Tuna: A pantry staple or a fish to avoid?

Rhetoric:Larger fish like albacore (white) tuna used in canned tuna are major sources of methylmercury in the diet. Everyone, but especially children, should stop eating canned albacore tuna and consume less canned light tuna. Instead, people should enjoy low-mercury seafood options like shrimp, sardines and salmon.

Reality:The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) found that canned tuna “products are beneficial – and thus post no reasonable possibility of injury – through at least 24.5 ounces per week in both their central and worse case calculation.”

Packed with omega-3s, low-fat protein, selenium and other nutrients, canned light and albacore tuna are optimal, safe choices of fish. Both kinds are low in mercury, falling well below the FDA’s action limit of 1.0 parts per million (ppm); canned light tuna has an average of 0.13 ppm while albacore has an average of 0.35 ppm. More reassuring, the FDA’s 1.0 ppm action level has a built in safety factor of 1,000 percent “to limit consumers’ methylmercury exposure to levels … lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.”

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are clear that everyone should eat a variety of seafood, including canned tuna. While the general population has no restrictions, pregnant and breastfeeding women and children can have up to two servings of fish per week, including canned light tuna and up to one meal per week of albacore tuna.


Canned tuna is a nutritional powerhouse that, according to dietary guidelines, should be eaten more often by the general population, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women to meet our need for two seafood meals a week.