Is Tuna High in Protein? (A Nutritionist Explains)

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During my consultations as a Registered Dietitian, my clients often ask if tuna is a good protein source that can help them reach their daily protein goals.

So, is tuna high in protein?  Tuna is a high-protein food. Canned tuna has 19.0 – 26.5 g of protein, depending on the type of tuna, the size of the can, and how it’s packed. Fresh tuna has 23.3 g of protein per 100 g. Tuna is also a high-quality protein because it provides essential nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, and selenium. 

Even though the amount of protein in tuna varies only slightly based on whether it’s canned or fresh, it’s still important to be aware of the protein content so you can decide which one is better for your goals.

In this article, I will discuss:

  • The protein content in both fresh and canned tuna
  • How tuna compares with other protein sources
  • Some benefits and drawbacks of eating tuna generally  

What’s Considered “High In Protein”?

When recommending high-protein foods to my clients, I always tell them to look for one with more than 15 g of protein per 100 g. 

However, remember that just because a food has 15 g of protein in 100 g doesn’t mean it’s the best protein source for you. 

For example, cheese is a high-protein food. In 100 g of gouda cheese, you get 24.9 g of protein. However, it also has 27.4 g of fat. This means it has more fat than protein. 

As a general rule, I often recommend that the fat should not surpass the amount of protein, especially for those on a weight loss journey. Fat has more calories per gram than protein (9 vs. 4, respectively). Eating too much fat can increase your overall calories and make it harder for you to stay within your daily calorie budget. 

Does Fresh Tuna or Canned Tuna Have More Protein?

There are two ways you can get tuna: fresh or canned.

The following table provides a comparison between canned and fresh tuna in 100 g of product. As you can see, fresh tuna has 4.3 more grams of protein than tuna canned in water but 3.2 g less than tuna canned in oil.

Nutritional InformationCanned Tuna (In Water)Canned Tuna (In Oil)Fresh Tuna
Protein (g)1926.523.3
Fat (g)

If you need to increase your protein intake throughout the day, adding fresh tuna or tuna packed in oil can give you more protein than tuna packed in water.

Canned tuna in oil can be a great option when on a muscle-building journey because it has more calories and fat. However, if you are on a weight loss journey, canned tuna packed in water is the best option because it is low in calories and fat. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you cannot consume fresh tuna or canned tuna in oil when you want to lose weight. It means that you need to make the necessary adjustments to keep your calories within your daily budget. 

For example, if you are on a weight loss journey and want to have canned tuna packed in oil, you can decrease the number of calories and amount of fats you consume at another meal to ensure you don’t go over your calories for the day.

Protein in Tuna Compared With Other Sources

Now we know that fresh tuna and canned tuna in oil have a higher protein content than canned tuna in water. But how do these types of tuna compare to other protein sources? 

Below is a table comparing the number of calories and the protein and fat content in different protein sources. Each nutrient is for 100 g of each product.

IngredientCalories Protein (g)Fat (g)
Canned tuna (in oil)18626.58.1
Fresh tuna14423.34.9
Chicken breast12022.52.6
97/3 ground beef121223
Sirloin steak13521.94.6
Turkey breast10221.51.7
Canned tuna (in water)90190.9
Ground pork26316.921.2

Chicken and 97% lean ground beef offer a very similar protein content as fresh tuna. There is only a 0.8 to 1.3 g difference. But they have the advantage of being lower in fat and calories, making them a better option than fresh tuna for those looking to lose weight.

However, while canned tuna in water is slightly lower in protein than chicken and lean ground beef, it’s also lower in fat and calories. This means it’s a better option for individuals with weight loss goals. 

Ground pork has less protein and is much higher in fat and calories than both canned and fresh tuna. This can help those who are trying to gain weight but struggle to eat enough calories. But if you’re trying to lose weight, you may need to decrease your fats from other meals to make up for the calories from fat in the ground pork.

Whole eggs have a similar calorie count as fresh tuna, but they are lower in protein than both fresh and canned tuna. If you eat eggs instead of tuna, you might want to increase the portion size or have them with another high-protein source to ensure you get enough protein (typically 0.8 to 1 g of protein per pound of body weight). 

4 Benefits of Tuna

Pros vs Cons of tuna

1. Tuna Is Versatile

One of the benefits of tuna is that it is a very versatile food because you can have it raw or cooked. 

For example, you can marinate fresh tuna in lemon juice, soy sauce, and garlic and eat it raw. Not having to cook it can save you a lot of time.

If you eat canned tuna, you can take it on the go for an immediate protein option you don’t need to reheat. 

