Canned Fish: A Good Source of Lean Protein

If you’ve ever spent time in the canned food section of a grocery store, you have probably noticed the many different canned fish products available. Most of these products are more affordable than fresh fish options, but are they as healthy? Keep reading to learn how to buy the best option to help you achieve your health goals.

Key takeaways:

What is canned fish?

Canned fish, sometimes called tinned fish, is a food product that contains mildly-processed fish in a sealed container. Before canning, the fish are cleaned, washed, and cut into chunks or flakes. They are typically sealed in water with salt, broth, or an oil-based marinade for flavor.

Canned fish products have a longer shelf life than fresh filets due to the processing techniques used during canning. The products are more affordable than fresh filets while still being healthy and offering similar nutritional benefits.

Nutrition tip
Canned fish are more cost-effective because they have similar nutritional values as fresh products at a fraction of the cost.

How long does canned fish last?

According to the USDA, a properly sealed can of fish may be safe to eat for up to one year after purchase. The extended shelf life makes this lean-protein food source a great option for people who want to stock their pantry with long-lasting, ready-to-eat options.

Once opened, remove all the contents and discard the can to help maintain health and safety standards. Always refrigerate and store leftover fish in a glass or plastic container after opening a can. Leaving fish in the can increase the risk of mold and other contaminants, which can lead to foodborne illness.

Examples of canned fish

Many different species of fish are preserved through canning. The intensity of its “fishy” flavor depends on the type of fish.

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines

Various other types of seafood can also be canned, such as mussels, lobster, and crab. These products are typically marinated and seasoned with herbs, spices, oils, and vinegar. Therefore, they are cooked, pasteurized, and ready to eat without extra preparation.

Is canned fish healthy?

Yes, canned fish can be a nutritious and healthy source of protein. To ensure you buy the best quality product, review the label's nutritional facts.

Additionally, take note of the sodium content of any canned food since they are notoriously high in salt. Purchasing unflavored canned fish options ensures that sodium levels are less than the recommended daily value of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

Which canned fish is the healthiest?

Like fresh fish, canned options offer vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are well-researched and have been linked to several positive health benefits. They can help protect the heart, aid with brain health, and improve symptoms linked to chronic inflammation.

Ultimately, every fish offers nutritional benefits, so you are encouraged to include a variety in your diet. However, for the healthiest meals, keep sauces light and choose brightly colored vegetables to pair with your dish.

High mercury levels in fish

Larger predatory fish species, such as some types of tuna, are susceptible to high mercury levels (a dangerous heavy metal that can lead to health problems). This is because large fish eat many smaller species to survive, absorbing and accumulating the mercury content from their prey.

Due to the high mercury content, it's best to avoid eating king mackerel (kingfish) or bigeye tuna (ahi and yellowfin) altogether.

As of publication, safe canned fish species include:

  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Pickerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

The FDA reviews data and updates the high-risk fish to avoid frequently, and if you have health concerns, you can review your questions with your doctor.

How to eat canned fish

Firstly, drain the tin, and if you are monitoring your salt intake, rinse the fish to remove any excess sodium. You can now get as creative as you wish with canned fish recipes. You can create hot or cold meals with canned fish. Remember to use plenty of fresh herbs and a splash of fresh lemon juice to increase flavor.

Cooking Tip
Dill and parsley are two common herbs that pair nicely with most fish.

Canned fish is a healthy, affordable, and accessible option. The most popular variety of canned fish is tuna, but there are plenty of other options. Most producers even offer smaller cans that are convenient for packed lunches.

Therefore, if you don’t like tuna, there are plenty of other options to try. All fish offers different nutritional benefits, so be adventurous and branch out of your norm and try something new.



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