Tuna vs. Salmon — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison
Tuna is higher in protein, while salmon is 2 times richer in fats, particularly the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, and overall higher in calories. Salmon is also higher in cholesterol.
Salmon provides 17 times more folate (vitamin B9) and is a good source of vitamin C, unlike tuna. Then again, tuna is a better source of minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and copper and contains 11 times more vitamin A and 4 times more vitamin B12.
Tuna and salmon can have various beneficial effects on health when consumed in moderation.
Table of contents
- Macronutrients and Calories
- Glycemic Index
- Insulin Index
- Weight Loss & Diets
- Health Impact
- Health Benefits
- Downsides and Risks
Salmon and tuna are two of the most widely consumed fish in the world. Growing in similar conditions, the nutritional composition of these fishes can be very alike. However, in this article, we will also talk about the dissimilarities between salmon and tuna and what impacts these differences have on health.
The term salmon includes multiple species of fish that belong to the Salmonidae family. Other types of fish in this family include trout and whitefish.
Salmon is classified as part of the oily fish species; therefore, they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.
Tuna, also known as tunny, is part of the Thunnini tribe of the Scombridae family. Tuna shares this family with mackerels and kingfishes.
Overall, fish is classified as white meat.
Raw tuna tends to be darker in color when compared to raw salmon due to the higher level of myoglobin and iron. Raw salmon has a light red or orange hue.
Salmon and tuna, when cooked, lose color, becoming different shades of light pink or white.
Raw meat often has visible wavy white lines called marbling. These are lines of intramuscular fat. Salmon is often richer in fat, having more marbling. Farm-raised salmon tend to be similar to tuna in lack of marbling.
Taste and Use
Tuna and salmon are not too dissimilar in taste. Salmon is often described as having a more robust flavor than tuna. The taste of these fish mostly depends on how they’re cooked.
Depending on availability, salmon and tuna can be used fresh or canned. Fresh fish is often served raw, smoked, or cooked.
The six major species included in the term salmon are the Atlantic, King (Chinook), Sockeye (Red), Coho (Silver), Pink (Humpback), and Chum (Dog, Silverbrite). These species can differ in their nutritional values. The king salmon, being the largest one, contains the most fat. Chum, on the other hand, has the lowest percentage of fat. All of these species are similarly rich in protein.
Fifteen species make up the tuna tribe, of which the four most commonly consumed types are the Atlantic bluefin, the albacore or longfin, the skipjack, and the yellowfin or Ahi. Canned tuna is often of the albacore variety, while bluefin is used fresh.
Tuna and salmon can also be wild-caught or farm-raised. While farm-raised fish can contain antibiotics, wild-caught fish are at a higher risk of contamination with toxins such as mercury and dioxin-like compounds (1).
The nutritional values below are presented for farmed Atlantic salmon and fresh bluefin tuna, both cooked by dry heating.
Macronutrients and Calories
Overall, salmon and tuna have similar nutritional densities, tuna being only a little denser. Salmon consists of 65% water and 35% nutrients, while tuna contains 59% water.
Salmon and tuna also have the same average serving size of three ounces, equal to 85 grams.
Salmon is somewhat higher in calories, providing 206 calories per 100g serving, while tuna contains 184 calories.
While both these fish are great sources of proteins, tuna is richer in this macronutrient. One hundred-gram serving of salmon contains nearly 22g of protein, whereas an equal amount of tuna has almost 30g of protein.
Interestingly enough, raw tuna and salmon are much more similar in their macronutrient compositions, containing nearly the same amounts of protein (2, 3).
The quality of protein found in salmon and tuna is excellent, as they both contain high amounts of all essential amino acids.
When looking at the fat compositions of these two, salmon is almost 2 times higher in fats but also has a somewhat more favorable fat composition. While the predominant fats found in both salmon and tuna are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, tuna has a slightly higher percentage of saturated fats.
Fat Type Comparison
That being said, being lower in fats overall, tuna contains fewer grams of saturated fats.
Salmon contains more cholesterol. One hundred-gram serving of salmon contains 63mg of cholesterol, while the same amount of tuna has 49mg of cholesterol.
Both tuna and salmon do not contain a notable amount of carbohydrates.
Salmon and tuna are both rich in various vitamins.
Salmon provides 17 times more folate or vitamin B9 while also being richer in vitamins B1 and B6. Salmon also falls in the top 32% of foods as a source of vitamin C, a vitamin that tuna lacks entirely.
Tuna, on the other hand, is 11 times richer in vitamin A, 4 times richer in vitamin B12, and a better source of vitamins B2 and B3.
Salmon and tuna contain a similar level of vitamin B5.
Tuna is the winner in the category of minerals, containing higher levels of magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and zinc. Tuna is also a little lower in sodium.
However, salmon is richer in calcium and potassium.
