Health Benefits of Anchovies

A common fish found in marine and freshwater environments throughout the world, anchovies are a top food source for a variety of predatory fish. Prized by humans for their briny taste, these little morsels can punch up a variety of dishes. 

Anchovies became a seafood staple several thousand years ago. In Ancient Rome, they played a key role in a condiment worth as much as the top perfumes of the time. 

Most people know anchovies from their brief surge in popularity as a pizza topping during the 1990s. They fell out of favor soon after, but they’re now seeing a comeback among top chefs. 

While there are over 140 species of anchovy, the Engraulis encrasicolus is most commonly used in cooking. Known as the European anchovy, it is sometimes enjoyed fresh, but it’s more commonly canned, smoked, dried, or salted.

Health Benefits

Anchovies have many vitamins and minerals that provide major health benefits. They are best known as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote brain and heart health. Anchovies also have selenium, which, if eaten regularly, may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Other health benefits of anchovies include:

Heart Health

Anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which offer powerful benefits for your heart. Studies show they may reduce your triglyceride levels, slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries, and reduce your blood pressure. They may also lower your risk of stroke by reducing blood clotting.

Thyroid Protection

One serving of anchovies contains 31 micrograms (mcg) of selenium. Teens and adults should aim to get 55 mcg of selenium per day. A study from the 1990s highlighted selenium as part of an enzyme that can activate the thyroid. Additional research suggests that selenium deficiency may lead to thyroid problems.

Eye Health

Experts recommend that men get 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, while women should get 1.1 grams. One serving of anchovies has 0.45 grams of the omega-3 known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 0.77 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies suggest that diets rich in these omega-3s can reduce your chances of developing macular degeneration, which can distort vision.

Alzheimer's Prevention

In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that those who ate the most omega-3 fatty acids had lower levels of the protein beta-amyloid, which is a marker for Alzheimer's disease..

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Nutrition

Anchovies are loaded with protein, a crucial building block used within your body to repair tissue, create muscle mass, and boost metabolism.

Anchovies are also an excellent source of:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Selenium
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin A

Nutrients per Serving

A three-ounce serving of anchovies contains:

Things to Watch Out For

When cured, anchovies can be high in sodium. They are lower in mercury than many types of seafood, but they should still be eaten in moderation.

How to Prepare Anchovies

The largest anchovy catches take place in November and December. However, because they are so often preserved, these fish can be enjoyed throughout the year. You can find them in most grocery stores, seafood markets, or specialty food shops.

When choosing anchovies, pay attention to their preparation. Preservation methods can have a significant impact on flavor. This can also affect nutrition, as some approaches increase fat or sodium content. Stronger flavors can often be found in anchovies stored in jars instead of cans. 

You can eat anchovies raw, but they are typically smoked, salted, or packed in brine. Try these ideas to add anchovies to your diet:

  • Add to a sandwich with tomato, lettuce, and aioli
  • Layer on toast with a soft-boiled egg for breakfast
  • Sprinkle in scrambled eggs for a hint of umami
  • Toss anchovies with mixed greens, lemon, and olives to create an enticing salad
  • Brush with olive oil and bake with bread crumbs
  • Stir-fry with soy sauce and sesame oil
  • Add to pasta along with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes
  • Simmer in tomato soup with bay leaves and thyme
  • Use as a topping on a homemade pizza
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Omega 3 Fatty Acids For Preventing or Slowing the Progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration."

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: "Engraulis Encrasicolus."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Help Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease.”

International Journal of Endocrinology: "Selenium and Thyroid Disease — From Pathophysiology to Treatment."

Mayo Clinic: Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart.”

Nature: “Selenium in Thyroid Disorders—Essential Knowledge for Clinicians.”

NPR: “Give Anchovies Another Chance.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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