We're reader-supported. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you.

Should You Drain Canned Tuna?

Canned tuna is a godsend for the busy cook (and for the hungry eater!).

Cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy eating, canned tuna is not only delicious but also high in protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, it doesn’t require any cooking knowledge or equipment except for a can opener or knife.

But should you drain canned tuna before eating it? That’s the question I’ll be helping you tackle in the rest of this post.

Canned tuna is cooked, and can be eaten straight from the can. That said, many prefer to drain it from the liquid that it came in, which reduces the amount of calories (if packed in oil) or sodium (if packed in water).

Canned tuna is tuna fish that’s been gutted and cooked, then filleted and sealed, making it completely safe to eat without the need for any additional cooking on your part.

Typically, it’s preserved in oil, brine, or spring water. Depending on the liquid the can of tuna that’s sitting around in your pantry is packed in, you may (or may not) have a reason to drain it before eating it.

Here’s what you need to know to decide.

Oil-packed tuna:

In general, canned tuna can be packed in one of three types of oil:

  1. Cheap and flavorless vegetable oil;
  2. Affordable and heart-healthy soybean oil;
  3. Costly but delicious and nutritious extra virgin olive oil.

I recently wrote a whole post about selecting tuna at the store, so I won’t go into too much detail about the differences; you can head on over there to read about them.

But it will give you the rundown relevant to what you came here to find out:

Avoid tuna packed in vegetable oil (especially when the type of oil hasn’t been disclosed). Most manufacturers use the cheapest vegetable oils that they can get their hands on, which tend to contain mostly “bad” Omega-6 fatty acids that you don’t want in your body.

If you’re on the hunt for an affordable and hearty meal, canned tuna in soybean oil will give you the best run for your money. Soybean oil mainly contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, which food experts agree is the heart-healthy kind.

Buy tuna canned in extra virgin olive oil, even if it’s much more expensive than the rest. The richness of flavor, full-bodied taste, and nutritional profile are unmatched compared to cheaper cans.

So why would you want to drain oil-packed tuna?

More often than not, it’s because of the sheer number of calories you’d ingest in case you don’t. According to the USDA’s FoodData Central, tuna in oil has roughly twice the calories of tuna in water (198kcal per serving of 100g compared to 90kcal/100g).

But here’s the thing: when you drain the oil, the calories won’t be the only thing you’re getting rid of along with it… One study found that, when drained, tuna canned in oil had 1/3 less Omega-3 fatty acids.

As it turns out, the grain or vegetable oil reacts to some of the fat naturally contained in the fish, causing it to seep. This means that when you drain it, some of the fatty acids will go down the drain with it.

Brine-packed tuna:

Brined tuna is tuna fish packed in generously salted water. Occasionally, the brine can contain other ingredients like sugar.

As you can imagine, the brine dramatically increases the amount of sodium (salt) contained in the can. So if, for one reason or another, you need to mind your sodium intake, it’s a good idea to drain the tuna fillets from the brine before eating them.

On average, brined tuna contains 500 milligrams of salt per serving of 100 grams, compared to 400mg/100g for oil-packed tuna and 200mg/100g for spring water-packed tuna.

The exact amounts will vary by brand and variety. No matter which one caught your eye, be sure to check the nutritional facts printed somewhere on the side of the label.

Spring water-packed tuna:

Canned tuna in spring water is exactly what it says on the label: filleted tuna in pieces, flakes, or chunks that’s been sealed in spring water (meaning water from an underground source).

Compared to oil-packed tuna and brine-packed tuna, springwater tuna has the cleanest ingredients list, lowest sodium content, and most natural taste. As a result, it offers the “quintessential” taste of canned tuna without any of the distractions.

If you, like my wife and me, enjoy eating tuna straight from the can—and are not bothered by the excess liquid that comes with it—springwater tuna is without a doubt the best kind of tuna to go for.

How to Drain a Can of Tuna

Have you ever found a can of tuna to be too watery? I have, too.

Here are the three ways to drain it so that you get all the flakes or chunks out without making a mess!

Method no. 1. Crack open the can slightly without taking the lid all the way off. You want to create a small opening that allows you to pour the liquid out, just like the one on a can of beer. Invert the can in your kitchen sink and let gravity do its job as most of the liquid drains by itself from it.

Method no. 2. Open the can completely, then take the lid and put it back on the tuna. Using your hands like claws, with the thumbs on one side of the can and the pointer and middle fingers on the other, press down on the tuna with the lid, then invert the can to drain the liquid from it.

Method no. 3. Open the can and flip it over onto a colander in your kitchen sink. If needed, drain the tuna entirely by pressing down onto the meat, releasing any leftover juices.

Know your author

Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.