As salmon and tuna contain no carbohydrates, the glycemic index is considered to be 0. You can find more information about the glycemic index of foods containing no carbohydrates on our website.
The insulin index of foods demonstrates how much the given food raises blood insulin levels after intake.
While there has not yet been research regarding the insulin index of salmon, this index has been measured to be 22 for tuna. This is considered a low insulin index.
Fresh tuna is a little more acidic when compared to fresh salmon. The pH value of fresh tuna falls in the range of 5.2 to 6.1, while the pH of fresh salmon falls between 6.1 to 6.3 (4). Both fresh tuna and fresh salmon are slightly acidic. The pH of the fish increases, becoming more alkaline as it starts to spoil.
We can also measure acidity by looking at the potential renal acid load or the PRAL value of the given food. This value demonstrates how much acid or base the food produces inside the organism.
The PRAL values for tuna and salmon are 14.1 and 5.9, respectively. This shows that tuna is significantly more acid-producing than salmon.
Weight Loss & Diets
Salmon and tuna contain a similar amount of calories. One serving of salmon or tuna, while providing a moderate amount of calories, also supplies numerous healthy nutrients.
Salmon containing slightly fewer calories per serving might be the better choice for a low-calorie diet. Tuna, on the other hand, is the preferred option for a low-fat diet. Tuna and salmon both fit well into low-carb and low glycemic index diets.
Studies have shown that incorporating lean or fatty fish into restricted-energy diets results in greater weight loss compared to the same restricted-energy diet without seafood (5).
The supplementation of protein found in salmon, called hydrolysate, has been demonstrated to positively affect body mass index in overweight people (6).
Consumption of boiled tuna has also been shown to have potential anti-obesity effects in mice with obesity (7).
Now that we know what nutritional components these fishes consist of, we will look at how they affect our health.
One study concluded that consumption of tuna, as well as other broiled or baked fish, but not fried fish or fish sandwiches, was associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease, especially decreasing the risk of death from arrhythmic ischemic heart disease (8).
Supplementation of fish products rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or tuna, along with a weight loss diet, can substantially reduce cardiovascular risk in overweight patients with high blood pressure (9).
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to possess anti-triglyceridemic, hemostatic, antiarrhythmic, anti-atherogenic, and antithrombotic qualities, which all improve the heart’s structure and function (10).
According to research, the combination of statins (such as Atorvastatin, Rosuvastatin, etc.) with omega-3 fatty acids is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for dyslipidemia. This combination may also benefit patients who have had a recent myocardial infarction (11).
Tuna and salmon, containing no carbohydrates, both cause little to no effect on blood glucose levels after consumption.
Daily consumption of one serving of lean, but not fatty, fish has been studied to have beneficial effects on type 2 diabetes (12). As salmon and tuna are fatty fish, most studies show their consumption not to have a significant effect on the development of diabetes (13).
Chronic psychological or physiological stress can cause neuroinflammation, which is linked to the development of depression. Omega-3 PUFAs and their derivatives have been shown to reduce neuroinflammation. Low omega-3 PUFA levels, particularly EPA, have been linked to negative mood, poor cognitive performance, sleep disturbance, aggression, and impulsive conduct. Products high in omega-3 PUFAs may help with these symptoms (14).
Limited evidence suggests that fish consumption can decrease the risk of colorectal and liver cancers (15).
Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may also improve prostate cancer survival rates (16).
Downsides and Risks
A potential correlation has been discovered between an increased risk of diabetes and the consumption of farmed salmon, as it may contain persistent organic pollutants that cause insulin resistance and obesity in laboratory mice (17). Wild salmon does not pose similar risks.
While baked fish might have a positive effect on health, a high intake of grilled or broiled and charbroiled or barbecued fish may increase the risk of stomach cancer (15).
Mercury is a toxic metal that can be found in our environment due to pollution. Consequently, when fish consume mercury, they can be a source of mercury poisoning for humans. Wild fish contain mercury in higher amounts when compared to farmed fish.
One study has found wild bluefin tuna to be significantly higher in mercury than Atlantic and chinook salmon (18).
Most commercial seafood has been studied to contain less than the maximum residue limit of mercury (19) and to be a safe source of omega-3 fatty acids (20). However, pregnant women are still advised to stay away from fish high in mercury, as high levels of this toxin are hazardous for developing brains (21).
- Make smart seafood choices to minimize mercury intake
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Cholesterol|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in minerals|
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Glycemic Index||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Vitamin A RAE||757µg||69µg|
|Omega-3 - DHA||1.141g||1.457g|
|Omega-3 - EPA||0.363g||0.69g|
|Omega-3 - DPA||0.16g||0.17g|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Glycemic Index diet||Equal|
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Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.
- Tuna - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173707/nutrients
- Salmon - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/175168/nutrients
All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.