I Ate Tinned Fish Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened

Updated: Jun. 06, 2024

My week of eating tinned fish led to some lovely benefits—and fun food experiments—that I wasn't anticipating.

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Tinned fish might not sound as exciting (or enticing!) as tuna carpaccio, salmon sashimi or extra anchovies on your Caesar salad—but thanks, perhaps, to the inventory of non-perishable foods the pandemic necessitated—tinned fish has turned a little trendy the past couple years.

If tinned fish reminds you of something a 100-year-old great-grandparent would eat, you might take a page from their book: The health benefits of tinned fish are similar to more traditionally upmarket types of fish…and meanwhile, the convenience can’t be beat.

Tinned fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which must be obtained from food or supplements because the human body doesn’t manufacture them. One benefit of eating omega-3s is that the foods that deliver these acids are often also excellent sources of protein, which builds and repairs muscles and helps maintain healthy hair, skin and nails. Plus, tinned fish is rich in vitamin D, calcium, and iron. The Cleveland Clinic says these healthy fats help lower our risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, blood clots and age-related macular degeneration.

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When I decided to eat tinned fish for a week to see what I’d notice, salmon salad and tuna salad were automatically on the menu because they’re easy to whip up and I like them. I also wanted to experiment with some less…popular?…picks, like sardines, anchovies and mackerel.

I stocked up on Fishwife’s wild-caught smoked albacore tuna and Scout’s smoked wild pink salmon. And because I haven’t stopped thinking about Portuguese tinned fish since I visited Lisbon a decade ago, I hit up Portugalia Marketplace for a few varieties of anchovies and some mackerel. I decided to save anchovies for when I was out to dinner (because I always ask for extra anchovies on my Caesar salad). Other favorite tinned fish products, especially if you’re shopping for sustainable seafood, are from SafeCatch (gotta love their boneless tinned fish!) and Wild Planet.

Here’s how my week of eating tinned fish went.

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Eating tinned fish was convenient

When you decide to eat something for a week, figuring out what to eat gets simpler. I found that eating tinned fish for a week was bizarrely convenient.

Over the course of the week, I made tuna and salmon salad, but I also experimented with chopped-up anchovies and wild foraged capers from Big Picture Foods on saltines, one of my all-time favorite crackers despite whatever fancy stuff exists. I love salt, but found there was plenty between the fish and the capers, so I went with unsalted saltines. I also chopped sardines and mackerel and mixed them with fresh herbs and butter to spread on a baguette (talk about rustic elegance). I added greens and had superfood sandwiches.

When I needed a quick snack before getting on a Zoom or heading out for a hike, I considered an apple with almond butter (Once Again’s crunchy almond butter is wildly cravable)—but because it was tinned-fish week, I opted for a few servings straight out of the can. I admit this wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t bad either. It left me energized and satisfied with about zero effort.

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Eating tinned fish was satisfying

Feeling satisfied and focused is always a good feeling, and one tin of fish turned out to be a perfect midday snack. “Fish is a great source of protein and helps to keep you feeling full and reduces cravings, which is because it lowers hunger hormones like ghrelin,” explains registered dietitian Jen Scheinman, RD, senior manager of nutrition affairs at Timeline Nutrition. “The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but studies suggest that higher levels of protein—25% to 30% of your daily calories—can help to control appetite and promote weight loss,” Scheinman says.

Ashley Poladian, PT, FRCms, a fitness and nutrition coach, adds: “Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates or fat, so it keeps you feeling full and satisfied for longer periods of time.” Poladian added that the omega-3 fatty acids in tinned fish can “help reduce feelings of hunger and cravings, plus omega-3 fatty acids are known to affect the hormones that regulate appetite.”

I’m pleased to report that this was definitely my experience.

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Eating tinned fish gave me a glow

It would seem that the benefits of eating tinned fish wouldn’t come instantly…but over the course of the week, people kept telling me my skin was glowing. “In my opinion, one week seems fast to see dramatic changes in skin just from eating more fish,” Scheinman says. “But small changes in diet can snowball into other changes in sleep and exercise and even mood, which can have a cumulative effect on how you feel and ultimately how you look.”

In middle age, I know that a couple of days of poor sleep and subpar eating habits seems to take an instant toll, and it seems fair that the opposite could be true.

Jen Dreisch, a holistic nutritionist at Jewel Wellness on Maui, has also worked as an esthetician and knows that what we put in our bodies is as important as what we put on our skin. “One of the omega-3s is called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which protects skin from aging,” Drench says. “EPA has anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the breakdown of collagen, plus there’s an antioxidant called astaxathin in salmon, which also helps the skin look younger.”

If you need me, I’ll be eating tinned fish (maybe straight out of the can) because this is a habit I’m keeping.

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