Is a Tuna Sandwich Healthy?


 by Jody Braverman

Busy people are always on the hunt for meals that are both quick and healthy. Many tuna sandwiches are loaded with mayonnaise and served on highly processed bread. This is not a healthy choice.

Your tuna sandwich is only as healthy as the ingredients you use to make it, so choose whole grain bread, fresh veggies and other nutritious ingredients to combine with your tuna. Simple substitutes for mayo and nutrient-rich add-ins can make your healthy tuna sandwich just as delicious.

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Due to the mercury content in canned tuna, this sandwich shouldn't appear on your menu more than once or twice a week.

Fat, Calories and Protein in Tuna

Tuna is low in fat and calories, high in protein and a good source of vitamins and minerals. One 3-ounce serving of light tuna canned in water provides only 73 calories and less than a gram of fat. If you're watching your weight, it's an excellent lean protein option.

To keep your sandwich low in calories and fat, pick fresh tuna or tuna canned in water. Varieties canned in oil have 158 calories and 7 grams of fat in 3 ounces. While this fat is primarily healthy poly- and monounsaturated fat that can boost your heart health when eaten in place of saturated fats, tuna in oil also contains a small amount of saturated fat — 1 gram per serving.

In 3 ounces of light tuna canned in water, there are 16.5 grams of protein. Tuna canned in oil has a little more protein, with 22.5 grams per 3 ounces. Packing in protein is essential for health. As the building block of all the cells in your body and of muscle, bone and other tissues, protein is required for biological function. Proteins also assist in the production of antibodies, enzymes and hormones.

One serving of tuna provides a good portion of the protein adults need each day. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein, according to the Food and Nutrition Board, is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men.

One serving of light tuna canned in water provides 36 percent of a woman's daily needs and 29 percent of the protein a man needs each day. Tuna canned in oil offers 49 percent and 40 percent of the RDA for women and men, respectively.

Read more: Can Eating Tuna Every Day Be Harmful?

Choose Your Bread Wisely

Bread is often demonized, especially among low-carb dieters. But unless you're trying to lower your carb intake, there's nothing wrong with bread in moderation. However, in order to keep your tuna sandwich healthy, you need to choose the right kind of bread.

Healthy bread is made of whole grains. Your best choice is 100 percent whole grain bread. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates. During processing, the grain remains intact, with its bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains, on the other hand — which includes white bread — have been stripped of at least one of a grain's components: bran, germ or endosperm.

Intact, whole grains are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They digest slowly, leading to steady blood sugar and energy. Refined grains, however, are not a good a source of nutrients — although they may be fortified — and without the fiber, the carbohydrates in the refined grain bread can lead to blood sugar spikes. When your blood sugar rises rapidly after a meal, it then falls just as rapidly, leading to an energy "crash." Fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to fatigue, moodiness, food cravings and hunger.

Full of Fiber

Two slices of 100 percent whole grain bread have 6 grams of fiber. Fiber helps maintain steady blood sugar by slowing digestion, so sugars aren't absorbed into your bloodstream as quickly. Fiber is also crucial for healthy digestion, as it adds bulk to stool, helping it pass more easily.

Getting enough fiber can prevent constipation, as well as other GI problems that can lead to more serious illnesses, such as colorectal cancer. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels by removing some fats from the bloodstream so they can't be absorbed by cells. Last, high-fiber foods fill you up better than low-fiber foods, which can help you control your calorie intake and your body weight.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals in Each Bite

Your healthy tuna sandwich recipe will provide many of the vitamins and minerals you need each day. Tuna fish is high in B vitamins, including niacin and B12.

As a group, B vitamins aid energy and metabolism. Niacin is required for hundreds of enzymatic reactions to take place, as well as in catabolic reactions that help convert fats, carbs and protein to adenosine triphosphate, or ATP — the body's main energy currency. Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy red blood cell production, neurologic function and the synthesis of DNA.

The RDA for niacin is 14 milligrams for women and 18 for men. Three ounces of light tuna canned in water provide 61 percent of a woman's daily needs and 48 percent of a man's requirement. The RDA for B12 is 2.4 micrograms for both men and women, and a serving of tuna provides nearly 100 percent.

Tuna fish is also a good source of phosphorous, a mineral necessary for healthy bones, energy production and cell signaling. Three ounces of tuna contain 17 percent of the RDA for men and women. Tuna is also a rich source of iron, with 1.4 milligrams in 3 ounces. Women will get 8 percent of their daily iron needs, and men will get 18 percent of their needs from one serving of tuna.

Mix Up a Nutritious Tuna Salad

Most people don't just eat plain tuna on bread when they want a tuna sandwich. Usually it's mixed with mayonnaise — often a lot of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a concentrated source of calories and fat, and offers few other nutrients. Just 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise have 188 calories and 20 grams of fat. Although that fat is primarily poly- and monounsaturated, one serving does contain 3 grams of saturated fat.

Ditch the mayonnaise for a healthier option that's just as tasty. Greek yogurt is thick, rich and creamy, just like mayo, but a lot lower in calories and fat. Two tablespoons of lowfat Greek yogurt have only 20 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. Unlike mayo, Greek yogurt has protein, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and other essential nutrients. Once you finish your traditional tuna sandwich recipe with lemon juice, mustard, celery, onion, capers and seasonings, you'll achieve the same flavor as you would using mayo.

But don't stop there. Keep things interesting by creating a gourmet tuna fish sandwich. Switch up your tuna sandwich recipe and add slivered almonds, chopped scallions, olives, chopped apples, kale or Swiss chard. Try unique seasonings such as tarragon and cumin.

And don't forget the toppings, which are a chance to add more nutrition to your sandwich. Try sliced boiled eggs for a little extra protein, fresh spinach leaves or sliced tomatoes. With all this variety, you'll never get bored with a healthy tuna sandwich.

Mercury Concerns

While tuna is healthy, the level of mercury in it is not. Mercury, which is naturally found in the environment and also comes from air pollution, is a toxic substance that can cause immediate and long-term poisoning.

All varieties of canned tuna contain mercury, but some types are worse then others. Canned white tuna, or albacore, has the highest levels of mercury, and the Environmental Defense Fund warns that women shouldn't eat more than three 6-ounce servings each month and men shouldn't eat more than three 8-ounce servings each month. Children ages 6 to 12 shouldn't eat more than two 4.5-ounce servings per month, and children under the age of six shouldn't have more than one 3-ounce serving per month.

Canned light tuna is a safer choice, and adults can safely eat a serving once a week. However, be aware that labels that say "gourmet" or "tonno" can contain as much mercury as canned white tuna. Children younger than six can have as many as three 3-ounce servings a month, and older children can eat the same amount as adults.

Better yet, make your sandwich with canned salmon, which is low in contaminants and rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and brain.

Read more: Nutrition of Yellowfin Tuna

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