Why should I eat sardines? You’ll be surprised by the answer. Sardines are one of the highest sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids on the planet, and they include many other important trace minerals and vitamins.
If you’re currently not consuming sardines very often, but you’ll likely want to change that after reading how impressive the health benefits of sardines nutrition can be.
Finding the best sources of important omega-3 fats from fish may seem confusing- with topics like contamination of fresh waters, depletion of fish populations from the oceans, and toxins and heavy metals frequently making headlines in the press.
But luckily with sardines, you get all of the nutritional benefits without needing to worry about things like sustainability or high levels of mercury contamination.
It’s also easier to use sardines in the recipes you’re already making than you may think; canned sardines can easily be found in most grocery stores and make a great addition to sauces, salads, soups, and more.
Start experimenting more with sardines today, in order to take advantage of their impressive benefits: boosting heart health, improving brain function, protecting against cancer, reducing inflammation, filling common nutrient deficiencies and much more!
Check out all these sardines nutrition benefits! Only 3 oz. of sardines provides (in recommended daily values):
- 190 calories
- 23 grams of protein
- 11 grams of fat
- 338% vitamin B12
- 87% selenium
- 64% phosphorus
- 61% omega-3 fats
- 44% vitamin D
- 35% calcium
- 30% vitamin B3
- 24% iodine
- 19% copper
- 16% choline
7 Benefits of Sardines Nutrition
1. Reduces Inflammation & Risk of Disease
Sardines are one of the best natural sources in the world of essential omega 3 fatty acids, with one 3.2 oz. can providing roughly 50% of your daily needs. Sardines nutrition provides both EPA and DHA, which are two fatty acids that studies shown the body uses to reduce inflammation, resulting in improved hearth health, the ability to maintain proper brain function, helping to ward off gum disease, and much more (1).
The numerous benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are related to their ability to act as an anti-inflammatory, leading them to be effective in the treatment and prevention of hundreds of medical conditions. Some of the best reasons to consume foods like sardines that are high in omega-3 are their ability to help defend against: mood disorders like depression and anxiety, ADHD, various types of cancer, arthritis, infertility, and especially heart disease (2) (3) (4).
Omega-3 fats come in three forms: DHA, EPA, and ALA. ALA is found in plant foods including walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds for example. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish including sardines, and also salmon and mackerel. EPA and DHA have been shown to be the most beneficial and easily absorbed by the body, which makes sardines and even more beneficial option for obtaining these specific kinds of fatty acids.
2. Provides Many Essential Vitamins and Minerals
Sardines nutrition contains so many essential nutrients that they make my list for my top food lists for vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and selenium! In addition, sardines are a great source of numerous other B vitamins, phosphorus, iodine, copper, choline, and more.
There is almost no part of the body that sardines nutrition doesn’t contribute to in a positive way- from heart health to metabolism, cellular function to maintaining a positive mood.
Studies have shown that around 40% of Americans are actually deficient in important vitamin B12, a water soluble vitamin that helps to maintain function including nerve function, brain health, blood cell formation, energy levels, and more (5).
A Vitamin B12 deficiency, even a mild one, can cause symptoms including nerve damage, impaired mental function, problems properly getting oxygen into cells, and chronic fatigue. One can of sardines provides a whopping 338% of your daily Vitamin B12 needs!
Sardines also provide high levels of selenium, with over 80% of your daily needs in one can. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is actually an important antioxidant, required for your body to create and convert glutathione- known as the “master antioxidant”.
Selenium helps prevent oxidative damage in the body (also called free radical damage), helps iodine to regulate metabolism, facilitates with the process of recycling vitamin C in the body, and improves cellular function and protection. Selenium is an important mineral for supporting detoxification since it has the ability to take stress off the digestive and endocrine organs like the liver and thyroid.
A deficiency in selenium can result in thyroid impairment, increased chances of becoming sick due to a poor immune system, reproductive problems due to imbalanced hormones, mood disorders, and heart disease.
3. Protects Bone Health with High Levels of Calcium & Vitamin D
Sardines are a great source of various vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining a healthy skeletal structure, especially these 3: calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Consuming foods rich in calcium like sardines can prevent bone mineral loss and help to heal broken bones following injuries.
Calcium is an extremely important mineral in the body, with roughly 99% of the body’s calcium being stored in the bones and teeth. Calcium found within the bone structure is used as a storage area so that the body is able to release calcium into the blood stream when it is needed. The mineral is also importantly used for transmitting nerve signals, forming blood clots, balancing hormones, aiding in muscle contractions, and balancing your bodies’ acid/alkaline level, or pH level.
