Canned fish is so versatile. It’s economical, convenient, mostly healthy, tasty and comes packed in a variety of sizes.
There are numerous fish varieties to choose from, with tuna and salmon dominating supermarket shelves. Sardines are also popular, as well as mackerel, herring, oysters and shrimps. There is also a selection of flavours to choose from, such as Thai, lemon and black pepper, tomato and basil, chilli and lime, tomato, curry and mayonnaise, as well as smoked. Unflavoured fish comes canned in spring water, brine or oil and is available as chunks, slices or sandwich-ready. So many choices!
How much fish is in the can?
The amount of fish varies from 44 to 99 per cent of the can contents — the ingredients list states this. Flavoured products tend to have slightly less fish than those in oil or water. Tuna spread contains a much lower amount of fish, at about 23 per cent.
Long-chain omega-3 fats
These are called essential fatty acids as the body can’t make them so needs them from our diet. Long-chain fatty acids are important for both cardio-vascular health and their anti-inflammatory benefits. Canned fish can be a good source of long-chain omega-3. While most canned fish products state the EPA and DHA amounts (common in oily fish) as well as the total omega-3, there are a couple of brands that still don’t. The Ministry of Health tells us an adequate intake for long-chain omega-3 is 90mg a day for women and 160mg for men. But its suggested dietary target to help reduce the risk of chronic disease is 610mg a day for men and 430mg for women. We recommend choosing products with more than 0.2g (200mg) of total omega-3 per 100g.
Canned fish is generally not high in saturated fats, but if fish is in oil or mayonnaise, or is flavoured, the saturated fat might be higher. For example, King Oscar Sardines in Oil has 4.9g saturated fat per 100g. We recommend choosing products with less than 3.5g of saturated fat per 100g.
The sodium content in canned fish products can creep up, especially if the fish is smoked, flavoured or in brine. For example, John West Salmon Tempters Sweet Chilli & Lime has 625mg sodium, and Larsen Pure Smoked Herring Fillets has a whopping 1000mg, per 100g! We recommend choosing canned fish with 400mg of sodium or less per 100g.
Canned fish with bones, especially sardines and salmon, can be a good source of calcium . Many products don’t include the calcium content in their nutrition information panel but, from food composition tables, we know 85g of sardines (roughly one small can, drained) provides nearly 500mg of calcium — about half the daily requirement for an adult. The same quantity of mackerel (or sockeye or chum salmon) provides about 200mg of calcium, with tuna only about 10mg.
Skipjack and albacore tuna are in more plentiful supply than other tuna species, with bigeye and yellowfin most at risk. Pole and line fishing is a sustainable method and, for albacore tuna, troll-caught in the Pacific is best. Look out for the Dolphin Friendly logo, as well as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo. This organisation certifies fisheries meet criteria for sustainability, environmental impact and responsible management.
Note: Canned fish is a great way of getting both iodine and protein into your diet.
How to choose
Use these criteria to compare canned fish:
Some healthier choices we found
$3.99 per 106g can
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 660kJ; 21g protein; 2g sat fat; 360mg sodium; 2g omega-3
Good strong salmon flavour and nice texture.
$4.69 per 105g can
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 630kJ; 21.9g protein; 1.7g sat fat; 356mg sodium; 2.3g omega-3
Good salmon taste and texture.
$2.29 per 425g can
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 773kJ; 22.4g protein; 3.1g sat fat; 338mg sodium; 2.9g omega-3
Good subtle flavours.
$2.45 per 100g can
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 777kJ; 18.5g protein; 2.9g sat fat; 377mg sodium; 2.2g omega-3
Tasty with a nice smoked flavour. Great texture.
$1.75 per 106g can
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 743kJ; 19.6g protein; 2.4g sat fat; 303mg sodium; 1.2g omega-3
Great mixture of flavours.
$2.30 per 95g can
Nutrition per 100g drained: 825kJ; 18.9g protein; 1.9g sat fat; 350mg sodium; 0.3g omega-3
Tasty! Great for fish cakes, salad or sandwiches.
$1.99 per 95g can
Nutrition per 100g: 447kJ; 16.8g protein; 0.5g sat fat; 360mg sodium; 0.2g omega-3
Good flavour with a good chilli kick.
$1.89 per 185g
Nutrition per 100g, drained: 423kJ; 22g protein; 0.4g sat fat; 280mg sodium; omega-3 not stated
Good tasty flavour. Firm, fleshy fish. Delicious!