It’s no secret that eating fish is good for you. It’s full of protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients that can benefit your health.
Tuna and salmon are two popular seafood choices and among the most commonly consumed fish in the United States. As such, you may wonder how they compare and whether one is a better choice than the other (1).
This article examines these two types of fish so you can decide which might be best for you.
Unlike lean types of white fish that have a light or white color, flakey texture, and mild flavor, both tuna and salmon are dark in color, have a firm texture, and stronger flavors.
Tuna is a large, muscular fish with flesh that ranges from pink to dark red depending on the variety. The color comes from myoglobin, an oxygen-storing protein found in muscle (2).
Myoglobin breaks down quickly when heated. Thus, cooked and canned tuna looks grayer than raw tuna.
The albacore, or longfin tuna, is a popular tuna variety. It has a lighter-colored flesh and milder flavor, and it’s usually grilled or seared. Canned albacore tuna is commonly referred to as white tuna.
Yellowfin tuna is another common variety. It’s smaller in size and a darker red. This variety is often used for sushi, although it can also be seared or grilled. Yellowfin tuna is also known by the Hawaiian name ahi.
If you buy canned light tuna, you’ll likely get one or a combination of yellowfin, skipjack, or tongol varieties.
Raw tuna steaks or fillets can be used raw in sushi, or marinated or seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, and/or herbs before cooking for extra flavor.
Because this fish is low in fat, it’s usually cooked to medium-rare (125°F or 52°C) to retain moisture. Overcooked tuna can be unpleasantly dry.
That said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends cooking all seafood to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) to prevent foodborne illness (3).
Canned tuna is always thoroughly cooked during processing. It’s not a rich, flavorful delicacy like seared tuna, but it’s a convenient food to have on hand. For example, it’s an easy way to add protein to salads and a popular sandwich filling.
The flesh of salmon ranges from pink to deep reddish-orange. This is a result of its diet, which comprises krill and tiny crustaceans. These are rich in colorful carotenoids, namely astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is heat stable, so unlike tuna, salmon remains red even when cooked (4Trusted Source).
Common varieties of wild salmon include coho, Chinook, and sockeye, all of which live in the Pacific Ocean. If you opt for Atlantic salmon instead, it’s almost always farm raised.
There are subtle flavor differences between the varieties, but salmon is generally described as more strongly flavored, oily, or fishy than tuna.
Similarly to tuna, you can enjoy salmon raw in sushi or a Hawaiian poke bowl, or cook it, if you prefer. When cooked, it’s more tender and flakes more easily than tuna.
It also contains more fat than tuna, which keeps it moist even after cooking to higher temperatures. Thus, it lends itself to a variety of cooking methods like grilling, roasting, baking, or poaching.
Canned salmon is also available, and like canned tuna, it’s convenient and a great addition to salads. You can likewise try combining it with breadcrumbs, spices, and an egg to make pan-fried salmon patties.
Tuna and salmon have reddish flesh, a firm texture, and much stronger flavors than many other types of fish. Both are commonly used in sushi but also tasty when cooked.
Both tuna and salmon are extremely nutritious. They’re packed with protein and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Tuna’s lean meatiness is due to its higher protein and lower fat content, while salmon’s moist texture and oily flavor are largely due to its fat content.
This table compares the nutrient composition of 3-ounce (85g) raw portions of wild salmon, farmed salmon, and tuna :
Salmon is higher in calories than tuna because it’s a fattier fish. Still, don’t let that keep you from enjoying it, as much of the fat comes from healthy omega-3s (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Also, a serving of salmon provides more vitamin D than tuna does. Some people struggle to get enough of this nutrient because it’s not naturally present in most foods (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 8).
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a food that’s high in protein and low in calories and fat, tuna is the clear winner (7Trusted Source).
While they’re both highly nutritious, salmon comes out ahead due to its healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Meanwhile, tuna is the winner if you’re instead looking for more protein and fewer calories per serving.
Benefits and downsides
Salmon is one of the top food sources of vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption and bone health (8).
Vitamin D also plays an important role in immune function and brain health. Plus, some studies have linked low levels of this vitamin to a higher risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and depression (8).
Compared with tuna, salmon is also a significant source of omega-3 fats. These are essential fats, meaning that your body can’t make them and you must instead obtain them from your diet (9Trusted Source).
Some studies show that people with higher omega-3 intake from fish have a lower risk of heart disease, possibly because these fats may lower triglycerides and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
For example, one study in 38 healthy adults found that the group eating fatty fish daily for 4 weeks experienced increased levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lowered levels of triglycerides, whereas the group who ate lean fish or meat had no changes in cholesterol levels (11Trusted Source).
Thus, the American Heart Association recommends eating seafood, and especially fatty fish, twice per week (9Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13).
Tuna and mercury
An important concern about consuming fish is its mercury content. Mercury is toxic to the brain and can cause developmental issues in children.
When larger fish eat smaller fish that are contaminated with varying amounts of mercury, the element accumulates in their flesh. Generally, this means that larger fish like tuna contain more mercury than smaller fish like salmon (14).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that mercury levels don’t exceed 0.3 μg per gram of wet weight.
Despite this, an analysis of 117 yellowfish tuna from 12 worldwide locations found that many samples exceeded this limit — some by as much as seven-fold (15Trusted Source).
Tuna isn’t as high in mercury as some other fish like shark and king mackerel. Still, the FDA and EPA advise pregnant women and children to limit albacore, or white, canned tuna, to one serving per week, and light tuna to two servings per week (16Trusted Source).
Salmon can benefit your health thanks to its high content of omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Tuna is lower in calories but also contains more mercury. Thus, pregnant women and children should limit the amount of tuna they eat.
Is one better than the other?
Both salmon and tuna are healthy choices. Adding either — or both — to your diet can help you meet the American Heart Association’s recommendation of eating seafood twice per week.
The best choice depends on your health goals, and of course, your personal taste.
If you’re trying to improve your cholesterol and protect your heart, it’s smart to choose salmon more frequently due to its omega-3s fatty acid content, which may benefit your heart health.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to up your protein intake without adding too many calories to your diet, tuna is a great option.
When you’re looking for a quick and easy meal, both types come in cans and pouches.
Ideally, you should eat a variety of fish, so if you like the taste and texture of tuna and salmon, eat them both and alternate your intake of them. That way, you’ll get the nutritional benefits of both while minimizing your exposure to mercury.
If you’re working on adding more fish to your diet, both salmon and tuna are nutritious choices. Choose salmon when you want to boost your omega-3 and vitamin D intake, and tuna when you want more protein and fewer calories.
The bottom line
Tuna and salmon are popular seafood choices, both renowned for their flavor and culinary uses. Since both are available in cans or pouches, they’re also extremely convenient and great options for a quick meal.
Both types of fish are incredibly nutritious and provide lots of protein along with a wide range of nutrients.
If you like the taste of both, try to alternate your intake of them. That way, you’ll get the omega-3 and vitamin D boost from salmon, and the lean protein from tuna.
If you’re pregnant or preparing fish for children, limit tuna to one or two servings per week, as it’s higher in mercury.
Author: Anne Danahy
Source: Health Line: Tuna vs. Salmon: Is One Healthier?