A deficiency in calcium can result in symptoms including osteoporosis, unhealthy teeth (tooth decay), muscle tension, unhealthy levels of high blood pressure, and more (6) (7). For those who avoid consuming dairy products- which is the food group that most people eating a standard western diet rely on for calcium- sardines make an excellent source of this much-needed mineral in dairy’s place.
Vitamin D is an important sat soluble vitamin that is essential for maintaining healthy bones because it facilitates in the absorption of calcium, along with magnesium and Vitamin K. Most adults are actually considered to have Vitamin D deficiency, due to spending much of their time inside.
It is often difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food alone without enough sun exposure, but sardines are an excellent source that helps meet daily recommended values with over 40% in one can. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in a softening of the bones called osteomalacia or a bone abnormality called rickets, in addition to poor immune system function, mood disorders, autoimmune diseases, an increased risk for various forms of cancer, hormone imbalances, low energy, and brain disorders (8) (9) (10).
In addition to Vitamin D, phosphorus found in sardines also plays an important role in building and maintaining bone mineralization.
4. Defends Against Mood Disorders Including Anxiety & Depression
Many recent studies have focused on omega-3s impact on mental health, particularly EPA, and are concluding that these essential fats can play a vital role in boosting mood and maintaining healthy brain function, helping you to beat depression. The brain itself is made up of roughly 60% fat, so obtaining the right ratio of fatty acids is crucial for the function of the central nervous system and your overall mood (12).
Studies have shown that as omega-3 intake declines, depression rates normally climb. Unfortunately, in the last few decades there has been a significant drop in the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that people living in developed western nations consume on average.
At the same time, the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet has drastically gone up, since these types of fats are found in most processed foods and refined, hydrogenated oils. The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats is crucial for overall health, including brain function (13). It’s now believed that an imbalance in these fats is partially to blame for increased rates of anxiety and depression and developed nations.
5. Controls Blood Sugar Levels
Sardines are packed with both healthy fats and protein, which both work to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream. Combining high protein and fat foods like sardines with carbohydrates- especially refined kinds like white bread or pasta- helps the body to release glucose (sugar) from the carbs into the blood stream more slowly, so you avoid a sugar spike followed by a quick dip.
Consuming foods with essential fats and proteins is especially important for people who have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or other conditions related to insulin resistance.
6. Helps with Feeling Full & Promotes Weight Loss
Sardines are high in both protein and healthy fat, which helps to make you feel full and to curb food cravings. Considering all of their health benefits, sardines are low in calories but high in essential nutrients which many people are often lacking, especially omega-3 fats and Vitamin D. Sardines are a great source of low-calorie protein for people who need to lose some weight but who are watching calorie intake.
Because sardines can help to defend against nutrient deficiencies, to control blood sugar levels, and to maintain a healthy metabolism and energy levels, they are actually beneficial for nearly everyone, whether weight loss is the goal or not. They provide an array of nutrients that support the body following physical activity and promote the feeling of satiety which can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
7. One of Most Sustainable and Least Contaminated Sources of Fish
One of the best reasons to regularly consume sardines in place of other fish is because of their sustainability and low contaminant levels. Sardines are considered a fish at the bottom of the aquatic food chain because they eat plankton, which means they do not carry toxins and heavy metals as much as many other fish like red snapper, tuna, and swordfish do.
Avoiding pollutants, including heavy metals like mercury, is one of the biggest concerns for many people today, so purchasing sardines is a good way to get important omega-3s from fish without compromising on keeping toxins out of your diet. While many people have concerns over the depletion of fish in oceans due to over-fishing, sardines are believed to be one the most abundant and sustainable sources.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report, sardines caught in the seas of the Pacific region, usually from Canada or US territories, are the most sustainable. This is followed by sardines found in western European waters, while sardines from Mediterranean seas are thought to be the least sustainable overall.
Sardines Nutrition History
Sardines get their name from the Italian island of Sardinia, where the fish originally were found in abundance swimming in large schools, however their history goes back to the time of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who first popularized the fish. It’s believed that under Napoleon’s rule, the first sardines were canned as a means to ship and feed citizens in distant places with the abundantly available, but quick-to-soil, fish.
Sardines have been eaten across Europe and North America for hundreds of years, but only recently they have moved into the spotlight more as research continues to tell us that omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits and should be considered an “essential” part of everyone’s diet.
Sardines nutrition has been enjoyed in the seas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean region. Today, nations including Spain, Portugal, France, and Norway are the leading producers of canned sardines. Sardines belong to the species of fish known as Clupeidaes; they are a small, salty tasting, salt water fish.
There are actually more than 20 varieties of sardines that are commonly sold throughout the world. All sardine varieties are oily, silver in color, have small bones, and share the same health benefits. Sardines are referred to in different ways around the world, sometimes called small herring in the US or pilchards in Europe and other areas.
