Tuna can be a quick and easy source of protein to add to sandwiches, salads, dips, or just to eat by itself! You may have heard mixed messages about whether or not teenagers should be eating fish at all, so let’s clear that up!
Tuna can be a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids for teenagers as long as it is low in mercury and eaten in moderation. Fish, including tuna, will have some levels of mercury, but the beneficial nutrients that fish brings to a healthy diet outweigh the risks!
Read on for more information on how much tuna a teenager can eat, and important nutrients for teenagers found in fish.
Nutrients in Tuna
Did you know that it is actually recommended to eat fish a few times each week? Seafood is packed with nutrients that are important for everyone. Here are some of the benefits of eating fish (including tuna):
- Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce cancer risk, decrease levels of bad cholesterol, and prevent problems with vision.
- Fish is a great source of protein which is important for rebuilding muscle and keeping the body strong and healthy.
- Fish is a good source of vitamin B12, a vitamin necessary for making both DNA and red blood cells.
- Iron and zinc are also found in fish. Both of these help to keep the immune system healthy and prevent anemia.
Is it Bad to Eat Tuna Everyday?
Tuna and fish in general sometimes get a bad reputation. Maybe you have heard of fish being connected to mercury poisoning, which sounds pretty scary! While there is some truth to these claims, the negatives often get blown way out of proportion.
So what is the deal with mercury? Mercury is a pollutant. It gets into large bodies of water where bacteria converts it into the dangerous compound known as methylmercury. With fish being constantly in this environment, some amounts of methylmercury are found in all fish.
However, it is really only dangerous to humans when a lot of methylmercury is consumed over a long period of time. Remember that there are many other benefits to eating fish that outweigh the potential risks of mercury!
Eating large amounts of tuna or other seafood everyday would be overdoing it, but tuna is not a food that should be completely avoided. Keep reading to find out how much tuna is appropriate for teenagers to be eating each week!
How Much Tuna Can a Teenager Eat?
In order to balance the benefits of tuna and other fish with the negative effects of methylmercury, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that teenagers consume about 8 oz of seafood per week. This is about 2-3 servings per week.
It is easy to go overboard by consuming a large portion of tuna, so awareness is key. It might be helpful to plan your meals for the week to prevent overconsumption of tuna or other fish.
To get an idea of how much fish you are consuming, you can use the palm of an adult hand as a reference. The thickness and size of an adult palm is the equivalent of about 4 oz of seafood. Obviously, this is not a perfect measuring system, but it is easier than pulling out the food scale at the dinner table!
As energy needs increase, the recommendation for seafood might increase. Talk to a dietitian to see how much seafood is appropriate for you.
Although tuna is not a “bad” food, certain kinds of tuna are better than others, and eating tuna a couple times a week is likely fine for most teenagers. However, a diet full of variety is much more beneficial to your health, so try other fish as well!
What is the Healthiest Kind of Tuna?
The chart below was made by a collaborative effort from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FDA. They sorted different types of seafood by their mercury content and placed them into one of three groups: Best choices, good choices, or choices to avoid.
Notice that different types of tuna are found in all three categories! That might seem confusing, but there is some science behind this. Larger fish and fish that live longer are usually going to have higher mercury levels because it is easier for it to accumulate.
Canned light tuna (skipjack) is listed in the “best choices” category, while bigeye tuna is in the “choices to avoid” category because of its higher mercury level. If possible, choose seafood from the “best choices” category 2-3 times each week!
Albacore tuna is in the “good choices” category, but it is still about three times higher in mercury than light tuna. It is recommended to only have one serving of seafood from the “good choices” category, and to have that be your one and only serving of seafood for the week.
Bigeye tuna is listed as a choice to avoid because it is particularly high in mercury, especially compared to other types of tuna.
It might take some experimentation, but try new recipes with canned light tuna until you find some that you enjoy!
Other Healthy Seafood Options
Tuna isn’t the only healthy seafood option. In fact, the best case scenario is that teenagers get a variety of seafood from the “best choices” category each week. You might want to save the chart above for future reference.
If you have consumed types of seafood other than the ones listed in the “best choices” category, you don’t need to freak out. Just focus on those “best choice” options going forward.
Shrimp and salmon are a couple of my favorite “best choice” seafood options to include in meals.
Canned light tuna can be a great option, especially because it is cheap and shelf-stable. Although other kinds of seafood can be more pricey, a lot of it can stay fresh in the freezer for a long time and is pretty easy to cook for a quick meal. Keep an eye out for lower prices and buy seafood when it is on sale to minimize some of the cost.
Meal Ideas for Tuna and Other Fish
Try out some of these meal ideas to help you include more fish in your diet! This is not an exhaustive list of seafood ideas, and you can substitute other “best choices” to any of these meal ideas. Do any of these sound good to you?
- Tuna sandwich with carrots and strawberries
- Blackened salmon with broccoli and a baked potato
- Rice bowls with shrimp, tomatoes, onion, corn, beans, avocado and cheese
- Pasta with shredded salmon and a side salad
- Tuna and crackers for an easy, balanced snack
- Tilapia with fried rice and asparagus
- Shrimp alfredo with green beans
- Clam chowder with a green salad
- Crab cakes and brussel sprouts
- Macaroni and cheese mixed with tuna and zucchini
- Smoked catfish with mashed potatoes and green bean casarole
There is a lot of misinformation about tuna and fish out there. If you do a quick google search, you might find a lot of confusing information!
The truth is, when consumed in the appropriate amounts, fish is a really important part of a healthy diet! Teenagers should aim for about 8 oz of seafood a week as a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, B12, zinc, and other nutrients.
Aim to include more low-mercury seafood options in your diet. You can use the “best choices” list above for reference.
If you are a tuna lover, try and choose canned light tuna to minimize the amount of mercury you are consuming. There is nothing wrong with teenagers eating tuna, but mix up your routine and include a variety of kinds of seafood!
American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy fish choices for kids. Healthychildren.org. Updated September 8, 2021.
FDA. Advice about eating fish. Fda.gov. Revised October 2021.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Questions and answers from the FDA/EPA advice about eating fish for those who might become or are pregnant or breastfeeding and children ages 1 to 11 years. Fda.gov. Updated October 28, 2021.
WebMD. Health benefits of tuna. Webmd.com. Accessed December 1, 2021.
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