Public Health Nutrition

Nutrition and Health

The skinny on tuna fat: health implications

Asim Maqboola1 c1, Birgitta Strandvika2a3 and Virginia A Stallingsa1

a1 Department of Pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 34th and Civic Center Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

a2 Department of Pediatrics, Institute of Clinical Sciences, Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden

a3 Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institute, NOVUM, Stockholm, Sweden


Objective Dietary n-3 (omega-3) and n-6 (omega-6) PUFA have significant implications in health and disease prevention. Marine life is rich in long-chain n-3 PUFA. Children and adults in North America are reluctant fish eaters; canned tuna is a common fish in children's diets. Although a multitude of tuna products are available, their respective PUFA contents have not been well described. The aim of the present study was to compare the fatty acid (FA) profiles of different commercially available US tuna products.

Design Fat and FA composition of eight products randomly selected from two US suppliers were analysed with capillary GC after lipid extraction.

Setting Large north-eastern US grocery store chain.

Subjects Canned tuna.

Results Energy from fat varied from 3 to 33 % and the essential FA (EFA) linoleic acid (18 : 2n-6) and α-linolenic acid (18 : 3n-3) varied tenfold. DHA varied between 90 and 770 mg/serving. The n-6:n-3 ratio was 3:1–4:1 in oil-packaged products, 2:1–7:1 in packaged tuna salads and 1:3–1:7 in water-packaged products. A similar magnitude of differences was seen in the ratio between arachidonic acid (20 : 4n-6) and DHA.

Conclusions Light tuna canned in water may be a better choice of providing n-3 PUFA to individuals in a healthy population, whereas oil-packaged products may be preferable for those individuals with a need for increased EFA, such as for patients with cystic fibrosis. Awareness regarding PUFA content may aid in consumer product choices and health-care provider advice.

(Received February 24 2010)

(Accepted December 08 2010)

(Online publication February 16 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email