Sardines: Top 5 Health Benefits
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Sardines are a polarizing food: people either love them or hate them. However, sardines are extremely healthy and beneficial for several reasons. This article will discuss their health benefits, nutritional value, and how to pick them.
Sardines are a family of small, oily fish that are related to herrings. They are named after the Island of Sardinia, where they were once plentiful. Sardines are highly nutritious and can be found on the same aisle as canned tuna.
Sardines pack more nutrients per ounce than most other foods. The tiny fish has many nutrients and health benefits. Here are the top vitamins and minerals in sardines:
- Protein. One can of sardines contains 23 grams of protein. Protein is a macronutrient that, along with fat and carbohydrates, is needed in adequate amounts to provide the body with energy and keep it functioning properly. Protein helps build muscle, protects the bones, can improve body composition, and assist with weight loss.
- Phosphorous. Phosphorus has many benefits in the body. A few of its uses include managing energy, growing and maintaining tissues and cells, and playing a role in building strong bones and teeth. Nearly half of the body’s daily need for phosphorus comes from one can of sardines.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D strengthens the bones and muscles. It can help the body fight off both the common cold and influenza (flu) by strengthening the immune system. It also helps the body absorb calcium, which can improve oral health. While vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States, one can of sardines provides nearly half of this important vitamin’s recommended daily requirement.
- Calcium. Sardines provide 35% of the daily requirement for calcium. Calcium supports normal heart function, helps reduce diseases of the mouth, assists in transporting nutrients in the body, decreases the risk of osteoporosis, and helps balance the body’s pH.
- Niacin (vitamin B3). Niacin helps to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while simultaneously raising HDL (good) cholesterol. It also helps lower triglycerides and may decrease the risk of having heart disease.
Sardines are nutrient-dense and have many health benefits. They are beneficial for people of all ages but can be especially useful for older and pregnant women. Top health benefits of sardines include the following:
- High in Omega-3’s. One can of sardines provides 50% of the omega-3’s a person needs daily. The fatty acids are believed to help improve heart health by raising good cholesterol levels, assisting in reducing blood pressure, and decreasing blood clots’ formation. Other potential benefits of omega 3’s include the following:
- Improve sleep quality
- Help with autoimmune disorders.
- Maintain bone and joint health
- Ease feelings of depression and anxiety
- Improve eye health
Studies on omega-3 fatty acids found it more effective for depression than a placebo in adults and children. 
- Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an “essential vitamin,” which means the body needs B12 to work properly. It plays a vital role in the development and function of many parts of the body, including the nerves, brain, and blood cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency is common among individuals aged 50 and over, but sardines provide approximately 137% of its daily requirement. The vitamin might also be used as a pain treatment: clinical trials suggest that vitamin B12 may be effective for treating low back pain and neuralgia. 
- Selenium. One serving of sardines contains nearly 70% of the day’s recommended daily intake of selenium. Selenium is an anti-inflammatory that helps increase the effectiveness of white blood cells. This can boost the body’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses. A study on women with ovarian cancer found that selenium had beneficial effects, including increased white blood cells, and acted as “a supportive element in chemotherapy.” 
- Promote weight loss. Sardines are low in calories (191 per serving) and high in quality protein (22.7 grams per serving). Also, they contain no sugar or refined carbohydrates, which are considered two primary causes of belly fat accumulation and weight gain. Quality protein has been found to play a role in regulating central abdominal fat, which has been linked to various diseases and mortality.  Central abdominal fat may increase the risk of having several medical issues, such as insulin resistance, migraine headaches, compromised lung function, and Type 2 diabetes.
- Low Mercury Levels. Per the FDA, sardines, herring, salmon, oysters, and cod are low in mercury. On the other hand, bigeye tuna, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish are high in mercury. The higher levels of mercury in these fish can be hazardous to a person’s health: a “positive association” between mercury and hypertension has been discovered. 
When choosing sardines, there are two options: fresh or canned:
Canned sardines. Canned sardines are usually packed in water, olive oil, or soybean oil. Sardines packed in water is the best choice for those looking to decrease fat intake. Olive oil helps protect against heart disease, making it a better option than sardines packed in soybean oil. Also, check the expiration date on the cans before purchasing/consuming.
Fresh sardines. Fresh sardines must meet the following criteria: shiny skin, bright eyes, fresh smell, and firm texture. Do not buy or consume if any of these conditions are not met.
Sardines should be rinsed in cold water before eating. Also, fresh sardines should be gutted. They can be broiled, grilled, or roasted, depending on individual preference. Here are three popular ways to eat sardines:
- Grilled sardines. Add a few drops of lemon juice and a dash of sea salt.
- Sardine salad. Put sardines in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add veggies of preference and mix—season with Greek yogurt, mustard, or mayo. Adding sea salt, paprika, or other spices are optional.
- Mediterranean Casserole. Ingredients include the following:
- Sardines: 4 cans
- Potatoes: 1 pound
- Tomatoes: ½ pound, diced
- Garlic: 2 cloves (chopped)
- Dried basil: 1 tablespoon
- Breadcrumbs (2 tablespoons)
- Place potatoes in a large pot, bringing to boil, and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes)
- Drain potatoes and let cool in cold water, then peel
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease a casserole dish with olive oil
- Line a casserole dish with potatoes, topping with sardines
- Place diced tomatoes over sardines.
- Sprinkle remaining ingredients over tomatoes
- Bake for 20 minutes and serve
For optimum health, the FDA recommends eating fish two times per week. Even though sardines have many health benefits, precautions should be taken by some individuals before eating them. For example, those with kidney problems or gout should avoid eating sardines due to their high uric acid levels.
Many canned foods may contain Bisphenol A or BPA. This chemical is often called an endocrine disruptor and could affect hormones in the body. Choosing sardines in cans labeled BPA-free is advised. Also, sardines may be high in sodium (505 mg per serving). This could be a concern for those with high blood pressure. Rinsing thoroughly in cold water can help decrease sodium levels.
Sardines are a nutrient-dense food with many health benefits. They are an excellent source of omega 3’s, protein, selenium, vitamin B12, and other nutrients. There are many ways to prepare sardines, making them a great addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
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Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.