Australia – a land surrounded by beautiful oceans abundant with sea life. No wonder fish and seafood dominates our restaurant menus and enjoys a feature role in our celebratory meals shared with family and friends at Christmas time, summer holidays and on our vacations. Unless you’ve sucked on a bad prawn in the past, seafood brings happy moments, it creates festive and special memories of hot nights celebrated with friends and family. But many Australians shy away from including fish in their weekly home cooked meals. It may appear on the dinner table in a cardboard box accompanied by a side of chips from the local fish and chip shop on a Friday night, but it doesn’t appear as frequently on the stove top or BBQ as our humble steak or lamb chop.
I love fish and cook it several times a week. It’s light, flavoursome and above all, makes me feel good. But that mainly comes down to personal taste. Some people don’t like the smell or maybe the texture and prefer the deep fried versions which often hides these ‘displeasures’. But most Australians consume canned tuna, at least once a week. It is a simple, convenient, fuss-free, mess-free, portion-controlled alternative; a handy sandwich filler. So let’s look at the pros and cons of tinned tuna and the health benefits it brings.
There are many nutritional benefits of eating fish. Fish is low in saturated fat and is an excellent source of protein, essential omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and some vitamins. Omega 3 fatty acids can decrease the stickiness of blood and this reduces the risk of blood clots. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and can counteract inflammation. Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, and they may also help control inflammatory related conditions like lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis and also cancer. Omega 3 fatty acids are abundant in fish and seafood.
According to The Heart Foundation, it is recommended that to lower the risk of coronary heart disease, adult Australians should:
- Consume about 500 mg per day of omega 3 fatty acids including two or three serves (150 g serve) of oily fish per week and fish oil capsules or liquid or food and drink enriched with marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA).
- Follow government advice on fish consumption regarding local safety and sustainability issues.
This advice is also supported by the Cancer Council of Australia and the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
Foods with over 2000mg per serve include farmed Atlantic salmon, tinned sardines, rainbow trout and swordfish while excellent sources containing 200-2000mg include snapper, oysters, herrings, and omega rich eggs; while canned tuna typically has between 300-500mg. So you can see how 2-3 servings of omega rich fish each week will allow you to reach your target.
In deciding how much and what types of fish to eat, be aware that all fish contain a small amount of mercury, with some types of fish having higher levels than others and pregnant or breastfeeding women and children need to be careful of this. Eating too much of those fish with high mercury levels, or eating them every day, could have harmful effects. So how do we know which fish are safest to eat?
As we are focusing on canned tuna in this article, authorities confirm that it is safe for all population groups, including pregnant women, to consume 2-3 serves of any type of tuna per week (canned or fresh). Canned tuna generally has lower levels of mercury than fresh-bought tuna because the tuna used for canning are smaller species that are generally caught when less than 1 year old.
What are the concerns about tuna and sustainability?
The main concern about tuna consumption, and fish consumption in general, is related to the methods used in catching the fish. Some commercial fishing practices put fish species and sea life at risk due to issues like bycatch, using long liners or over-fishing some fish species. Some of these practices are explained below:
Find out more about Fishing and Aquaculture techniques on the Good Fish Bad Fish website: http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/?page_id=31
Most tuna is currently caught using purse seine nets with fish aggregation devices (FADs), which is responsible for high levels of bycatch including sharks and other marine life. Pole and line fishing is the preferred method, resulting in reduced bycatch. Fisheries using pole and line techniques also tend to offer greater economic benefits for local populations. Purse seine fishing without FADs is an acceptable second-best option.
How do we know where our fish comes from?
The Aldi Trace your Tuna program provides information to consumers about where their chosen tuna comes from. A code number on the lid of OceanRise or Portview cans indicates an FAO Area Number correlating to a location code indicating the fishing area the Tuna can was sourced from. (https://www.aldi.com.au/en/about-aldi/aldi-initiatives/trace-your-tuna/)
According to Greenpeace USA, 80% of canned tuna sold in America fails their sustainability standards and 8 out of 14 brands failed to meet the sustainability score. (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-canned-tuna-ranking-finds-most-brands-fail-consumers-on-ocean-safe-tuna/)
Greenpeace: Green=good, yellow=ok+improvements, red=failed
Here’s how our canned tuna brands rank:
Greenpeace also have a canned Tuna iPhone app allowing you to check the sustainability of various brands. This is available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/news/oceans/Never-fear-the-tuna-iphone-app-is-here/
What about the issue of wastage? Canned tuna is usually sold in single-serve tins meaning they also end up in landfill and contribute to waste. That’s something to think about. Also, the cost associated with the canning process, both environmentally and economically, does have an impact. Nutritionally, canned tuna is not the best source of omega3 fatty acids as compared to fresh tuna or oily fish like salmon and sardines. Lastly, canned tuna doesn’t come close to fresh tuna and other sustainably-caught fresh fish in relation to colour, texture and taste. But, in terms of convenience and adding dietary variety and enjoyment, canned tuna certainly offer us some real benefits; and as long as we support sustainable fishing practices, canned tuna will remain a popular option for meeting our fish consumption needs.
Information was sourced from these sites:
What’s the catch series on SBS: http://www.sbs.com.au/programs/article/2014/10/06/southern-bluefin-tuna
Marine Stewardship Council: https://www.msc.org/about-us/blue-msc-ecolabel-traceable-sustainable-seafood
Author: Kristin McMaster, Masters in Nutrition, Founder of Food Studies Australia
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