5 Things to Watch Out for When Buying Canned Fish (and 6 Protein-Packed Recipes to Try)

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Canned fish is an affordable, protein-rich ingredient for healthy homemade burgers.
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You bought the canned fish — awesome, you're that much closer to getting more omega-3s. The next step: figuring out what to do with it.

Shelf-stable fish is nothing new, but it no longer has to be your last resort for protein in your pantry. Whether you're buying fish in water, oil or with seasoning, here's what to look out for with your canned salmon, anchovies and sardines — and then some creative ways to use canned fish.

How to Buy Canned Fish

  1. Choose BPA-free cans: Most cans now are BPA-free, but it's good to do a double-check by looking for a BPA-free label.
  2. Mind the type of oil: If your fish is packed in oil, make sure you're choosing an oil you are comfortable with, such as olive oil. For those allergic to soy, check the label for your safety.
  3. Check for bones: If having the bones in your fish is a no-go, then you might want to choose a different kind. Anchovies often come with bones, but they are not even noticeable. Some sardines have the bones removed, and much of the canned salmon you buy will also have bones. The good news is that all of these bones are edible and a source of calcium.
  4. Look for a minimal ingredient list: You can buy canned fish with seasonings or flavors, so always check the ingredient list to ensure you're OK with all of the added flavors.
  5. Watch for sodium: If you're on a low-sodium diet or just looking to reduce your salt intake, check your food labels to find the brand with the lowest amount of sodium.

Are You Getting Enough Protein?

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1. Daikon, Salmon and Quinoa Grain Salad

Salmon is a low-mercury fish, but canned salmon has even less.
  • Protein: 21 grams

Canned salmon is a great choice if you're stocking your pantry. It's extremely versatile and you'll find more ways to eat it than you probably originally thought — or you could eat it plain. Pairing it with a hearty vegetable like daikon and a grain makes a complete meal with a lot of protein.

Salmon is a fish that's low in mercury yet canned salmon actually has less mercury than fresh or frozen salmon, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, if you're pregnant or worried about mercury in your fish, rest assured that you're getting a safer fish.

Get the Daikon, Salmon and Quinoa Grain Salad recipe and nutrition info here.

2. Shaved Vegetable Salad With Sardines

This Mediterranean salad is overflowing with plants and seafood.
  • Protein: 13 grams

Sardines are a fish you either love or hate. Their salty, briny taste adds umami to your favorite dishes, and you may not even realize you're eating fish. This salad is brimming with nutrition, not just from the sardines, but also from hearty root vegetables, sweetness from an apple and healthy monounsaturated fats from the avocado.

Sardines are popular in Mediterranean cooking, so if you're eating more of a plant-based diet, it's the perfect fish to add to your repertoire. (By the way, the Mediterranean diet has been ranked the number one diet again in 2020 by U.S. News and World Report, so you're in good company by adding some Mediterranean staples to your diet.)

Get the Shaved Vegetable Salad With Sardines recipe and nutrition info here.

3. Spicy Avocado and Anchovy Salad

This salad packs both protein and fiber to keep you satiated throughout the day.
  • Protein: 19 grams

If you're trying to increase the amount of both protein and fiber in your diet, try the combo in this recipe.

Canned anchovies and eggs pump up the protein, while the kohlrabi and avocado help you get closer to the recommended amount of fiber.

If kohlrabi is not in your kitchen, you can sub it out for cabbage, broccoli stems or turnips. Study participants who had fiber intakes of at least 25 grams were observed to have lower risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer, a February 2019 study published in Lancet found.

Get the Spicy Avocado and Anchovy Salad recipe and nutrition info here.

4. Mediterranean Salmon Salad With Artichokes, White Beans and Lemon Dressing

Look for wild-caught salmon to create this nutrition-packed salad.
  • Protein: 15 grams

At only 130 calories and 15 grams of protein per serving, you might be asking for seconds. This salad, created by Lauren Harris-Pincus, RD and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, packs a lot of nutrition. Canned salmon is an excellent way to get omega-3 fatty acids for every member of the family.

Most canned salmon is wild-caught, which is preferable if you eat a lot of salmon, according to the University of California, Berkeley. Farmed salmon may contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), per the Mayo Clinic, so look for wild-caught on the can when buying salmon.

Get the Mediterranean Salmon Salad With Artichokes, White Beans and Lemon recipe and nutrition info here.

5. Baked Salmon Burgers

This salmon burger packs on the protein thanks to the addition of creamy yogurt.
  • Protein: 22.5 grams

Salmon burgers are the quintessential canned salmon recipe and this one uses common ingredients you most likely have on hand, like breadcrumbs and Greek yogurt. The total protein in this burger, created by Sarah Koszyk, RD, is about the amount you would get in 3 ounces of ground beef.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that healthy adults who are not super active should have between 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein equivalents each day. (One ounce of protein equals one ounce of meat, one tablespoon of peanut butter or one egg, for example)

If you're active or involved in sports or strength training, you will most likely need more, but this is a good place to start. Eating meals like this salmon burger are perfect for making sure you get enough protein every day.

Get the Baked Salmon Burgers recipe and nutrition info here.

6. Persimmon, Pistachio and Turnip Salad With Mustard Greens

Canned sardines have more omega-3 fatty acids than canned tuna.
  • Protein: 23 grams

You've probably heard that getting more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is good for you. Well, adding some sardines to your diet can help.

Ounce for ounce, sardines have more omega-3s than canned tuna, according to the National Institutes of Health. Currently, the daily adequate intake for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams for adult men and 1.1 grams for women over 19. Three ounces of sardines give you 1.19 grams of a combination of DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3s.

This salad also features persimmons, which are a source of vitamin C, carotenoids and tannins, according to May 2015 research published in Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal. If you have a hard time finding the fruit out of season, try using an apple to mimic the sweetness you would find in a ripe persimmon.

Get the Persimmon, Pistachio and Turnip Salad With Mustard Greens recipe and nutrition info here.

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