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Is Raw Tuna Bad For You?

Also Known As: Sashimi



Short answer

Consuming raw tuna can be risky due to its mercury content and the potential for foodborne illnesses. Larger species like bigeye and bluefin have higher mercury levels; hence, limiting intake is recommended, especially for pregnant women, children, and the immunocompromised. Sustainable fishing practices are also crucial to consider to ensure the long-term health of marine ecosystems. Despite these concerns, in moderation and when sourced responsibly, raw tuna provides valuable nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals.



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Long answer

Mercury Content in Raw Tuna and its Health Implications

Tuna, a staple in many diets around the world, especially those who are fond of sushi and sashimi, is a nutritious seafood choice. However, it is imperative to discuss the mercury content in raw tuna and its potential health implications. Tuna fish, particularly larger and older species, accumulate mercury in their tissues due to bioaccumulation in the ocean's food chain.

Mercury is a heavy metal and in its methylmercury form, it is highly toxic, particularly affecting the nervous system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued guidelines on mercury in seafood, focusing on vulnerable groups like pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children, advising them to limit their consumption to reduce the risk of neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children.

A study published in the Environmental Research journal noted that regular consumption of mercury-laden fish could lead to the accumulation of this neurotoxin in the human body, potentially increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairments.

The mercury content varies widely among different types of tuna. According to reports from the FDA, here is a breakdown of average mercury levels in various tuna species:

Tuna Type Average Mercury Level (ppm)
Canned Light Tuna 0.128
Fresh/Frozen Skipjack Tuna 0.144
Canned Albacore Tuna 0.350
Fresh/Frozen Yellowfin Tuna 0.354
Fresh/Frozen Bigeye Tuna 0.689
Fresh/Frozen Bluefin Tuna 0.423

Considering these numbers, it is advised that the consumption of larger tuna species like bigeye (often used in sushi) and bluefin should be limited. The EPA and FDA recommend a maximum of one serving per week of fish with higher mercury levels for the general population and even less for sensitive groups.

To mitigate health risks, consumers can select tuna species with lower mercury content, such as canned light tuna or skipjack. Additionally, novel techniques like polymer-based filtration may also lower mercury levels in fish but are not yet widely applied to seafood processing.

Ultimately, while raw tuna offers a wealth of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and various vitamins and minerals, it is crucial to be mindful of its mercury content. Balance and moderation are key, and by being informed about the types of tuna and their mercury levels, consumers can make safer and healthier dietary choices.

Risk of Foodborne Illness from Raw Tuna Consumption

Consuming raw tuna poses a unique set of health risks primarily related to the potential presence of pathogens that can lead to foodborne illnesses. Despite its popularity, especially in dishes such as sushi and sashimi, it's important to understand the dangers involved.

One of the primary concerns with raw tuna is the risk of bacterial infection. One such common bacterium is Salmonella, a pathogen that can cause symptoms like fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Tuna, like other raw fish, can also harbor Listeria monocytogenes, which can be especially dangerous for pregnant women as it may lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.

Anisakis simplex, a type of nematode (worm), can be present in raw tuna, leading to anisakiasis if ingested. The symptoms of this parasitic infection range from stomach pain and nausea to severe allergic reactions. Freezing tuna at -20°C (-4°F) for at least 48 hours is a recommended prevention method, as it effectively kills parasites.

Another health risk associated with the consumption of raw tuna is scombrotoxin poisoning, also known as histamine fish poisoning. This occurs when fish is improperly stored and bacteria cause high levels of histamine to develop. Symptoms can resemble an allergic reaction and include flushing, headaches, and hives.

It's also important to consider mercury levels in tuna. While not directly linked to the fact that the tuna is raw, high mercury content can lead to mercury poisoning, which is characterized by symptoms such as cognitive impairment and coordination problems. Pregnant women and children are advised to limit their consumption of high-mercury fish like tuna to reduce risks to development and health.

To minimize these risks, it is essential to ensure the freshness and proper handling of raw tuna:

  • Source tuna from reputable suppliers who follow strict storage and handling guidelines to avoid pathogen contamination.
  • Consume freshly caught tuna and ensure it's been adequately refrigerated or frozen immediately after being caught.
  • Practice good hygiene and cross-contamination prevention measures when preparing raw tuna at home.

For individuals who are immunocompromised, elderly, pregnant, or very young, it's generally recommended to avoid raw tuna to reduce the risk of foodborne illness significantly. Consulting with a healthcare provider is also wise for those with specific health concerns related to consuming raw fish.

