Like tuna mac and cheese, tuna pasta salad is an easy way to take a classic pasta dish and significantly up its protein content. No matter your age or athletic activities, getting enough protein in your diet is important for everyone. Signs of a protein deficiency can range from moodiness to poor sleep to slow healing. This tuna macaroni salad recipe is a perfect and delicious way to get more protein in your diet. Plus, it’s such an easy dish to make.
But wait, is this recipe healthy? Tuna pasta salad, also called tuna macaroni salad or tuna noodle salad, is as healthy as the ingredients you put into it. In this case, we are using a low-mercury tuna, gluten-free pasta and a whole lot of nutrient-rich ingredients, including olives, tomatoes, bell pepper, capers and red onion.
This tuna pasta is perfect to make on a Sunday evening so you have a quick and easy yet well-balanced and healthy lunch option for the week ahead!
Benefits of Tuna (and Precautions!)
Tuna is very high in protein as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also rich in important nutrients like vitamin D, selenium, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, potassium, zinc and magnesium. (1) As a rich source of niacin, tuna is excellent for cardiovascular health and balancing cholesterol levels. Niacin is also key to the healthy function of the skin, nervous system and digestive system. (2) Tuna’s impressively high vitamin B6 content means it’s a great choice for brain function, mood, energy levels and blood flow.
There are actually several varieties of tuna, and some can definitely be healthier than others. For example, Atlantic bluefin tuna’s high mercury content — plus its near extinction due to overfishing — land it on my list of 17 Fish You Should Never Eat + Safer Seafood Options.
Mercury poisoning is definitely a concern when it comes to eating seafood. It’s an important topic in general, but it’s especially important when it comes to young children and pregnant women since excessive consumption of mercury-contaminated fish is known to have major negative effects on a child’s development.
So what about canned tuna? There are two main varieties of canned tuna you can find on store shelves: white albacore tuna or light tuna, which is typically skipjack. According to data from the EPA, canned light skipjack tuna usually has about a third of the mercury levels of albacore canned tuna. The EPA labels light canned tuna as a “best choice” while white albacore canned tunas is a “good choice.”
For kids, the EPA recommends that a “best choice,” like light canned tuna from skipjack, can be eaten two times per week in the following amounts: (3)
Age 2: 1 ounce per serving
Age 6: 2 ounces per serving
Age 9: 3 ounces per serving
Age 11 and up: 4 ounces per serving
The FDA recommends that women of childbearing age (between 16 and 49 years), especially pregnant and nursing women, eat two to three servings of “best choices” or one serving of a “good choice” fish per week. Again, light canned tuna makes the best choice list, while white albacore is on the good list. For more information, check out the FDA’s Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know.
So, if you’re going to eat tuna, look for tuna that is light and skipjack. However, beware of light canned tuna that is from yellowfin tuna because this is said to have higher mercury levels similar to albacore. (4)
- 237 calories
- 11.4 grams protein
- 12 grams fat
- 22 grams carbohydrates
- 1.8 grams fiber
- 1.4 grams sugar
- 557 milligrams sodium
- 14 milligrams cholesterol
- 49 micrograms vitamin K (61 percent DV)
- 20 milligrams vitamin C (33 percent DV)
- 3.5 milligrams iron (19.4 percent DV)
- 576 IUs vitamin A (12 percent DV)
- 38 IUs vitamin D (9.5 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams niacin (6.5 percent DV)
- 21 micrograms folate (5.3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams manganese (5 percent DV)
- 141 milligrams potassium (4 percent DV)
- 15 milligrams magnesium (3.8 percent DV)
- 16 milligrams calcium (1.6 percent DV)
In addition to tuna nutrition benefits, some other nutritional highlights of this recipe include:
- Brown rice pasta: Pasta made from brown rice does provide carbohydrates like other pastas. However, brown rice pasta is gluten-free, and it is also full of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and protein to balance its carb content.
- Red onion: A red onion provides beneficial onion nutrition — plus it is especially high in quercetin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
- Bell pepper: Bell peppers are rich in vitamin C and vitamin A. They are also high in carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. Research has shown that increased consumption of these carotenoids may decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. (19)
How to Make Tuna Pasta Salad
Macaroni salad with tuna doesn’t require any serious culinary skills, so this recipe is friendly to even the most novice of cooks.
To prep for this recipe, you’ll need to have the olives, tomatoes, onion and peppers chopped up. You’ll also need to have your pasta cooked according to the package directions and allow it to cool down before adding it to the mixture. That’s it! Now you’re ready to combine everything together.
First, you can add the cooked pasta and tuna to a large bowl.
Add in the red onion.
Toss in the Kalamata olives.
The bell pepper (red, green and/or yellow) can go in next.
Add in the capers.
Last but not least, add the Paleo mayonnaise and Dijon mustard to the bowl.
Mix it all together until well-combined.
Before serving, top the macaroni tuna salad with chopped green onions and micro greens for a boost of flavor and nutrients.
If you’re not going to eat the tuna pasta salad right away, keep it covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Enjoy!
- One 12-ounce box brown rice macaroni pasta, cooked
- Two 5-ounce cans wild-caught tuna
- ½ red onion, chopped
- ½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
- ½ cup bell peppers, chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
- ⅓ cup Paleo mayo
- ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ cup green onions, chopped
- ¼ cup micro greens
- Add all the ingredients to a large bowl, mixing until well-combined.
- Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
- Top with chopped green onions and micro greens.
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