so in a responsible way.
Unfortunately, this piece falls short in a number of areas. Here are the most important:
- The piece misstates government advice on how much seafood you should eat. She quotes a source claiming government experts recommend limiting tuna consumption to six ounces a week. That’s simply false. According to government guidelines, there are no seafood species off-limits to the general U.S. population. In fact, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans actually recommend eating at least 8-12 ounces (or 2-3 meals) of a variety of seafood each week, and this includes canned tuna.
- It puts the pregnant women—and their babies—at risk by not focusing on science-based recommendations. No sooner does the author misrepresent government advice than she recommends ignoring it all together, in favor of the unqualified and unscientific recommendations of an activist group with an ideological agenda. Even worse, she’s talking specifically to pregnant women, the group that can least afford to outsource decisions that could impact their children’s health to fringe agitators. In the FDA’s official guidance to pregnant women about eating seafood, it lists canned light tuna as a “best choice” and canned white (albacore) tuna and yellowtail tuna as a “good choice.”
- It pushes gimmick brands using myths to scare consumers. The piece recommends consumers worried about mercury buy from “Safe Catch,” a brand premised on the evidence-free assertion that other canned tunas are unsafe. We’ve warned about their tactics before, and consumers shouldn’t get fooled. Safe Catch sells a solution in search of a problem, for a hefty price-tag at a time when many Americans are struggling financially.
- It gives an incomplete story on the nutrition of different kinds of canned and pouched tuna. In repeating the flawed premises of the Safe Catch crowd, the piece ignores some of the nutritional punch that makes other commonly available forms of shelf-stable tuna desirable. For instance, the author never mentions that albacore tuna, which she implies you should avoid because of a higher mercury content (which is still far below the FDA’s threshold for mercury in food), is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids critical to heart, brain, and immune health.
- It makes a public health crisis worse, not better. While the article seems premised on encouraging readers to eat more seafood, the author’s bottom line recommendation—that people limit their consumption to “one can a week”—is well below the scientific and nutritional consensus. In fact, a comprehensive study that considered both the positive health benefits in fish (like omega-3 fatty acids and protein) as well as the theoretical risks (like mercury) overwhelming found the net effect of eating tuna is positive. In fact, the study found pregnant women could eat 164 ounces of canned light tuna per week and 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna per week without any adverse effects. The suggestion that all Americans should limit tuna to 1 can (4 ounces) per week is wholly irresponsible.
Americans already eat dangerously little seafood. Articles like this, that dwell on what to limit and avoid – with no scientific basis – are not going to make that better.
Readers looking for a straight-shooting guide on why canned and pouched tuna is a critical addition to your 2020 pantry should look beyond the Huffington Post. Here’s a good place to start: Everything You Need to Know About Canned Tuna Nutrition.