Importantly, professionals in the food safety industry, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regularly monitor and issue guidelines to help consumers mitigate the risks associated with fish consumption.

Lastly, moderation is crucial. Enjoying raw tuna as part of a balanced diet, while taking precautionary measures, can minimize health risks. For those who enjoy raw tuna dishes, it's crucial to be cognizant of these potential health concerns and take steps to enjoy this delicacy safely.

Nutritional Benefits of Including Tuna in Your Diet

Raw tuna is a powerhouse of nutrition, offering numerous health benefits when included as a part of a balanced diet. The consumption of this fish provides a rich source of essential nutrients that are vital for maintaining good health and preventing deficiencies.

High-Quality Protein: Tuna is incredibly high in protein, which is fundamental for muscle growth, tissue repair, and maintaining a healthy immune system. A 3-ounce serving of yellowfin tuna contains about 25 grams of protein, making it an excellent choice for individuals looking to increase their protein intake without consuming a large amount of calories.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are prevalent in fatty fish like tuna. These heart-healthy fats play a crucial role in brain health, inflammation reduction, and cardiovascular disease prevention. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week to reap these benefits.

Vitamins: Tuna is a good source of several vitamins, including B-complex vitamins such as niacin (which helps convert food into energy), vitamin B12 (crucial for the formation of red blood cells and neurological functions), and vitamin B6 (involved in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body primarily associated with protein metabolism).

Minerals: Tuna is rich in minerals like selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Selenium is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage, phosphorus is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and magnesium contributes to muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation.

Low Calorie and Low Fat: For those managing their weight, raw tuna is particularly appealing as it offers high nutritional value with relatively few calories and low fat content. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone on a calorie-controlled diet.

Together, these nutrients make raw tuna not only a delicious but also a beneficial addition to your dietary regimen. However, it should be noted that consumption should be within recommended limits due to concerns over mercury and other possible contaminants found in larger fish species.

Remember that the way tuna is prepared can also influence its nutritional profile. For example, sushi or sashimi that includes raw tuna will have different accompanying ingredients than a tuna steak. It’s essential to consider condiments and preparation methods to maintain the health benefits of eating raw tuna.

It is always recommended to source tuna from reputable suppliers to ensure it is fresh and has been handled properly to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. It is also essential to vary your fish intake and include other types of seafood in your diet to get a broad range of nutrients and minimize exposure to any single type of contaminant.

Sustainable Fishing and the Environmental Impact of Tuna Consumption

When addressing the question of whether raw tuna is bad for you, an often overlooked aspect is the environmental impact of tuna fishing. Tuna, a popular choice for its rich flavor and health benefits, has become a staple in many diets worldwide. However, our appetite for this fish has significant ecological ramifications. Sustainable fishing practices are critical for maintaining the health of marine ecosystems and ensuring that tuna remains available for future generations without causing undue harm to the environment.

Ocean Health and Biodiversity: Overfishing is a primary concern when it comes to tuna consumption. Certain species of tuna, such as bluefin, are already endangered due to high demand and poor management of fishing resources. Non-sustainable fishing practices can lead to a decrease in tuna populations, which disrupts the food chain and affects biodiversity. For this reason, it's essential to support and choose brands that adhere to responsible fishing methods that protect not just the tuna, but the entire marine habitat. Organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certify fisheries that maintain sustainable practices, serving as a guide for consumers.

Bycatch Reduction: Bycatch, the unintentional capture of non-target fish and other marine animals in fishing gear, is a devastating consequence of some tuna fishing methods. Dolphins, sharks, turtles, and seabirds are often caught and killed as bycatch, which can have dire effects on these populations. Pole-and-line fishing and trolling are examples of more selective fishing methods that significantly reduce bycatch. Supporting fisheries that use these low-impact techniques can positively influence the health of our oceans.

Fishing Methods and Ecosystem Damage: Certain industrial fishing methods, like bottom trawling or the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), can cause substantial harm to marine ecosystems, including coral reefs and seafloor habitats. These destructive practices may lead to irreversible damage, and thus, pose a considerable environmental threat. When selecting tuna products, it's advisable to check if the fishing method used minimizes ecological damage.

Carbon Footprint: The fishing industry contributes to global carbon emissions through fuel-intensive fishing operations and transportation of catch across vast distances. The carbon footprint of tuna fishing can vary greatly depending on the fishing method used and the distance the fish has traveled to reach your plate. Choosing locally-sourced and sustainably-caught tuna can help reduce these emissions.

