Whoever came up with the age-old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” could have substituted “fish” for “apple.”
One of the healthiest foods around, fish contains valuable nutrients such as protein, vitamin D (for strong, healthy bones), and vitamin B2 (for energy and digestion).
Research has shown that higher consumption of fish (anywhere from one to three servings per month, to two servings or more per week of oily fish) has been associated with reductions in heart disease, as well as chronic kidney disease in type 2 diabetes, and less albuminuria in type 1 diabetes.
Despite these benefits, most Canadians are not eating enough fish. Factors such as affordability or a lack of fresh options might be contributing to this, especially for Canadians who do not live near a coastline.
But fear not: “Canned fish is a convenient, healthy, low-cost option to add tasty fish to your meals and snacks,” says Stephanie Boutette, a registered dietitian and education coordinator with Diabetes Canada. From tuna and salmon to anchovies and sardines, the easiest fishing around is in the canned foods section of your grocery store. Canned fish typically has a reasonably long shelf life (check the expiry date), is readily available, and is often more affordable than fresh fish.
Check the label
A few dos and don’ts: “The best canned fish to choose has no or low sodium [salt],” says Boutette. While the Nutrition Facts Table on a product will list the amount of sodium contained (go for products that contain less than five per cent of the Daily Value), some products also indicate on the front of the label that less sodium has been added. “If low-sodium [salt] versions of canned fish are not available, consider rinsing the fish under water to help remove some of the salt,” Boutette adds. Fish canned in water also contains less added fat than products that are canned in oil. Plus, choosing fish with bones will provided added calcium.
One other issue to watch out is mercury exposure. “All fish naturally contain traces of mercury. For most people, the level of mercury absorbed by eating fish is not of concern,” says Boutette. In fact, she points out, Health Canada states that the fish used in canned tuna is usually younger and smaller, and has significantly less mercury, than fresh or frozen tuna. If you are concerned about mercury, check the product label to see what type of tuna was used. Health Canada recommends limiting consumption of white (albacore) tuna to two cups/300 grams per week for pregnant or breastfeeding women, one cup for children between five and 11 years old, and 0.5 cups for children aged one to four. Canned light tuna can be consumed freely, as it is relatively low in mercury.
If you are concerned about sustainable fishing practices, you can do a Google search on particular brands.
Keeping these things in mind, there is nothing to stop you from falling for canned fish, hook, line, and sinker.
Did You Know?
Foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium (salt), but most of the sodium in our diet is added during food processing. Canned and packaged foods are high in sodium because it is added to maintain safety and freshness. For more information, visit High Blood Pressure and Diabetes.
(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Spring 2019)
Author: Alyssa Schwartz
Category Tags: Healthy Living;
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