Are Sardines Good for You? Nutrition and Precautions

Sardines are small, oily fish that belong to the herring family. They are found in abundance in many parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. Sardines are known for their nutritional value and are consumed widely.

Sardines have a distinct flavor that is often described as rich, savory, and slightly briny. Their texture is firm, and they have small, edible bones.

Sardines can be enjoyed in various ways. They can be grilled, fried, smoked, or canned. Canned sardines, which are widely available, are a popular option and can be consumed on their own, added to salads, sandwiches, or pasta dishes, or used in spreads and dips.

Sardines are considered a sustainable seafood choice because they are abundant and reproduce quickly. They are lower in the food chain and are not as prone to overfishing as larger predatory fish.

Cautions: Sardines, like other fish, may contain mercury, so it’s generally recommended to consume them in moderation, especially for pregnant women and young children. However, sardines are generally low in mercury compared to larger fish species.


The nutritional values of 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of raw sardines can vary slightly depending on the specific species and preparation method. However, here is a general overview of the approximate nutritional composition of 100 grams of raw sardines:

  • Calories: 208 calories
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Fat: 11 g
    • Saturated Fat: 2.7 g
    • Monounsaturated Fat: 3.9 g
    • Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.5 g
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Varies depending on the species, but can range from 1 to 2 grams
  • Cholesterol: 67 mg
  • Carbohydrates: Virtually no carbohydrates, less than 1 gram
  • Fiber: No dietary fiber
  • Vitamins:
    • Vitamin D: 272 IU
    • Vitamin B12: 8.9 mg
    • Niacin (Vitamin B3): 4.6 mg
    • Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg
  • Minerals:
    • Calcium: 382 mg
    • Magnesium: 34 mg
    • Iron: 2.9 mg
    • Phosphorus: 406 mg
    • Potassium: 397 mg
    • Selenium: 47 mg
    • Sodium: Varies depending on the species and preparation method, typically around 90-150 milligrams

Other Additional Nutritional Information about Sardines:

  • Protein: Sardines are an excellent source of high-quality protein. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of canned sardines provides around 25 grams of protein, which is roughly half of the daily recommended intake for an average adult.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are essential for brain health, reducing inflammation, and supporting heart health.
  • Vitamins: Sardines are a great source of various vitamins, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin B3 (niacin), and vitamin B6. Vitamin D is essential for bone health and immune function, while B vitamins play crucial roles in energy production, metabolism, and nerve function.
  • Minerals: Sardines are rich in several minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. Calcium and phosphorus are important for bone health, while selenium acts as an antioxidant and supports thyroid function. Potassium is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure and heart function.
  • Low in Carbohydrates: Sardines are low in carbohydrates, making them a suitable option for those following low-carb or ketogenic diets.
  • Low in Mercury: Compared to larger fish species, sardines are low in mercury and other contaminants. This makes them a safer seafood choice, especially for pregnant women and young children.

It’s important to note that these values are approximate and can vary based on factors such as the specific sardine species, cooking methods, and brands of canned sardines. Additionally, the nutritional content may change if the sardines are canned, smoked, or prepared with added ingredients or sauces.

Are Sardines Good for You?

Sardines offer a variety of health benefits due to their nutrient composition. Here are some notable health benefits associated with consuming sardines:

1. Heart Health

The omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines, particularly EPA and DHA, have been linked to improved heart health. They can help reduce triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and prevent the formation of blood clots. Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from sources like sardines has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and improved overall cardiovascular health.

2. High in Protein

Sardines are a great source of high-quality protein. Protein is essential for various bodily functions, including building and repairing tissues, supporting immune function, and maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Protein also helps regulate appetite and contributes to a feeling of fullness, which can aid in weight management.

3. Brain Function

The omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, play a crucial role in brain function and development. They are important for maintaining the structure and integrity of brain cells, supporting cognitive function, and reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to improved memory, focus, and overall brain health.

4. Bone Health

Sardines are rich in calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, which are all essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones. Adequate calcium and phosphorus intake, along with sufficient vitamin D, supports bone mineralization, helps prevent osteoporosis, and reduces the risk of fractures.

5. Anti-inflammatory Properties

Sardines contain anti-inflammatory compounds, including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. These compounds can help reduce inflammation in the body, which is associated with various chronic conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis, and certain types of cancer.

6. Nutrient Density

Sardines are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, and potassium. These nutrients are involved in numerous bodily functions and contribute to overall health and well-being.

7. Eye Health

The omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines, along with other nutrients like vitamin D and selenium, are beneficial for eye health. They can help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome.

8. Low in Mercury

Sardines are a small fish that are lower in the food chain, which means they typically have lower levels of mercury and other toxins compared to larger predatory fish. This makes them a safer seafood choice, especially for pregnant women and young children.

It’s worth noting that individual health benefits may vary, and it’s always recommended to incorporate sardines into a balanced diet along with other healthy foods to maximize their benefits.

