With the current state of grocery store prices, it’s time to start getting a little more creative about what we add to our carts and serve on our dinner tables. And one area that might need some serious work is protein.
As you’ve probably noticed and scoffed at like the rest of America, prices for items like eggs and meat have skyrocketed over the past few months. Eggs saw an increase of nearly 60% year-over-year and poultry grew about 12%, according to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s no wonder shoppers are looking for alternatives and stores are starting to see an increase in demand for a different product: canned fish.
Fish, whether canned, fresh or frozen, is a low-fat protein option that is rich in essential vitamins and minerals and offers great diversity in terms of flavor profile. With canned fish, there’s even more to love. This option is generally more economical, practical and has an incredibly long lifespan. If the scales and eyeballs of fresh fish scare you, canned fish will help you bypass those details altogether!
As you can imagine, there are many canned fish options on the market. But before swimming in the vast ocean of options without a guide, check out these tips from dietitians to make sure you’re using only the highest quality canned fish that’s both safe to eat and provides the most large number of health benefits.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an industrial chemical commonly used in the manufacture of plastics and other commercial products, including some varieties of canned fish. “Go for cans that aren’t BPA-lined,” says dietitian and health author Lauren Manaker. “While it’s true that most manufacturers have moved away from BPA-lined cans, it’s always good practice to make sure the one you choose isn’t the exception.”
Nutrition Society New Zealand Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Krutika Nanavati adds that “BPA has been linked to various health problems such as infertility and certain types of cancer”. It is therefore best to avoid it as much as possible. When shopping for canned fish, you’ll know which ones to get because they will clearly state “BPA Free” on the label. What if they don’t? Don’t buy it. As simple as that.
“Choose fish that isn’t loaded with added salt,” advises Manaker. “While many options have salt in the mix, some varieties have more than others. Salt acts as a preservative, so it definitely serves a purpose. But keeping the level at a reasonable amount is key. .”
Dietitian and health writer Johna Burdeos recommends staying below 400 milligrams of sodium per 100 gram serving of fish as a standard guideline – the World Health Organization (WHO) even sets its lower standard at 360 milligrams per 100 gram serving of canned fish. Burdeos also mentions that flavored, pickled, and smoked fish generally rank higher in terms of overall sodium content. Opt for canned fish with no flavoring or added ingredients, and simply season at home (it will probably taste better anyway).
Although fish is an excellent source of protein and packed with other essential nutrients, it can also contain an unwanted additive: mercury. Almost all types of fish contain some level of mercury because they absorb it from the bodies of water in which they live and feed. Talk about a toxic environment!
While these traces of mercury are often unavoidable, Manaker says too much mercury could increase the risk of muscle weakness, vision problems, and more. High levels of mercury are also extremely problematic for pregnant women.
Opt for fish like anchovies, salmon, plaice, trout, and shrimp, which are lower in mercury, as opposed to options like swordfish, orange roughy, or marlin. Manaker also suggests Safe Catch Elite Tuna “because the tuna found in these cans contains 10 times less mercury than the FDA recommended limit.”
Does the can of fish you are examining come with a small blue label that says “MSC”? If so, you can breathe easy knowing this is a safe and environmentally friendly option. This Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seal of approval affirms that the fish was wild-caught using sustainable methods that did not cause harm to the surrounding environment or marine life.
Burdeos says to look for additional labels like Certified Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as well when browsing the canned fish aisle. These certifications emphasize the sustainability of farmed seafood rather than wild-caught, meaning fish raised and harvested in a more controlled aquatic habitat.
A few varieties of canned fish come swimming in some kind of liquid. This helps preserve the fish and keep it moist for consumption. But not all liquids will give the same result. “Be careful whether the product is packaged in water or oil, as this affects its overall nutritional quality,” says the dietitian and co-founder of Max Health Living. Joseph Tucker. “For example, water-packed products tend to be lower in fat and calories than oil-packed varieties. Be sure to read the label to compare.”
Water-based canned fish is also the common choice of other dietitians. But, if you choose to go the oil route, 100% olive oil is a solid number two. Don’t forget to also check the nutrition label for any added preservatives, while you’re at it. A quality can of fish should have a minimal list of ingredients. And we mean it when we say minimal – we’re either talking about just the fish, or the fish with water or oil, and maybe a little added salt.
There are lots of fish in the sea—literally. There are over 30,000 known species of fish living in our oceans and freshwaters. So we understand how difficult it can be to choose the best one for your next meal. Fortunately, Jessica Gutsue, MA, RDN, has a nifty trick that could save you when you’re staring down the canned food aisle. “When buying canned fish, remember the acronym SMASH, which stands for Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon and Herring.” She explains that these species are the best sources of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your cardiovascular health and contain the lowest amount of harmful toxins.
Although not included in the Gutsue acronym, tuna is another standout option. However, be sure to choose varieties like skipjack tuna (generally considered “chunk light tuna”) instead of yellowfin or bigeye tuna. Wild Planet, Safe Catch and Bar Harbor are some of the favorite canned fish brands of dietitians.
This is a scenario where you want to judge a book by its cover. Nanavati stresses the importance of performing a thorough inspection of your fish boxes. “Make sure the box is free of dents, rust or corrosion,” she says. “These are all signs that the fish may have been exposed to air and bacteria, which could affect its freshness and taste. Exposure to air or moisture can also lead to spoilage. “
She even suggests giving canned fish a quick puff. “The smell should be sweet and not too fishy,” she advises. “If it smells of ammonia or is too strong, the fish may be past its peak and should not be eaten.” A quick look at the date of the product can also help you confirm whether it’s a smart buy or not.
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