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Tuna: The new health food

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Eat more fish

How often have you craved a tuna salad sandwich only to reconsider because of the seafood mercury scare? Doctors and dieticians are starting to shift their concerns about traces of mercury in fish to the low-seafood American diet. Tuna - and other fatty fish - are packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of ignoring your next need for a tuna salad sandwich, dig in - here is how tuna is good for you.

Tuna is a natural source of special omega-3s

You've undoubtedly heard of the virtues of omega-3 fatty acids — the media has extolled their health benefits and food manufacturers and purveyors are quick to promote the healthy fats' inclusion in their goods.According to Sarah Wassner Flynn, author of The many health benefits of omega-3s, these polyunsaturated fats have been associated with a wide range of health benefits, from reducing symptoms of depression and ADHD to relieving joint pain, protecting the heart, promoting brain health and boosting the immune system.According to Jennifer Wilmes, registered dietitian with the National Fisheries Institute, seafood, like tuna fish, is just about the only natural source of a special type of omega-3s called DHA and EPA, which are associated with both brain and heart health.

Tuna is a protein-packed health food

In her book Crack the Fat-Loss Code: Outsmart Your Metabolism and Conquer the Diet Plateau, personal trainer and specialist in performance nutrition says, "Protein is the major building material for muscle, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Protein is also necessary for the formation of hormones, enzymes and antibodies."In addition, protein is essential in fueling your metabolism, maintaining muscle tone and helping your body burn fat. Including tuna in your diet is a healthy and delicious way to stay fit and lose weight. (For more on the importance of protein, read The truth about protein in your diet.)

Tuna is athlete food

Whether practicing yoga, competing in 10Ks or bodybuilding, having a well-balanced diet is one of the keys to staying energized and at peak performance. While the ratio of food energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats vary depending on your fitness or athletic goals, tuna provides all athletes with essential benefits for a strong body and healthy mind. Here's how.Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to healthy brain development, improve circulation and reduce inflammation resulting from exercise and competition. Omega-3s also improve energy levels and have many heart health benefits.Selenium, a powerful antioxidant found in tuna, can help bolster the immune system and thwart colds and flu that can result when heavy training impairs the immune system.B vitamins in tuna maintain and build red blood cells and increase energy levels, which is much needed during the most grueling of workouts.Vitamin D, also found in tuna, helps to build strong bones. In the article Are you at risk of a vitamin D deficiency?, author Christine Cristiano reports that studies indicate vitamin D is also essential in helping the body fight infection and combat cancer as well as plays a protective role against multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.Lean protein is essential to building lean muscle mass and providing the body with energy. Research shows that eating protein-rich foods like canned tuna can help with satiety and slow down digestion, keeping you fuller longer and leaving you less likely to eat more calories at your next meal.Low in fat and calories, tuna is a great substitute for meats and dairy products that are higher in saturated fats and trans fatty acids.

What about that mercury?

Dietitian Wilmes says, "Doctors and dietitians are starting to shift their thinking from concern about traces of mostly naturally occurring mercury to concern about low-seafood diets." She adds that dozens of recent studies point to the health benefits throughout life that people can miss out on when they don't eat enough fish — particularly, brain development for babies, heart health for adults, and brain health for seniors.Despite the mercury concerns, Wilmes advises, "It is recommended that Americans eat at least two servings of fish, especially oily fish like white albacore tuna, each week. For the general population there are no limits on commercial fish and no types to avoid."However, for women who are or may become pregnant, nursing moms, and young children, the government says there are four rarely-eaten fish to avoid — shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. "Otherwise, these groups should try especially hard to eat a variety of 12 ounces (2 to 4 servings) of fish per week, of which half (6 ounces) can be white albacore tuna," Wilmes adds. And stay tuned, reportedly, this government advice is being updated to encourage moms to eat at least 12 ounces of fish every week.

Bottom line on tuna

Wilmes says, "All seafood contains different amounts of omega-3s, vitamins, minerals and mercury depending on the species. Mercury also depends on the size and age of the fish when it was caught."The best advice is to eat a variety of seafood, tuna included, to best avoid too much mercury as well as consume a healthy variety of nutrients that different seafood provide. And good news, you don't have to settle for plain old tuna in a can. Next time you go grocery shopping, check out the delectable array of seasoned tuna — in cans and pouches.

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