How to Select Sardines?

When selecting sardines, whether fresh or canned, consider the following tips to ensure you choose high-quality and flavorful options:

  1. Fresh Sardines:
    • Look for shiny skin and firm flesh. Fresh sardines should have bright and shiny skin, and the flesh should feel firm when touched.
    • Check for clear eyes. The eyes of fresh sardines should be clear and not cloudy.
    • Assess the smell. Fresh sardines should have a mild, briny, and oceanic smell. Avoid fish with a strong or unpleasant odor.
  2. Canned Sardines:
    • Check for intact and undamaged cans. Ensure that the cans are not dented, swollen, or leaking, as these could be signs of spoilage or compromised quality.
    • Read the label. Look for sardines packed in olive oil, water, or other high-quality oils. Avoid sardines packed in low-quality vegetable oils or sauces that may contain unhealthy additives.
    • Consider sustainability. Look for sardines that are sustainably sourced or certified by organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to ensure the fishing practices are environmentally responsible.
  3. Frozen Sardines:
    • Look for individually frozen or IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) sardines. This allows you to thaw and use only the desired amount, while the rest remain frozen for later use.
    • Check the packaging for freezer burn or ice crystals, which could indicate poor quality or improper storage.
  4. Consider the source:
    • Sardines from reputable sources and regions known for their sardine fisheries, such as Portugal, Spain, and Norway, are generally of high quality.

Remember to store fresh sardines properly in the refrigerator and consume them within a day or two for optimal flavor and quality. Canned sardines have a longer shelf life but check the expiration dates to ensure freshness.

How to Eat Sardines?

Sardines can be enjoyed in various ways, depending on personal preference and culinary traditions. Here are a few popular ways to eat sardines:

  • Grilled or Broiled: Brush fresh sardines with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs or spices. Grill or broil them until they are cooked through and have a crispy exterior. Squeeze some lemon juice over the grilled sardines before serving.
  • Canned Sardines on Toast: Drain canned sardines packed in olive oil or water and place them on toasted bread or a cracker. You can add toppings such as sliced tomatoes, onions, avocado, or a drizzle of lemon juice for added flavor.
  • Sardine Salad: Flake canned sardines and mix them with chopped vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions. Add some fresh herbs like parsley or basil, dress with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. This can be enjoyed as a standalone salad or as a filling for sandwiches or wraps.
  • Pasta with Sardines: Sauté canned sardines with garlic and olive oil, then toss with cooked pasta. Add some lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and fresh herbs like parsley or dill for extra flavor. You can also incorporate other ingredients such as cherry tomatoes, olives, or capers.
  • Sardine Spread: Mash canned sardines with mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and herbs such as dill or chives. Use the spread on sandwiches, crackers, or as a dip for vegetable sticks.
  • Sardine Pate: Blend canned sardines with cream cheese, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs or spices of your choice. This creamy mixture can be spread on crackers or used as a dip.

Remember to remove any bones if present before consuming sardines. Additionally, feel free to experiment with different flavors and ingredients to suit your taste preferences.

Precautions for Eating Sardines

While sardines are generally considered a healthy food choice, there are a few health precautions to keep in mind:

  • Mercury Content: Like many fish, sardines may contain small amounts of mercury. However, sardines are generally low on the food chain and tend to have lower levels of mercury compared to larger predatory fish. It is generally safe to consume sardines in moderation. However, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should be cautious and limit their consumption of fish high in mercury.
  • Allergies: Some individuals may be allergic to fish, including sardines. If you have known fish allergies or have experienced adverse reactions to fish in the past, it is advisable to avoid sardines or consult with an allergist before consuming them.
  • Sodium Content: Canned sardines often contain added salt for preservation and flavor. If you are watching your sodium intake or have high blood pressure, consider opting for low-sodium or salt-free varieties of canned sardines. Alternatively, you can rinse the sardines before consumption to reduce the sodium content.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid Interactions: If you are taking blood-thinning medications or have a bleeding disorder, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before consuming large amounts of sardines or other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can have mild blood-thinning effects, and combining them with certain medications may increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Food Safety: Ensure that fresh sardines are properly handled and cooked to avoid any risk of foodborne illnesses. Store fresh sardines in the refrigerator and consume them within a day or two. Canned sardines have a longer shelf life, but it’s still important to check the expiration dates and ensure the cans are not damaged or bulging.

As always, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized dietary advice and to address any specific health concerns or conditions you may have.


Overall, sardines are a nutritious food choice with several health benefits. They are good source of high-quality protein and contain essential nutrients that support various bodily functions.

Sardines contain healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium and minerals. But they’re also high in salt and calories, and have uric acid that isn’t good for people with kidney problems or gout.

By incorporating sardines into a balanced diet, you can benefit from their nutritional value and enjoy their unique flavors. As with any food, moderation and individual dietary considerations should be taken into account.