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Tuna vs. Chicken: Nutrition Showdown

They're both low-fat, high-protein, and delicious, but just how healthy are tuna and chicken?

It all depends on what “healthy” means for you. Both chicken and tuna are lean, low-calorie protein sources, which fits most people’s idea of a healthy diet. Calories and protein aren’t the end-all, be-all of nutrition, though. If you have special dietary needs, it pays to know what’s in your sandwich. We took a close look at the nutrition in four-ounce (113 gram) servings of canned tuna and chicken breast, then compared them to see which came out on top.

For fat, calories, and protein, it’s all good

Based on the Big Four nutrients—calories, fat, protein, and carbs—it’s obvious that tuna and chicken breast are very similar. Both are basically pure protein, with zero carbs and very little fat per four-ounce (113 gram) serving:

As you can see, chicken is higher in calories, protein and fat (which includes saturated fat) than a can of tuna calories, but they’re still pretty comparable. The real differences lie in the rest of their nutrients.

Tuna is significantly lower in cholesterol

These days, scientists and doctors agree that eating high-cholesterol foods isn’t always risky. According to the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect blood cholesterol levels much for most people. There are exceptions, though—people with diabetes and “cholesterol hyper-responders” (people whose blood cholesterol does change according to what they eat) should limit their intake to stay healthy.

Surprisingly, lean chicken breast is somewhat high in cholesterol. It has more than twice as much per serving as any water-packed variety of Chicken of the Sea tuna:

Even when you add mayo, tuna is still better for low-cholesterol diets. Canned tuna is healthy: an entire five-ounce can of tuna in water (which has about 40 mg cholesterol), mixed with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (which has about 12 mg), still has less than half as much cholesterol as a single serving of plain chicken breast.

Chicken has less sodium

Many people follow a low-sodium diet to manage high blood pressure and reduce their risk of heart disease. If you’re one of them, you may want to choose chicken more often. Even salt-free canned tuna contains more sodium than chicken breast:

Both feature vitamins and minerals

Like all animal proteins, both tuna and chicken are high in vitamins and minerals—mostly vitamin D, B-vitamins, and certain trace elements. The Vitamin D comparison is easy: Tuna has some (about 50 International Units or IU per four-ounce serving), and chicken doesn’t.

B-vitamins are more complicated. Here’s a table comparing the amounts per serving for cooked chicken breast or canned light tuna. Higher values are highlighted in green:

Chicken breast, cooked

Canned light tuna (in water)

Thiamin (B-1)

0.11 mg

0.03 mg

Riboflavin (B-2)

0.21 mg

0.09 mg

Niacin (B-3)

10.7 mg

11.2 mg


1.79 mg

0.17 mg


1.04 mg

0.36 mg


0.23 µg

2.90 µg

If you need to eat more B-12, tuna has you covered. Otherwise, chicken is just as good. Here’s a similar table for minerals like calcium and magnesium:

Chicken breast, cooked

Canned light tuna (in water)

Calcium (Ca)

7 mg

20 mg

Iron (Fe)

0.55 mg

1.89 mg

Magnesium (Mg)

36 mg

25.6 mg

Phosphorus (P)

272 mg

155 mg

Potassium (K)

388 mg

199 mg

Zinc (Zn)

1.08 mg

0.75 mg

Copper (Cu)

0.05 mg

0.05 mg

Manganese (Mn)

0.014 mg

0.021 mg

Selenium (Se)

36.0 µg

76.6 µg

Low iron is fairly common among the population, especially for those on a pescatarian diet, and if you struggle to get enough iron in your diet, tuna can help. If your iron levels are solid but you could use some more zinc, potassium, or phosphorus, then chicken is a better choice.

In the end, the choice between tuna and chicken boils down to what you need. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed lots of lean, low-calorie protein, with vitamins and minerals galore. Now that you know the finer details of chicken and tuna nutrition, you’ll always know which is best.

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