Good nutrition is essential for everyone, but it is particularly important if you are living with diabetes. In addition to managing your carbohydrate intake, your nutrition plan needs to be heart-healthy because of the increased risk of cardiovascular disease that accompanies diabetes. Tuna is an excellent, low-calorie food choice for your diabetes diet, providing you with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other important micronutrients.
You don't have to worry about a spike in your blood sugar level when you eat tuna because it contains little to no carbohydrates. A 3 oz. serving of baked or broiled fresh tuna contains approximately 0.3 g of carbohydrates. A similar serving of canned tuna does not contain any measurable carbohydrates.
Low Cholesterol and Saturated Fat
You may struggle with an elevated blood cholesterol level, as many diabetics do. Tuna is a heart-healthy choice because it is naturally low in cholesterol and saturated fat. A 3-oz. serving of canned tuna contains approximately 15 mg to 25 mg of cholesterol. Water-packed tuna contains 0.2 g of saturated fat and oil-packed tuna contains 1.3 g. Fresh baked or broiled tuna contains 45 g of cholesterol and 0.7 g of saturated fat. If you make tuna salad, remember that regular mayonnaise contains nearly 400 calories and 45 g of fat per quarter cup. Consider using mayonnaise made from tofu, which contains roughly half the fat and calories of regular mayonnaise.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of heart-healthy, polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish oils. These fats help to protect you from heart disease by promoting decreased blood pressure and a lower blood triglyceride level. Anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids may slow the formation or growth of fat deposits in your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or heart failure. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are especially important if you have diabetes because of your increased risk of heart disease. Fresh tuna contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. If you are eating canned tuna, white albacore tuna packed in water contains more omega-3 fatty acids than light and oil-packed varieties. The American Heart Association recommends eating omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish at least twice weekly.
Watching your weight is an important component of diabetes management, especially if you have type 2 disease. Lean protein sources such as tuna provide the building blocks required to maintain your body systems without adding an excessive number of calories to your nutrition plan. Three ounces of tuna provides you with approximately 22 g to 25 g of high-quality protein.
In addition to supporting bone health, vitamin D may improve your glucose metabolism. In a June 2007 article published in the "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism," Dr. Anastassios Pittas and colleagues report that vitamin D and calcium may support the production and release of insulin and reduce insulin resistance, the primary metabolic defect with type 2 diabetes. Tuna is one of the few foods that naturally contains vitamin D. Baked or broiled tuna contains roughly 1 mcg of vitamin D per 3-oz. serving; canned tuna contains approximately 4 mcg to 6 mcg, depending on the variety you choose.
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: What's in the Foods You Eat Search Tool
- Omega-3 Learning for Health and Science: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content of Food Products (Natural and Enriched)
- American Heart Association: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism"; The Role of Vitamin D and Calcium in Type 2 Diabetes. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis; Anastassios G. Pittas, M.D., M.S., et al.; June 2007
Dr. Tina M. St. John owns and operates a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an accomplished medical writer and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.