All About the Health Benefits and Risks of Eating Sardines | (2023)

All About the Health Benefits and Risks of Eating Sardines | (1)

A can of sardines provides more than your total daily requirements for vitamin B12.

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We should be eating fish at least twice a week for optimal health. With growing concerns about toxins in the oceans, it's good to know that sardines are the safest choice of fish to eat.


The fish boasts a wealth of nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to sardines' health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and better bone health.

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What Are Sardines?

Sardines, also referred to as pilchard or herring, are a type of small, silver-colored, oily fish that belongs to the Clupeidae family. Sardines were originally found in great abundance around the island of Sardinia, and now they thrive all over the world in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.


Sardines are larger than anchovies and can grow up to 12 inches in length. The flesh of sardines is white, and the fish has a slightly protruding lower jaw.

Sardines Nutrition

Sardines contain 191 calories per 3.75-ounce can, weighing 92 grams, per the USDA. The caloric ratio is split 50/50 with fats and protein.


Supplying 45 percent of your daily value (DV), a can of sardines is a good source of protein that provides the resources needed for the healthy functioning of your body.

Of the total fat content — 10.5 grams — sardines contain mostly mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which include healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines do not contain any carbohydrates.

The Health Benefits of Sardines

1. They're Packed With Vitamins

B Vitamins


Sardines' nutrition includes B vitamins that help turn the food you eat into energy for the proper functioning of the heart, nerves, brain, muscles and blood cells. Each 3.75 ounce can of sardines contain most of the B vitamins, including:

  • Vitamin B12‌: 343 percent DV
  • Niacin‌: 30 percent DV
  • Riboflavin‌: 16 percent DV
  • Vitamin B6‌: 9 percent DV
  • Pantothenic acid‌: 12 percent DV
  • Thiamine‌: 6 percent DV
  • Folate‌: 2 percent DV



The Linus Pauling Institute notes that getting sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 is linked to a lower risk for heart disease and cancer. Your body uses vitamin B12 for many functions, including making DNA, nerve and brain function and blood cell formation.

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 1.5 and 15 percent of people, especially among those who don't eat meat. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause symptoms including chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, nerve damage, impaired mental function and anemia, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


Vitamin B12 is also important during pregnancy. A deficiency in women may cause problems in babies, including impaired movement and delays in typical developmental milestones, warns the NIH.

Vitamin D

If you live in an area that doesn't get much sunshine or you spend most of your time indoors, eating sardines may help prevent a vitamin D deficiency. Sardines are one of the few foods that offer such a high amount — 22 percent of your DV for vitamin D per can.


You need vitamin D for your muscles to move, for cellular communication and to help your immune system function properly. Along with calcium in sardines, vitamin D helps protect you from osteoporosis and bone disorders, per the NIH.

In addition, vitamin D may have a connection with medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases.


Related Reading

How to Turn a Can of Sardines Into 7 Delicious, Protein-Rich Meals That Don't Taste Fishy

2. They Contain Important Minerals

These little fish are also filled with minerals. Each can of sardines provides a good source of four minerals essential for improving and maintaining bone density:


  • Phosphorus:‌ 36 percent of your DV
  • Potassium:‌ 8 percent of your DV
  • Magnesium:‌ 9 percent of your DV
  • Calcium:‌ 27 percent of your DV

Getting too little potassium can deplete calcium in your bones, according to the NIH.

About 50 to 60 percent of magnesium in your body resides in your bones. Magnesium can increase bone density and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause, per the NIH. Other nutrients found in sardines that benefit your bones are copper, iron, zinc and vitamin D, according to American Bone Health.

One can of sardines in oil provides 88 percent of your DV for selenium, a trace mineral that helps regulate metabolism and is important for DNA production and thyroid gland function.

3. They're An Excellent Source of Omega-3 Fats

Fish is best known for its health benefits from its fatty acid content. All types of sardines are oily fish and an excellent source of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Per can, sardines packed in oil contain 64 percent of your DV of omega-3 fatty acids.

Of the omega-3 fatty acids in sardines, there are two dominant types: EPA, vital for the health of your heart, inflammatory and immune system; and DHA, required for the development of your brain, eyes and nervous system.

Omega-3s are a vital nutrient that's linked to lower inflammation, risk of dying from heart disease, blood pressure, triglycerides, irregular heartbeats and atherosclerotic plaque, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Results of three large cohorts in 2017, published by the American Heart Association's publication Stroke, found the group that was administered omega DHA had a reduction in the overall risk of stroke after an 8 to 11-year follow-up. Stroke is a main cause of long-term disability and death in the U.S. Stroke can result from atherosclerosis, which could limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and brain.


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17 Reasons Why You Probably Need More Omega-3s in Your Diet

4. Sardines' Mercury Content Is Low

Mercury is a heavy metal found in the form of methyl mercury in fish in varying amounts. The mercury originates from many sources, including the natural environment such as volcanic activity, or from pollutants from industrial activities. Large predator fish that are at the top of the food chain typically contain the highest levels of mercury accumulation.

