Canned Sardines: Are They Good for You?

Most people either love canned sardines or hate them. In Asia and Europe, they are quite popular, but in the United States, younger people are less likely to eat them. No matter where you live, if you’re looking for inexpensive, healthy food, canned sardines fit the bill.

Sardines are actually several species of fish with a few things in common. They’re small and silvery with a high oil content. If you have seen them in the ocean or in a large tank at an aquarium, you probably found the sight mesmerizing. Organs called lateral lines allow a school of sardines to synchronize their swimming so they move almost as one.

Sardines come packed in water, oil, tomato juice, and other liquids in a tin can. You can eat them right out of the can, top them with onions or peppers, or add condiments such as mustard, mayo, or hot sauce. Usually, the heads have been removed, but you’ll be eating the skin and bones. In fact, that’s where some health benefits lie. 

If you’ve been avoiding fish because you’re concerned about mercury, you can eat sardines with no worries. Since sardines eat plankton, their mercury content is very low.

Nutrition Information

A serving of four sardines contains:

  • Calories: 100
  • Protein: 12 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Sardines are an excellent source of these vitamins and minerals:

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Potential Health Benefits of Canned Sardines

The nutritional profile of canned sardines makes them a valuable food for most people. Sardines also provide these possible health benefits:

Better Heart Health

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish work to protect the cardiovascular system. Omega-3s stabilize heart rhythms, decrease triglycerides (fat in your blood), and keep arteries free from blockages. They are highest in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. The American Heart Association recommends two servings per week of fatty fish, not fried, with each serving being about 3.5 ounces.

Stronger Bones

Since sardines are consumed bones and all, they are an excellent source of calcium, providing about a third of the amount needed by the average person in each serving. Vitamin D is vital to this process as well, since it allows your body to absorb calcium. Sardines are even richer in vitamin D than in calcium. A third bone-boosting nutrient is phosphorous, which neutralizes acids that could harm your bones. Sardines have phosphorus in abundance, too.

Increased Nerve Function

Up to 40% of older adults may be deficient in vitamin B12. This deficiency can cause poor sensory nerve function and problems with the peripheral nerves. Nerve problems may reduce your mobility, cause you to fall, and eventually lead to disability. One serving of sardines provides over three times the amount of B12 needed by most people.    

Potential Risks of Canned Sardines

While sardines can be a healthy addition to the diet, a few people should exercise caution. If you have high blood pressure or gout, or are susceptible to kidney stones, you may want to avoid sardines. Canned sardines can present the following health risks to at-risk individuals:

High Blood Pressure

Sardines contain a lot of sodium. One can provides around a third of your daily value. Those with high blood pressure should restrict sodium because it attracts water and adds to the volume of blood in the body.  If you need to reduce salt, you can still enjoy sardines by decreasing your serving size and making the rest of your meal low-salt

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Gout Attacks

The best diet for gout is one that is low in purines, which are a type of chemical that breaks down into uric acid. When you have gout, the uric acid in your body crystallizes in your joints, causing joint pain. Oily fish like sardines and anchovies are high in purines, so if you have gout, you should find other ways to reap the benefits of eating fish. This could mean taking fish oil supplements or eating white-fleshed fish such as cod

Kidney Stones

The same uric acid that causes gout can also lead to kidney stones. 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Bone Health: “Nutrients For Bone Health.”

American Heart Association: “Eating fish twice a week reduces heart stroke risk.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Fish, sardines, Atlantic, w/bones, canned, w/oil, drained.”

FDA: “Sodium in your diet.”

HEALTHbeat: “Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of gout attacks.”

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: “The Relationship of Vitamin B12 and Sensory and Motor Peripheral Nerve Function in Older Adults.”

Monterey Bay Aquarium: “Pacific sardine.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Kidney Stone Diet Plan and Prevention.”

USDA FoodData Central: “Sardines, canned in oil.”

World’s Healthiest Foods: “Sardines.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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