In conclusion, while the health implications of consuming raw tuna are an important consideration, the environmental perspective cannot be ignored. Sustainable fishing practices are not only better for the oceans and marine life but ultimately support the long-term availability of tuna as a food source. To make environmentally conscious choices, look for certifications indicating sustainable practices, understand the fishing methods used, and consider the source of the tuna you consume. By doing so, you are making a choice that benefits both your health and the planet.

Raw Tuna and Dietary Restrictions: Who Should Avoid It?

While raw tuna is a delicacy savored in many cuisines around the world, it may not be suitable for everyone. Dietary restrictions, whether due to health conditions, life stages, or personal choices, can dictate whether raw tuna is a smart choice for an individual's diet. Let's break down the groups of people who should typically avoid raw tuna and delve into the reasons why.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women:

  • Due to the potential presence of mercury and other environmental contaminants in raw fish, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often advised to exercise caution. High levels of mercury can adversely affect a baby’s developing nervous system. The FDA recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid fish with higher mercury levels and consume fish that are lower in mercury in moderation.
  • Moreover, raw fish carries a risk of containing parasites and bacteria, such as Listeria, which can lead to infections that are particularly dangerous during pregnancy.

Individuals with Compromised Immune Systems:

  • Immunocompromised individuals, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, living with HIV/AIDS, or having received an organ transplant, should avoid raw tuna. Their weakened immune systems are less capable of fighting off potential foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria or parasites commonly found in raw seafood.


  • Very young children should not eat raw tuna because their immune systems are not fully developed. Similar to the concerns for pregnant women, the presence of mercury and the risk of bacteria and parasites make raw tuna a risky choice for this group.

Individuals with Shellfish or Fish Allergies:

  • Some individuals with shellfish or fish allergies may experience allergic reactions to tuna as well. Cross-contamination with other seafood in establishments that serve raw fish can also be a concern, so avoiding raw tuna might be necessary to prevent reactions.

Individuals with Specific Dietary Restrictions:

  • People following strict vegetarian or vegan diets do not consume any animal products, including fish, whether raw or cooked.
  • Dietary laws such as kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) that require fish to have scales can affect the consumption of certain types of tuna, depending on whether they meet the criteria.

It is always recommendable for individuals with dietary restrictions to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to evaluate their personal risk factors related to consuming raw tuna.

In summary, when considering the consumption of raw tuna, certain populations – like pregnant and breastfeeding women, the immunocompromised, young children, those with specific allergies, and individuals adhering to certain dietary philosophies or religious restrictions – need to take special precautions or avoid it altogether due to health and safety concerns.

As with many dietary considerations, individual circumstances vary, and it's essential to weigh the potential risks against nutritional benefits in consultation with health care professionals.

Frequently asked questions

To lower mercury intake, you can consider substituting tuna with fish that are typically lower in mercury such as salmon, sardines, and tilapia. These options also provide beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and can be a healthier choice, especially for vulnerable populations.

Cooking tuna does not reduce the mercury content of the fish. Mercury is tightly bound to the proteins in fish muscle and does not decrease with cooking or freezing. To minimize mercury exposure, choose tuna species with lower mercury levels like canned light tuna or skipjack.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness when eating raw tuna at home, ensure that the fish has been previously frozen to -20°C (-4°F) for at least 48 hours to kill parasites, purchase the fish from reputable sources, keep it properly refrigerated, and maintain a clean preparation area to prevent cross-contamination.

Yes, there are recommendations for tuna consumption to limit mercury exposure. According to the EPA and FDA, most adults can safely consume up to 12 ounces of light tuna or up to 4 ounces of albacore tuna per week. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children should consume even less. It's crucial to balance tuna intake with other low-mercury fish for a varied diet.

Ask a question about Raw Tuna and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • headaches
  • flushing
  • hives
  • allergic reactions

Possible long-term side effects

  • mercury accumulation
  • neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children
  • cognitive impairments
  • cardiovascular disease risk
  • miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women

Ingredients to be aware of

  • mercury
  • pathogens (salmonella, listeria)
  • parasites (anisakis simplex)
  • histamine (in case of scombrotoxin poisoning)


  • high protein content
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • nutrient-rich (vitamins b-complex, selenium, magnesium)
  • low calorie
  • low fat

Healthier alternatives

  • canned light tuna
  • skipjack
  • other low-mercury fish
  • plant-based omega-3 sources

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Wild Planet Albacore Tuna

  • No added salt
  • Sustainably wild-caught
  • Non-GMO verified
  • Kosher certified
  • Rich in protein
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-09-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-09-2024

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