Where to Buy Sardines & What Kind to Get
Sardines of course can be eaten fresh and broiled, roasted, or grilled, but most often people buy canned sardines which are widely available in most grocery stores. Sardines are often canned immediately after being caught because they are known to be very perishable.
It’s important to note that there is a big difference in terms of nutrients between freshly caught wild fish, and farmed fish. You always want to purchase and eat wild fish and avoid farm raised fish whenever you can. Fish farms often produce fish using antibiotics and pesticides, plus they feed fish an unnatural diet of grains.
This results in farm fish having lower nutrients than wild fish and more toxins too. Research has found that farmed fish has less usable omega-3 fatty acids than wild-caught fish and a 20% lower protein content. Farmed fish are fattier and have a high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids which can create a dangerous inflammation-causing imbalance between levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids within the body.
It’s best to purchase canned sardines that have been packed in olive oil or water as opposed to soybean oil or other types of refined oils. Sardines tend to last for a decent amount of time once canned, but it’s still best to always check the date to make sure they have not expired and last their nutrients.
Store canned sardines in a cool and dry place, like your kitchen cabinets, and try consuming them within a few months ideally. If you are able to find and purchase fresh sardines, you’ll want to look for small fish with a fresh smell that still remain shiny and firm. Always use fresh sardines with a few days of purchasing them, since they are considered a very perishable fish. You can store them on ice in the refrigerator for several days.
Sardines are naturally oily, contain small bones, and have somewhat of a strong fishy taste. They are also usually very salty tasting due to being preserved in salt before being canned. While many people love this briny from-the-sea taste, some people do not. For this reason, many people usually prefer to “disguise” the taste somewhat or pare them with certain foods that compliment their rich taste
A few popular methods for toning down the fishy taste of sardines is to soak them in buttermilk or yogurt, pickle them, grill them, or use them in combination with strong flavored ingredients. Sardines are complimented well by strong flavors including goat cheese, eggs, and various fresh herbs.
Try using sardines on salads, blended into sauces and salad dressings, on top of pizza, mixed into an egg scramble, and more.
If you enjoy a recipe made using anchovies or another type of strongly tasting fish, try subbing in sardines instead.
- Use sardines on top of Gluten Free Flatbread Pizza along with your other favorite toppings
- Try tossing some finely chopped sardines into Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce
- Try adding chopped sardines to the recipe below for Egg Tahini Salad
- ½ cup sundried tomatoes
- 1 medium scallion or green onion, sliced
- 3 tbsp tahini (ground sesame)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- sea salt
- black pepper
- 8 eggs (hardboiled)
- 1 3 oz. can of packed sardines
- Wash, drain, and tear lettuce. Place in a large serving bowl.
- Add green lettuce, onions, and sundried tomatoes to bowl.
- In a small bowl, mix tahini, vinegar, mustard, chopped sardines, salt and pepper. Pour over greens. Toss.
- Top with hardboiled eggs.
Concerns About Sardines
Pregnant women are advised to avoid consuming fish that contain high levels of mercury. Consuming mercury during pregnancy has been associated with risks for developmental delays and brain damage to the fetus.
Both experts warn pregnant women to avoid fish including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they are high in mercury. However sardines are one of the very lowest sources of mercury and therefore are normally safe to eat during pregnancy in moderate amounts (1-2 times per week) as part of an otherwise healthy diet.
The biggest concerns about sardines for the general population stems back to the question of sustainability, heavy metal contamination, and whether or not consuming canned sardines is a health risk. As previously nentioned, sardines are belived to be one the fish lowest in mercury content.
Experts believe that the sardines nutrition benefits outweigh the possible health risks associated with eating them. However like with all canned foods, it’s best to try and find a brand that packages their food in a can free of the chemical BPA (bisphenol-A).
BPA is a chemical that is commonly used in the manufacturing of some vinyl, aluminum, and tin can liners. This includes some cans that are used to pack sardines and other fish like salmon or anchovies., BPA is known as an “endocrine disruptor” because it may have the ability to disrupt certain hormonal activities in the body and to negative impact the endocrine system.
There is still more research needed on the amount of BPA that is actually able to leach into oily fish when they are packed in BPA cans, as the only research that has been done so far is minimal and has not drawn conclusive results. In the mean time, look for cans that are labeled BPA-free whenever possible.
In order to practice sustainability, it’s best to look for sardines that are wild-caught from Pacific seas. If possible, try to avoid Mediterranean caught sardines, as these tend to be the oceans that are quickly becoming the most depleted.
Were you surprised by all the sardines nutrition benefits? Have you tried sardines?