Tuna is among the healthiest and richest sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. It’s also rich in selenium, a trace mineral that acts as an antioxidant that may help reduce risks of heart disease. Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about the risks of eating fresh tuna. Tuna species range from skipjack, yellowfin, albacore, bluefin, and bigeye. They range in sizes from as low as four pounds to as big as 1,500 pounds, depending on the species.
Health Nutrition of Tuna
One four oz. serving of tuna fish contains around 120 calories, zero carbohydrates, 25g of protein, and one gram of fat. This explains why tuna is ideal for people on a low-carb, high-protein diet.
Tuna is also an excellent source of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and selenium.
Can You Eat Raw Tuna?
Raw tuna is a common ingredient in sushi and sashimi, popular Japanese dishes made from a combo of raw fish, vegetables, rice, and seaweed. Hawaiian salads also contain raw tuna. But is eating raw fish safe and healthy for you?
Generally, eating raw tuna means you’re eating it in its cleaner state, with fewer additives like cooking oil, sauces, salt, or calories.
That said, eating raw tuna has its risks:
Foodborne Illness Caused by Bacteria or Parasites
Bacteria and parasites thrive in raw fish and seafood. Raw tuna may harbor Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, according to a 2016 “Food” study. The researchers discovered signs of Listeria monocytogenes in raw yellowfin tuna after being stored in a fridge, calling for proper handling of raw fish from farm to table.
Raw fish may also contain parasites like Opisthorchiidae and Anisakadie that are associated with causing disease in humans. Depending on the type of parasite, eating raw fish can lead to illnesses like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other related symptoms.
Another research found that samples of both yellowfin and bluefin tuna from the Pacific Ocean contained other parasites from the Kudoa family that are known to cause food poisoning. The level of parasitic risk depends on where the tuna is caught.
Cooking kills most parasites. What’s more, proper handling is also a preventive measure.
Contains High Level of Mercury
Mercury is a heavy metal that winds up in ocean waters due to pollution. Since tuna fish are high up in the food chain, they feed on smaller fish that contain varying amounts of mercury, which accumulate over time.
Most of the tuna served raw in sushi and sashimi, or steaks come from large species, like yellowfin, bluefin, albacore, and bigeye. Eating too much raw tuna may expose you to high levels of mercury, which can lead to serious health problems like heart and brain damage.
How to Safely Consume Raw Tuna
Despite the risks of eating raw fish, many health and nutrition experts argue that the benefits of eating tuna outweigh the potential risks. However, there’s no denying the fact that cooking tuna is the best way to get rid of parasites and lower your risk of contracting foodborne diseases.
That said, it’s still possible to safely enjoy raw tuna. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), freezing raw tuna is one way to eliminate parasites. They recommend:
- Freezing tuna at -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) or below for seven days.
- Freezing tuna at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) or below until solid and storing the fish at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) or below for 15 hours.
- Freezing tuna at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) or below until solid and storing at -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) or below for 24 hours.
If you plan to eat frozen tuna, be sure to defrost it in the refrigerator first. Most restaurants that serve raw tuna follow the FDA recommendations. But, if you’re concerned about its preparation, you can inquire for more details.
If you wish to prepare a raw tuna dish at home, make sure to purchase it from a reputable source. Most restaurants and fish suppliers are typically regulated to ensure they follow the proper safety measures and protocols for keeping fish safe and clean.
Generally, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older adults, children, and people with weak immune systems, like those undergoing cancer treatment, should avoid eating raw tuna. They should seek other alternatives like salmon, crab, or cod to get their recommended dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
If fresh tuna isn’t easily available in your area, canned tuna offers high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin D, and Selenium. Canned tuna is also a great option and is said to contain low levels of mercury. This means you can eat canned tuna more frequently than fresh. But just to be safe, limit your intake of tuna to avoid ingesting too much mercury.