Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Having high cholesterol levels is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. Therefore, eating foods that help lower cholesterol is important for heart health.
Both salmon and tuna are incredibly nutritious fish that are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. But when it comes to cholesterol, one fish stands out as being better. Keep reading to find out whether salmon or tuna is better for managing cholesterol.
Before comparing salmon and tuna for cholesterol, it helps to understand what cholesterol is and why it matters.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all of the cells in your body. Your liver produces most of the cholesterol your body needs to function properly. Cholesterol supports many essential functions, including:
- Building cell membranes
- Producing bile acids that help digest fats
- Allowing your body to make vitamin D and certain hormones
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- LDL cholesterol: Also called “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol builds up on artery walls and increases heart disease risk.
- HDL cholesterol: Known as “good” cholesterol, HDL cholesterol carries LDL cholesterol away from arteries and back to the liver for disposal.
When you get your cholesterol tested, it’s important to evaluate both LDL and HDL levels. Ideally, your LDL will be low and your HDL will be high. Eating certain foods can help maintain this favorable ratio.
Nutrients in Salmon and Tuna
Now let’s analyze the nutrients in salmon and tuna that specifically impact cholesterol levels.
Salmon and tuna both contain healthy fats, but in different amounts:
|Total Fat (in 3 ounces cooked)
|Saturated Fat (in 3 ounces cooked)
As you can see, salmon contains more total fat and saturated fat per serving compared to tuna. However, the fats in salmon are predominantly the healthy kind known as omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat renowned for providing heart health benefits. The two main omega-3s are:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
Research shows omega-3 fatty acids:
- Decrease inflammation
- Reduce blood triglycerides
- Slow the development of plaque in the arteries
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of abnormal heart rhythm
All of these effects promote heart health and lower heart disease risk.
Now let’s look at the omega-3 content of salmon versus tuna:
|EPA + DHA (in 3 ounces cooked)
|1.5 – 2.5 grams
|0.2 – 1 gram
Salmon contains significantly more anti-inflammatory omega-3s compared to tuna. A serving of salmon provides over 2 grams while tuna only provides about one-third of that amount.
Vitamin D has emerged in studies as being important for heart health. Some research suggests vitamin D lowers inflammation, improves endothelial function, and reduces risk of heart attack and stroke.
Let’s see how much vitamin D is in our two fish:
|Vitamin D (in 3 ounces cooked)
Salmon serves up nearly double the vitamin D you get from tuna. Pairing salmon with a vitamin D-rich food like mushrooms can provide over half of the recommended daily vitamin D intake.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has been shown to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. The greater your HDL cholesterol, the lower your heart disease risk.
Here is the niacin content of salmon and tuna:
|Niacin (in 3 ounces cooked)
Salmon and tuna provide similar amounts of niacin. Either fish will supply a decent dose of this HDL-elevating B vitamin.
Verdict: Salmon is Best for Cholesterol
In summary, salmon contains more heart-healthy fats and nutrients compared to tuna, including:
- Higher in omega-3s EPA and DHA
- More vitamin D
- Slightly more niacin
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish high in omega-3s, like salmon, at least twice per week for optimal heart health. Salmon’s winning combination of protein, vitamin D, antioxidants, and potent omega-3s makes it the superior choice for cholesterol management.
Tuna is still a healthy protein source that offers some beneficial fats and nutrients. But pound for pound, salmon packs a bigger nutritional punch for your heart.
Tips for Buying Salmon
When shopping for salmon, keep these tips in mind:
- Look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon for the highest omega-3 content.
- Choose salmon fillets or steaks over smoked salmon or salmon jerky to limit sodium.
- Pick salmon that looks moist and firm with tightly adhered scales.
- Always store fresh salmon in the coldest part of the fridge and use within two days.
Healthy Ways to Eat More Salmon
Here are delicious ways to enjoy salmon more often so you can reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits:
- Make salmon patties using cooked salmon, eggs, breadcrumbs, onion, and fresh herbs.
- Throw salmon on the grill. Top with pesto or chimmichurri for rich, herbaceous flavor.
- Use salmon in place of tuna when making poke bowls with rice, vegetables, and ponzu sauce.
- Toss cubed, cooked salmon into an arugula salad with roasted beets, avocado, and a lemon vinaigrette.
- Use salmon instead of ground meat in tacos, burritos, or lettuce wraps.
The key is consuming salmon twice weekly to maximize the heart health benefits. But with so many versatile ways to enjoy salmon, eating it more often will be a pleasure, not a chore.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is canned salmon good for cholesterol?
Yes, canned salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s and other nutrients that support heart health. Look for “skinless and boneless” options to limit sodium and saturated fat intake. Rinse canned salmon before use to remove excess sodium.
Is farm-raised salmon good for cholesterol?
Farmed salmon contains lower amounts of omega-3s compared to wild salmon. However, it still provides more omega-3s than tuna does. Overall, farmed salmon is a good option for managing cholesterol, though wild is preferable.
Does salmon or tuna have more mercury?
Both salmon and tuna are low in mercury compared to many other fish. However, albacore tuna tends to have higher mercury levels than salmon. Pregnant women and young children should favor salmon over albacore tuna to limit mercury exposure.
Is tuna high in cholesterol?
No, tuna is very low in cholesterol. A 3 ounce serving contains just 33 mg of cholesterol, which is 11% of the daily value. In comparison, the same amount of salmon contains about 50 mg. So tuna is not a high cholesterol food.
Should I eat salmon skin for cholesterol?
Yes, salmon skin adds heart healthy fats and crunchy texture. However, it also adds calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Those with high cholesterol should consume salmon skin in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Salmon deserves its reputation as one of the best heart healthy foods. With abundant omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and other nutrients, salmon clearly beats out tuna when it comes to improving cholesterol levels.
Aim to incorporate salmon into your diet at least twice per week. Focus on wild caught Alaskan salmon when possible. Pair it with vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and other nutritious foods as part of an overall heart-smart eating pattern. By making salmon a go-to choice, you’ll raise your good HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and keep your heart in great shape.