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Is a Tuna Sandwich Healthy?

author image Sandi Busch
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.
Is a Tuna Sandwich Healthy?
A whole wheat tuna sandwich with a pickle on a cutting board. Photo Credit: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

A tuna sandwich has the potential to be a healthy meal. The simplest version -- two slices of whole-wheat bread, 3 ounces of canned light tuna and a tablespoon of light mayo -- has just 270 calories. These are nutrient-dense calories, packed with protein, fiber, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. On the flip side, some common ingredient choices create a high-calorie, high-fat and fiber-free tuna sandwich.

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Nutrient-Dense Tuna

Tuna is an excellent source of lean protein, niacin and vitamin B-6. It also provides nearly an entire day’s recommended dietary allowance of antioxidant selenium and vitamin B-12, which is essential to keep your nervous system working and to synthesize red blood cells and DNA. You’ll also get omega-3 fatty acids. A 3-ounce serving of canned light tuna supplies at least 10 percent of your daily intake of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. These unsaturated fats reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing inflammation and lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, according to Colorado State University Extension.

Tuna Choices Make a Difference

Tuna contains some mercury, which is toxic to developing brains and nervous systems. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant must limit the amount they eat. Canned light tuna has less mercury than albacore tuna. Women can safely eat up to six servings of light tuna per month, but should limit albacore to three servings or less monthly. For the healthiest sandwich, choose tuna canned in water. You’ll get 73 calories and 0.8 grams of total fat from 3 ounces of light tuna packed in water. When it’s packed in oil, the same portion has double the calories and seven times more fat.

Whole-Grain Carbs For Fiber

Keep the carbohydrates healthy by choosing whole-grain products. Two slices of refined white and whole-wheat bread have nearly the same calories: 159 and 161 respectively. They often contain about the same amount of B vitamins and minerals because processed flour is fortified. The important difference is that whole-grain bread retains all the grain’s natural fiber. Two slices of whole-wheat bread supply 3.8 grams of fiber, compared to only 1.6 grams in two slices of white bread. A large, whole-wheat pita pocket is almost nutritionally similar to whole-wheat bread and has 4.7 grams of fiber. Avoid using croissants, which have double the calories and seven times more fat.

Condiments and Vegetable Toppings

Stick with light mayonnaise, which only has 36 calories and 3 grams of fat in 1 tablespoon. By comparison, regular mayonnaise has nearly three times more calories and fat. Replace the mayo with Greek yogurt for extra protein and calcium. If you love cheese on your tuna sandwich choose low-fat brands, but you'll hardly miss the cheese if you add some flavor with a touch of fat-free ranch dressing and top the sandwich with vegetables. Any combination of green leaf lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and thinly sliced or grated carrots contribute fiber, antioxidant phytochemicals, potassium and vitamins A and C. Use mung bean sprouts to boost your vitamin K.

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