Tuna vs. Salmon: How They Compare, According to Dietitians

Tuna and salmon plate

If you’re like most Americans—about 80% to 90%, to be exact—you could probably use more fish in your diet. Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend eating seafood two to three times per week, only about 10% to 20% of Americans meet this goal.

In particular, oily fish like tuna and salmon make an excellent addition to meals because of their high omega-3 fatty acid content, which may increase good cholesterol by small amounts and reduce triglycerides (association with heart disease outcomes remains unclear). Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for infant brain development and increasing evidence suggests they help with preventing cognitive diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

As if that weren’t enough, tuna and salmon also offer substantial amounts of protein and important vitamins and minerals. Plus, they taste great!

Ever wonder which of these healthy seafood choices is better for you? We consulted dietitians to get a full comparison of tuna and salmon in terms of nutrition, health benefits, culinary usage, and other factors.

Nutrition Information

Tuna and salmon are both highly nutritious sources of fish. The nutrition information for 3 ounces (85g) of yellowfin tuna and 3 ounces (85g) of wild Atlantic Salmon was provided by the USDA.

   Tuna (3 oz.)  Salmon (3 oz.)
 Calories  93  121
 Fat  <1g  5g
 Sodium  38mg  37mg
 Fiber  0g  0g
 Sugar  0g  0g
 Protein  21g  17g
 Vitamin D (IU)  40 IU  570 IU
 Selenium (µg)  77 µg  31µg
 Niacin (µg)  16 µg  6.7µg
 Vitamin B12 (µg)  1.8µg  2.7µg

Nutritional Similarities

Since tuna and salmon are both considered fatty fish, it’s no surprise that they bear plenty of similarities. Both are high in desirable omega-3 fatty acids (though wild and farmed salmon both outrank tuna, with over 1,500mg of these fats per serving versus tuna’s 1,000 to 1,500 mg).  

Neither salmon nor tuna contains any carbohydrates, which means they have no fiber or sugar. Their sodium content is also nearly identical at a low 37mg per serving for salmon and 38g for tuna. And both offer plenty of protein to help you meet your daily target.

Note that marinades and seasonings can affect the nutritional profile of the fish, so it's important to be mindful of how you prepare your fish, especially if you're watching your intake of sodium, added sugar, or carbohydrates.

Nutritional Differences

For all of their similarities, these fish differ in significant ways. Ounce for ounce, salmon contains about one-third more calories than tuna. This is because of its fat content, which is also higher at 5g per serving versus 1g per serving in tuna. Remember, dietary fat can be beneficial. The fat in salmon helps to promote satiety, assists with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and is full of heart-healthy omega-3s.

You’ll also find differences between salmon and tuna on a micronutrient level. Salmon outpaces tuna for vitamin D and vitamin B12, while tuna is king for selenium and niacin.

It’s also worth noting that farmed and wild varieties of fish, especially salmon, have some nutrient differences. For our purposes, we’ve looked at wild-caught salmon.

Health Benefits of Tuna

Tuna is a nutrient-rich source of fish that's chock full of health benefits. So what does eating more tuna mean for your health?

Good Source of Omega-3s

Though tuna doesn’t quite measure up to salmon’s gold standard of omega-3 fatty acids, this fish does boast plenty of these good fats for better heart and brain health. “These polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing triglyceride levels and blood pressure,” says dietitian Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN. “They are also an important part of brain development and eye health, so they are essential during pregnancy and early childhood.”  

Rich in Selenium

Meanwhile, tuna is among the highest dietary sources of the important—but often overlooked—mineral selenium. “Selenium is a trace mineral that provides a number of health benefits,” says dietitian Jen Scheinman, MS, RDN. “It acts as an antioxidant, protecting against DNA damage by free radicals. In this way, it may play a role in cancer prevention.”

