Are There Health Benefits to Eating Sardines?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 30, 2020

Sardines are small fish that grow up to 25 centimeters (almost 10 inches) long. They live in groups, known as schools, in oceans around the world. The meat of sardines, soft and oily, is popularly eaten canned or grilled but can be enjoyed in several ways.

Sardines have been a central part of the local cuisine in countries like India, the Philippines, Portugal, and parts of the Mediterranean for centuries. The fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease and the likelihood of behavioral problems. 

Eating sardines has been used as a remedy for a number of serious ailments, including: 

Nutrition Information

One serving of canned sardines in oil contains:

  • Calories: 25
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugars: 0 grams 

Sardines are a good source of:

Potential Health Benefits of Sardines

Sardines are rich in essential nutrients, low in calories, and recommended as part of a healthy diet. Adding sardines to a balanced diet can help improve blood vessel function, ease inflammation, and more. 

Studies have shown a number of potential health benefits to eating sardines:

Decreased Chances of Heart Disease 

A Harvard study found that consuming just one to two servings of sardines every week provides enough omega-3 fatty acids to reduce your chances of heart disease by more than one-third. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Healthy Fetal Development

The omega-3 fatty acids in sardines have been shown to provide important support for the healthy development of a fetus’s brain and nervous system. The babies of women who consume less omega-3 have higher instances of delayed brain development.

Anti- I nflammatory Effects 

When eaten regularly, sardines can help reduce inflammation caused by a variety of issues. Inflammation can lead to a series of complications that worsen other conditions like arthritis.

Decreased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Sardines and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, combined with other lifestyle changes, have been shown to help increase gray matter in the brain. An increase in gray matter can help combat the development of some neurological disorders.

Potential Risks of Eating Sardines

Like fruits and vegetables, sardines and other oily fish run the risk of damaging your health if they contain pollutants such as mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticide residues. High amounts of mercury, in particular, can damage nerves in adults and cause serious issues with the development of young children. 

Consider the following before eating sardines:

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury is one of the most damaging pollutants commonly found in fish, including sardines. But several studies have concluded that the low level of mercury found in sardines is of low risk to consumers, including pregnant women who were previously advised to avoid fish during pregnancy because of possible contaminants.

The benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in sardines outweigh the potential negative impact of trace pollutants, according to researchers.

Show Sources


American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Deaths and Mortality.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Sardines.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Fish: Friend or Foe?” 

JAMA: “Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits.”

Marine Stewardship Council: “What are sardines?”

Nursing Standard: “Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Sardines.”

Washington State Department of Health: “Health Benefits of Fish.”

The World's Healthiest Foods: "Sardines."

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