Sardines are one of the best fish choices lowest in methyl mercury content, per the FDA. The reason is that sardines are small and only eat plankton and not mercury-contaminated fish‌.‌ They are short-lived, so mercury does not have time to build up in their flesh.

The FDA recommends a weekly intake of two to three servings of sardines, or 8 to 12 ounces for adults and 4 to 6 ounces for children age 4 to 7.

Eating Sardines During Pregnancy

The FDA recognizes the health benefits of eating fish, especially for pregnant people and young children. Pregnant people can eat up to 12 ounces per week.

Canned Sardines' Health Risks

Cholesterol Content

A can of sardines has 44 percent of your DV for cholesterol. Although the Dietary Guidelines don't list a quantitative limit, the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines recommend limiting foods high in cholesterol — especially if you already have high LDL, diabetes and/or heart disease.

So is it bad to eat sardines every day? While dietary cholesterol doesn't affect blood cholesterol levels as significantly as we once thought, it's still best to limit high-cholesterol foods and stick to eating sardines about twice a week rather than every day.

The Healthiest Sardines

Both fresh and canned sardines provide similar nutritional benefits. Sardines can be grilled, pickled, salted or smoked, but fresh sardines are very perishable so most sardines are sold as canned for longer storage.

Sardines packed in water or olive oil are a more nutritious choice than those in soybean oil or other types of refined oils. Sardines in tomato or mustard sauce are also healthy options but could be higher in sodium.




What are the risks of sardines? ›

Because sardines contain purines, which break down into uric acid, they aren't a good choice for those at risk of kidney stone formation. The high sodium in sardines can also increase calcium in your urine, which is another risk factor for kidney stones.

What happens if you eat sardines every day? ›

Sardines are high in protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (associated with heart health benefits), and filled with certain important vitamins (especially D and B12) and minerals (such as calcium). However, sardines packed in oil are high in sodium and cholesterol, so daily consumption of them is not advisable.

Who should not eat sardines? ›

Health precautions for eating sardines

People who have kidney problems or gout should avoid sardines. They naturally contain a substance that creates uric acid. Uric acid buildup can cause kidney and gout issues for those who are already susceptible. Canned sardines are high in salt.

Is eating canned sardines healthy? ›

Sardines provide 2 grams of heart-healthy omega-3s per 3 ounce serving, which is one of the highest levels of omega-3 and the lowest levels of mercury of any fish. They contain a great source of calcium and Vitamin D, so they support bone health, too.

Do sardines clog your arteries? ›

Cold-water Fish- Fish rich in healthy fats such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines can help clear arteries. Eating fish twice a week can help reduce inflammation and plaque buildup that can lead to heart disease.

Why do sardines have a p65 warning? ›

Mercury and mercury compounds are on the Proposition 65 list because they can cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Why do I feel better after eating sardines? ›


Feeling a bit down? Sardines are probably the last thing you'd think about when you're blue, but they're high in omega 3 fatty acids. Those who are deficient in omega 3s may be more susceptible to low mood, and oily fishes, like sardines and salmon, can quickly combat that.

Is sardines healthier than tuna? ›

The tests showed that, based on recommended serving sizes, sardines and salmon contained much higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than tuna. Sardines provided about 1,600 mg to 1,800 mg of DHA and EPA per 85 gram serving, while salmon provided 400 mg to 700 mg per 56 gram serving.

Do sardines raise blood pressure? ›

Researchers have found that oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines or mussels, could help protect our hearts and brains from disease. They are found to be rich in an important type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3, which has been shown to help lower blood pressure.

Are sardines a superfood? ›

The fact that a serving of sardines serves up a whopping 136% the RDV certainly helps its case as a superfood. In fact, sardines seem to be a sort of Swiss army knife for preventing common vitamin deficiencies. Aside from vitamin B-12, Americans are also frequently deficient in vitamin D, Iron, Calcium and Magnesium.

Are sardines inflammatory? ›

"Fish that are high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury, like sardines and salmon, are good choices to help lower inflammation in the body," says functional medicine specialist Elizabeth W. Boham, MD, MS, RD, of The UltraWellness Center.

Should you rinse canned sardines? ›

Rinse off excess salt

If you can't find a brand that has a “No Salt Added” version, look for sardines that are packed in spring water. Then, rinsing the sardines may help to reduce some of the salt content. Just empty the can into a colander and rinse with cold water, shaking it and turning the sardines as you rinse.

How many cans of sardines should you eat a week? ›

How many cans of sardines can I eat in a week? The FDA recommends a weekly intake of two to three servings of sardines, or 8 to 12 ounces for adults and 4 to 6 ounces for children age 4 to 7.

How often to eat sardines? ›

The FDA recommends a weekly intake of two to three servings of sardines, or 8 to 12 ounces for adults and 4 to 6 ounces for children age 4 to 7. The FDA recognizes the health benefits of eating fish, especially for pregnant people and young children. Pregnant people can eat up to 12 ounces per week.