And there’s one organ in particular that benefits from selenium: your thyroid. “Selenium plays an essential role in thyroid health. Its antioxidant properties help to protect the thyroid gland,” says Scheinman. Selenium also has a role in reproduction.

Lowers Cholesterol and Boosts Nervous System Functioning

Additionally, high amounts of niacin in tuna can lower cholesterol, while its ample vitamin B12 aids central nervous system functioning and maintains healthy red blood cells.

Health Benefits of Salmon

Excellent Source of Omega-3s

Compared to tuna, salmon is even more of an omega-3 powerhouse. Its 1,500-plus milligrams per serving of these fats meet (or nearly meet) the daily omega-3 recommendations of 1.1 g for women and 1.6g for men. The higher amounts of omega-3s may provide an even greater positive impact than those in tuna on heart health and brain function. Plus, they may also help mental health and reduce inflammation.

“Omega 3s seem to have a role in our mood, helping with stress and anxiety, and have an anti-inflammatory effect in our body, which may contribute to reduced muscle soreness and joint pain after exercise,” says Ali.

May Boost Satiety

The extra fat in salmon may also keep you more satiated than the lower fat content of tuna.

Beneficial for Energy and Bone Health

As for micronutrients, salmon contains more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than tuna. Getting enough vitamin D helps you absorb calcium, supports bone health, and reduces inflammation.

Taste, Preparation, and Cooking

The choice between tuna and salmon often comes down to taste preference—do you prefer the milder flavor and flakier texture of tuna or richer, oilier salmon? Whichever you choose, there are innumerable tasty ways to prepare tuna and salmon.

“Tuna and salmon are both really versatile protein options and perfect substitutions for meat and poultry in many dishes,” says Ali. “Salmon’s strong flavor works well in burgers and is great added to pasta, salads, and egg dishes, like quiche or egg muffins. It’s also a delicious addition to fish tacos or as part of a rice or grain bowl.”  

Tuna, on the other hand, blends easily with other, more potent ingredients. “Because it is firm and mild-tasting, it works well in stir-fries and salads, where it holds its shape well and picks up the flavors of the dish," Ali recommends. 

While you’re whipping up fish-based meals, don’t discount canned tuna and salmon. “Canned versions of both are great for making salads or sandwiches. Both are also delicious in sushi or as sashimi,” says Scheinman.

However, canned fish may not contain quite the stellar nutrient profile of fresh. “Generally, most shelf-stable tuna is cooked, then canned, so you do lose some of the omega 3s and vitamin D through the processing,” Ali notes. To ensure better nutrition, look for canned fish labeled as “raw pack.” “‘Raw pack’ means the fish is cooked in the can and retains all the nutrients in the can,” says Ali. “But keep in mind, if you drain it, you will lose those extra nutrients.”

Potential Concerns

Sometimes it seems there are so many factors to making informed, healthy food choices. Issues of sustainability are especially important when it comes to seafood, and salmon and tuna will vary in this regard, depending on your supplier. Feel free to ask your local grocer about the environmental friendliness of their product. A Marine Stewardship Council certification is also a helpful indicator of sustainably sourced fish.

Mercury content is another concern with fish. “Tuna tends to have a higher mercury content than salmon,” Scheinman says. “Mercury is a toxic heavy metal, and too much can have negative health effects.” Specifically, pregnant and/or breastfeeding women should limit their intake of high-mercury fish and focus on lower-mercury options, according to the FDA.

Last but not least, you may find the price of both tuna and salmon to be quite high. When budget is a factor, choose the fish that works best for your family’s finances.  

A Word From Verywell

No matter which fish you prefer, tuna and salmon are excellent sources of protein and nutrients to add to your diet. While one option may have optimal nutrition for your specific needs, it's also important to consider which fish tastes better to you. Consider your flavor preferences as well as nutrition, sustainability, mercury content, and price.

If you like both choices, there are many delicious ways to add salmon and tuna to your weekly rotations.

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Article Sources
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