Which is Healthier, a Tuna or a Turkey Sandwich?

Two popular brown-bag lunch items are tuna salad sandwich and turkey sandwiches. These bad boys are going head-to-head for the title of healthiest sandwich.

We’re teaming up with fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you're eating on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

Healthy Eats' Brown-Bag Challenge has folks from around the country packing their lunches this month. Two popular brown bag items have been tuna salad sandwich and turkey sandwiches. These bad boys are going head-to-head for the title of healthiest sandwich.

Tuna Salad Sandwich


Three ounces of canned tuna in water contains 108 calories and 20 grams of protein. It provides 5 percent of your daily iron needs, a multitude of energy boosting B-vitamins and 80% of your daily recommended amount of selenium. Tuna is also plentiful in omega-3 fat, which is important for heart health, growth and brain function. For the sandwich, using whole grain bread can up your daily dose of fiber as can piling up on the veggies.


The FDA suggests limiting fish consumption to twice a week to moderate the amount of mercury we take in. Certain varieties of canned tuna (i.e. albacore) are higher in mercury than others. Knowing which variety of tuna to choose is important.  Three ounces of canned tuna contains 320 milligrams of sodium, which is 13 percent of the daily recommended amount.

Tuna is a healthy food. But when folks make tuna salad, they tend to go overboard on the mayo adding tons of extra calories and fat. One cup of mayo has a whopping 1440 calories, 160 grams fat, and 24 grams saturated fat. It’ll also tack on almost 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of sodium.

Healthy Tuna Sandwich Tips:
  • Keep mayo in check. Use 1 tablespoon per person when making your tuna salad.
  • Choose the right can of tuna—chunk light in water contains less mercury than albacore.
  • 2-3 ounces of tuna is just the right portion. Pile slices of tomato, onion and lettuce to bulk up your sandwich.
  • Choose whole grain bread like whole-wheat or rye.
  • Get more tips on how to lighten up your tuna salad.
Turkey Sandwich


Turkey is low in fat and lower in calories than many other meats. Three ounces has about 90 calories and three grams of fat. It provides a variety of B-vitamins and the antioxidant selenium.


Deli meats are notorious for two not-so-healthy things: nitrites and sodium. Nitrites are added to deli meats to keep their color bright and help prevent bacteria growth. The problem is that nitrites have been linked to various types of cancer, especially in children and pregnant women. Deli meats also contain high amounts of sodium. Three ounces (a typical serving of deli meat) contains 42 percent of your daily recommended amount of sodium.

This relatively healthy sandwich can easily be sabotaged by piles of meat and gobs of mayo. Like to have a turkey sandwich made at the deli? They tend to pile on almost double that amount of deli meat (and sodium). Tablespoons of mayo can also add many unnecessary calories and fat to your sandwich.

Another food safety concern that has been linked to deli meat is the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria affects the very young and old and can cause a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage during their third trimester (scary stuff!). To prevent Listeria, it's important to buy small amounts of deli meat at a time and use within 2 to 3 days. Also, don't let it hang out on the countertop during a meal, but rather take what you need and refrigerate the rest immediately. Pregnant women are advised to avoid deli meat altogether.

Healthy Turkey Sandwich Tips:
  • Look for reduced-sodium turkey at your deli counter.
  • Make turkey sandwiches with the appropriate portion of deli meat.
  • Pile on the veggies for extra bulk.
  • Instead of mayo, use mustard or hummus on your turkey sandwich.
  • Choose whole grain bread like whole wheat or rye.
  • Check out more tips to making smarter choices at the deli counter.
  • Be sure to discard deli meat after several days—they don’t last very long in the fridge.
YOU VOTE: Who’s the winner? The tuna salad sandwich or turkey sandwich?
Keep Reading

Next Up

Chicken Nuggets: Which Are Healthiest?

As a mom, I certainly understand the need to pop frozen nuggets into the oven. As a dietitian, I want to make sure those nuggets aren't filled with junk.

Which Airlines Have the Healthiest Food?

A new study fills flyers in on which airlines serve nutritious midflight meals and snacks, and which leave healthy eaters high and dry.

Thanksgiving Face-Off: Which is Healthier?

Food Network Magazine staged a Thanksgiving face-off and asked a registered dietitian to name the better choices. Here's how some staples compare.

Breakfast Face-Off: Which is Healthier?

Food Network Magazine staged a breakfast face-off and asked a nutritionist to name the better choices. The results might surprise you.

Holiday Face-Off: Which is Healthier?

Food Network Magazine staged a holiday face-off and asked a registered dietitian to name the better choices for holiday baking ingredients.

10 Healthy Canned-Tuna Recipes

It’s one of the easiest proteins to keep on hand for a quick meal. Get the scoop on buying the best varieties, then get ready to cook these deliciously healthy canned tuna recipes.

Candy Shop Face-Off: Which is Healthier?

Pay attention when you hit those touristy candy shops this summer: Some treats are better than others.

Salad Bar Face-Off: Which Is Healthier?

Before you hit the salad bar, see how some popular ingredients compare.

Robin's Healthy Take: Which Bacon is Best?

Robin Miller sampled bacon in its many forms and picked her favorite.