What 3 foods do cardiologists say to avoid? ›

“Avoid any foods that have the words 'trans,' 'hydrogenated,' or 'partially hydrogenated' on the label [indicating bad fats], often found in commercially fried foods, donuts, cookies and potato chips,” advises Dr. DeVane. “Also, be aware of how many calories are coming from sugar.

Do sardines dissolve artery plaque? ›

Cold-water fish: Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna can help clear arteries.

What is the number one food that clogs arteries? ›

Processed Foods

Overeating processed meat like bacon, jerky, ham, and sausages might raise LDL or harmful cholesterol levels. It, in turn, blocks the arteries by cholesterol deposits.

Can you get arsenic poisoning from sardines? ›

In summary, we presented a case of headache and neuropathy due to canned sardines that were consumed regularly by our patient and his family. The diagnosis of arsenic poisoning was confirmed by his elevated urinary arsenic concentration.

Do canned sardines have lead? ›

occurred, canned sardines have for years past been examined in our laboratories for the presence of metallic impurities, including lead. Generally speaking, canned sardines will be found to contain traces of tin of the order of 0.1 or 0.2 grain per Ib., and, obviously of more serious import, traces of lead.

Do canned sardines still have organs? ›

When most sardines are canned, the entire fish is included, bones, organs and all! Though this may sound unappealing, the cooking process softens the bones, making whole sardines easy to eat.

Do sardines help you sleep? ›

Omega-3s and vitamin D found in fatty fish—like salmon, tuna and sardines—may help improve sleep quality and quantity in adults and children. “The omega-3 DHA may boost better sleep by helping stimulate the hormone melatonin, a key hormone for promoting sleepiness,” says Rima Kleiner, MS, RD.

What is the healthiest way to eat sardines? ›

You can simply eat canned sardines as are. You may want to drain the liquid they come in. You can easily add some oil, mayonnaise, hot sauce, mustard, or other seasonings; put them into a salad, or grill with some onions and garlic to seal in additional flavour.

Are sardines good for hair growth? ›

Sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep the scalp and follicles healthy. Studies show that omega-3 fats may reduce hair loss, increase hair density, and promote hair growth.

Which is better sardines in oil or water? ›

The Best Sardines Are Packed in Olive Oil

There are a whole lot of options when it comes to sardines, but the best are packed in olive oil. Water-packed sardines just won't have the same rich flavor and can taste a bit water-logged. Oil, however, locks in the fish's flavor and keeps each sardine super-moist.

What canned fish is healthiest? ›

Canned salmon, tuna, sardines, kippered herring, and other types of fish are pretty much on a par with fresh fish. They give you as much heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as fresh fish, and sometimes more. These essential oils help prevent potentially deadly heart rhythms.

Are sardines high in heavy metals? ›

Sardine and swordfish are contaminated with toxic heavy metals at very high levels which are exceeding the thresholds established by the Algerian and the European health authorities.

What country are sardines most popular? ›

Morocco. Morocco is the largest canned sardine exporter in the world and the leading supplier of sardines to the European market. Sardines represent more than 62% of the Moroccan fish catch and account for 91% of raw material usage in the domestic canning industry.

What country has the best sardines? ›

Morocco is one of the world's largest sardine producers

Serious Eats reports that some of the finest tinned sardines and fish come from the Iberian Peninsula. Those producers may win in quality, but in quantity they lose to their Southern neighbor Morocco.

Why are canned sardines so small? ›

Tiddlier tiddlers: Sardines are up to two-thirds SMALLER now than they were 12 years ago as warming waters caused by climate change kill the plankton they feed on.

Do sardines cause high cholesterol? ›

The best in terms of lowering cholesterol are tuna, salmon, and swordfish. Sardines and halibut are good options, too.

Does sardines spike blood sugar? ›

A high intake of fatty fish like salmon and sardines has been shown to help improve blood sugar regulation.

Do sardines raise good cholesterol? ›

Making certain lifestyle changes, such as eating specific types of fatty fish like sardines, increases your level of HDL, lowers the amount of cholesterol in your blood vessels and decreases your risk for heart disease.

Are sardines healthier than salmon? ›

Summary. Sardine is richer in Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Phosphorus, while salmon is significantly richer in Vitamin B6. Sardine also contains considerably less cholesterol and sodium, while salmon has less calories because it contains more water and less fats.

Are sardines good for your heart? ›

Sardines & Salmon

The reason is simple: they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which lower the risk of blood clots, reduce the incidence of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), and cut down on the amount of fat (or triglycerides) in your blood.

What are the benefits of sardines for skin? ›

Lastly, sardines are packed with phosphorus, protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which play important roles in keeping your skin hydrated and glowing, according to Simpson.

Can you get sick from sardines? ›

Common fish that may cause scombroid poisoning include tuna, sardines, mahi mahi, and anchovies. Symptoms of food poisoning from fish can be treated, but it's important to see your doctor if you have symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness or numbness.

Are sardines high in mercury? ›

I love sardines. They're good for cardiovascular health, joints, skin, memory, and energy levels. But also, they're sustainable and low in mercury.


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