Are Sardines Good for You?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on May 16, 2016Written by Diana Wells on May 16, 2016
Tin of sardines

Sardines have been around for centuries. Napoleon Bonaparte started canning them to feed his people. Sardines were named after an island in Italy because of the abundance that could be found there. While they can be enjoyed fresh, they are highly perishable. This is why they’re most commonly found canned.

Sardines are abundant in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean seas. They feed on plankton only, which means they don’t contain the high levels of mercury that other fish do.

Sardines tend to have a negative reputation in the United States. But after you take a look at the nutritional benefits, you may be running out to get some for dinner.

Nutritional benefits of eating sardines

These small fish are packed with nutrients. They can be beneficial in the prevention of a number of health conditions. They’re known to help prevent heart disease as well as some cancers.

Sardines are sometimes recommended for pregnant women and older adults. They contain calcium and other vital nutrients.

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Sardines are an excellent source of them. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of blood clots and lower blood pressure. They also may help protect those who’ve had a heart attack in the past.

Vitamins

Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B-12. This vitamin helps your cardiovascular system and gives you energy. In addition, they contain a healthy amount of vitamin D. Along with B-12, D is necessary for good bone health throughout your life.

Calcium

Sardines are an excellent source of calcium. That makes them a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant, allergic to dairy, or need more calcium in their diet. This can also be helpful during pregnancy when you need extra forms of calcium for the health of your baby.

Minerals

Along with calcium and lots of vitamins, sardines contain a number of beneficial minerals. These include:

  • niacin
  • iron
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • phosphorus

Protein

Protein is essential for you to build healthy bones and muscles. It also helps create antibodies that keep our immune systems strong. Protein also takes nutrients and oxygen to all the parts of the body.

How to select sardines

If you purchase canned sardines, it’s better to buy those that are in olive oil rather than soybean oil. They also come packed in water. This version is a good option if you’re looking for ways to reduce your fat intake. Whatever way you buy them, be sure to check the expiration dates on the can prior to purchasing and eating.

If you purchase sardines fresh, be sure to inspect them first. Things to look for in fresh sardines include:

  • fresh smell
  • shiny skin
  • bright eyes
  • firm

How to eat sardines

Sardines are a very versatile food. They can be used in salads, as a snack on crackers, or as part of the main course.

Before using sardines, make sure that the canned ones have been rinsed under cold water. Fresh sardines should be gutted and then rinsed. Once you have them ready, try some of these tasty recipes to integrate sardines into your eating plan.

Greek salad with sardines

When you want to eat light but still want lots of protein and other nutrients, this easy to prepare Greek salad is the answer. View the recipe.

Canned sardine fritters

If you want the nutritional value of sardines but have a hard time eating them in their original form, try this recipe. It mixes them into a fritter. View the recipe.

Spaghetti con le sarde

This recipe gives you a new twist on spaghetti. View the recipe.

Grilled fresh sardines

By putting sardines straight on the grill, you can create a unique and healthy appetizer. View the recipe.

Mediterranean casserole

This tasty casserole takes very little prep time. View the recipe.

Quick sardine curry

If you crave curry and are short on time, this is the perfect, quick meal for you. View the recipe.

Spring salad with tarragon vinaigrette

This colorful salad is delicious and packed with nutrition. View the recipe.

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. If you’re trying to reduce your salt intake, check the label before eating canned sardines.

The calorie count of sardines is also something to be aware of if you are watching your caloric intake. They tend to be a high in calories, no matter what type of liquid they’re canned in.

Next steps

While sardines may have a negative reputation, consider trying them for the nutritional value. These small fish are packed full of goodness. The list of the health benefits of sardines is extensive, while the downsides are minimal. The next time you make a snack or order a pizza, it might be a good idea to add a few sardines. 

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