Are There Health Benefits to Eating Sardines?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on December 22, 2022
4 min read

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 soft, oily meat of sardines 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. 

Canned 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.

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

One serving of canned sardines in oil contains:

  • Calories: 191
  • Protein: 22.6 grams
  • Saturated fat: 1.4 gram
  • Total fat: 10.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugars: 0 grams 

Sardines are a good source of:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin D

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.

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.

Better Brain Health

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

But a study that supports this was relatively small and done on healthy adults. Further research may be needed to make a direct link. 

Stronger Bones

You eat fish bones and skin when you eat canned sardines, and 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, since it allows your body to absorb calcium. And sardines are even richer in vitamin D than in calcium. Sardines also contain a third bone-boosting nutrient: phosphorous, which neutralizes acids that could harm your bones.

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 can cause other problems. They might reduce your mobility, which could cause you to fall and have a serious injury. One serving of sardines provides over three times the amount of B12 most people need.   

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), or pesticide residues. 

Consider the following before eating sardines:

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury is one of the most damaging pollutants commonly found in fish, including sardines. High amounts of mercury can damage nerves in adults and cause serious issues with the development of young children. 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.

High Blood Pressure

Canned sardines contain a lot of sodium. One can has about 282 milligrams of sodium, which is roughly 12% of the daily recommended value.  If you have high blood pressure, you should restrict sodium because it attracts water and adds to the volume of blood in the body. Table salt, or sodium chloride, is fine in moderation, but you should limit your intake. If you need to reduce salt, you can still enjoy sardines by decreasing your serving size and making the rest of your meallow-salt.

Gout Attacks

When you have gout, the uric acid in your body crystallizes in your joints, causing joint pain. So the best diet for gout is one that is low in purines, which are a type of chemical that breaks down into uric acid.

Oily fish like sardines and anchovies are high in purines. If you have gout, you can find other ways to reap the benefits of eating fish. You can take fish oil supplements or eat 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.