Tuna also has the advantage of pairing well with various herbs and spices, so you can tailor it to suit your taste preferences. 

2. Tuna Is High in Nutrients

Another benefit of tuna is it’s very high in nutrients. It is a good source of vitamin B12, selenium, vitamin B6, and vitamin A. 

Vitamin B12 can help reduce the risk of anemia since it is responsible for creating red blood cells, which transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Also, it can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis since it promotes good bone health.

Selenium is an essential mineral that is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it helps prevent cell damage. This can help reduce inflammation, leading to fewer aches and better digestion.

Vitamin B6, along with other vitamins in the B complex, helps convert the food you eat into usable energy in the body and improve moods.

Finally, vitamin A is another powerful antioxidant. It is known for having a positive impact on your eye health.

3. Tuna Is High in Omega-3

Tuna is that it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to get through your diet since the body cannot produce them.

In 100 g of fresh tuna, you get 1,298 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. This is more than double the minimum recommendation of 500 mg per day.

One of the benefits of omega-3 is that it can help reduce inflammation in your body. 

It also has a positive effect on your heart. It can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood) by up to 30%

4. It Fits Various Diet Preferences

Finally, one of the things I like about tuna is that you can easily adapt it to your diet preferences. 

For example, if you are on a weight loss journey and need a high-protein food that is low in calories and fat, you can opt for canned tuna in water.

On the other hand, if you are on a weight gain journey, you can have fresh tuna or canned tuna packed in oil since they are higher in fats and calories.

Alternatively, with either type of tuna, you can add a fat source (for example, olive oil) to have more control over the amount of fat in your meal. 

3 Drawbacks of Tuna


1. It Can Be High in Mercury

Mercury is a heavy metal often found in fish, and tuna is higher in mercury than many other types of fish.

However, the mercury content in tuna depends on the type of tuna and how it is processed. 

According to the table in the FDA’s mercury content, canned tuna is on the “best choice” list. This means that it has a lower mercury content (0.126 parts per million).

However, fresh tuna like yellowfin and albacore are on the “good choice” list. It means that it has a moderate mercury content (0.354 parts per million of mercury).

Other options, like bigeye tuna, are on the “avoid” list, meaning they are high in mercury (0.689 parts per million or mercury). 

While consuming some mercury might not cause much harm, mercury poisoning can lead to fatigue, memory problems, tremors, and headaches

Make sure not to consume tuna more than two times per week to avoid complications from mercury. 

2. Tuna and Sustainability 

Another problem regarding tuna is its environmental impact. 

Tuna can be obtained in two different ways: farm-raised and wild-caught. 

Wild-caught tuna is tuna you get from natural environments. It tends to have a higher nutrient composition. Some studies show that it can have up to 50% more omega-3s than farmed-raised tuna. 

On the other hand, farmed-raised tuna are raised in cages. They are grouped in small spaces, often leading to increased diseases. To prevent this from happening, they are given antibiotics. The antibiotics can then be carried through the water, affecting the wildlife around it. 

With a constant supply of antibiotics, farm-raised tuna can also become resistant to some diseases that can affect them long-term. They might become resistant to diseases, making them die more quickly or more often. 

So, when it comes to sustainability, wild-caught tuna is better than farmed-raised tuna. 

Normally, fish markets and grocery stores will tell you if tuna is farm-raised or wild-caught. Some canned tuna brands will also state on the label if the tuna is wild-caught.

If you have doubts about your tuna’s origin, you can ask the person at the seafood counter. 

3. Canned Tuna Can Be High in Sodium

Finally, one of the problems with canned tuna, in particular, is the sodium content.

On average, one can of tuna has 300 to 500 mg of sodium, which can be too high if you follow a low-sodium diet. It can cause you to consume more sodium than necessary if you also eat other pre-packaged, high-sodium foods throughout the day.

When looking for low-sodium canned tuna (or any other canned food), ensure it has less than 150 mg of sodium per serving. 

One of my favorite brands is Safe Catch since it has canned products with only 20 mg of sodium per serving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Canned Tuna High in Protein?

Yes, canned tuna is high in protein. Per 100 g, you get 19 – 26.5 g of protein, depending on the type of tuna and how it is packed.

Is Fresh Tuna Better Than Chicken for Protein?

Fresh tuna has 22.3 g of protein while chicken has 22.5 g. This means there is a 0.8 grams protein difference between tuna and chicken. However, chicken has 24 fewer kcals and 2.3 g less fat than tuna. So, if you want to increase the protein without increasing the calories and fat, chicken is a better option.

What To Read Next


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About The Author

Brenda Peralta

Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist.  In addition to being an author for, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.