Herring Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Herring

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

While a “red herring” may be a mainstay of detective novels and crime dramas, there’s actually no such creature. There are, however, over 100 varieties of herring, each with nutrition that provides plenty of health benefits. These ocean-dwellers are small foraging fish from the family Clupeidae. They’re mostly found in coastal waters, hence the names of the most common two species consumed in the states: Atlantic and Pacific. (A third species of herring, the Araucanian, lives in the waters off the coast of South America.)

Herring can be prepared and preserved in a multitude of ways, including smoked, canned, frozen, or fresh—there’s no end to the options for enjoying it in culinary preparations. And with plenty of protein, high levels of heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3 fats, and significant amounts of vitamin D, it’s worth including this nutrient-dense fish in your diet.

Herring Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 3 oz. (85 g) of Atlantic herring.

  • Calories: 134
  • Fat: 8g
  • Sodium: 76.5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 15.3g

Carbs 

Like many animal products, herring contains no carbohydrates.

Fats

Herring is considered an oily fish, and a 3-ounce serving contains about 8 grams of fat. However, only about 2 grams of this fat is the less beneficial saturated kind. An additional 3 grams come from monounsaturated fat and approximately 2 grams are polyunsaturated. Anywhere from 1.3 to 2 grams of herring’s fat come from omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to heart and brain health. This is more than tuna, trout, and some types of salmon.

Protein 

At about 15 grams per fillet, herring provides an impressive amount of high-quality protein.

Vitamins and Minerals 

Herring is rich in vitamins, with significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. When you dine on this fish, you’ll also take in smaller amounts of minerals like potassium, phosphorus, and selenium. Herring contains a noteworthy amount of sodium, too, at 76.5 mg per 3 ounces.

Health Benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids aren't the only reason to consume herring; it also provides numerous other benefits.

Safe for Pregnant Women

According to the National Resource Defense Council, herring is among the lowest-mercury fish. Mercury is a harmful neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for pregnant women, so if you’re pregnant, herring makes for a good seafood choice.

Suitable for Many Special Diets

For those on special diets, it’s hard to go wrong with herring. As a simple whole-food, it’s a fishy friend to those on a pescatarian, Mediterranean, low-carb, and even low-sodium diet. With its high percentage of fat, herring even fits the bill for a ketogenic diet

Boosts Brain Health

Both Atlantic and Pacific herring are good sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. These helpful fats have been shown to have neuroprotective effects. Some studies have shown EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of dementia and have beneficial effects on mood disorders.

Supports Heart Health

There’s a good reason many people take fish oil for heart health: Numerous studies have linked the omega-3 fatty acids in fish (including herring) to a reduced risk of heart disease. According to research, omega-3s lower triglycerides, increase good cholesterol, and decrease the chance of having an abnormal heart rhythm.

Reduces Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids in herring can bring down inflammation in the body by creating a positive omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio. Since the Western diet often provides too many inflammatory omega-6 fats, it’s important to counterbalance high levels with adequate intake of omega-3s.

Allergies 

Fish are among the top eight most common food allergens, so it’s possible to have a herring allergy. Food allergies can present in a number of ways, so seek medical attention if you experience unpleasant symptoms such as hives, nausea, or difficulty breathing after eating herring.

Intriguingly, the preparation of herring may also affect its ability to cause an allergic reaction. One study found that, when pickled, herring had lower IgE binding, meaning it was less likely to aggravate the immune system and produce an allergic reaction. However, if you have a known fish allergy, talk to your doctor before trying a new preparation of herring.

Adverse Effects 

Pickled herring, though salty and delicious, may cause problems for people taking a class of drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), often prescribed for mental health disorders. Pickled herring is high in tyramine, a compound that affects blood pressure. Since MAOIs alter the body’s ability to regulate tyramine levels, eating foods high in this compound while on an MAOI can lead to dangerously high blood pressure.

Varieties 

Herring lives in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, giving rise to the two primary varieties. Atlantic and Pacific herring vary slightly in size and come with some nutritional differences. Pacific herring contain more calories, less protein, more fat, and slightly more omega-3s than their Atlantic counterparts. 

When It’s Best

With herring sold in so many forms—from canned to fresh to smoked—the decision of which one is best is largely a matter of personal taste preference. Of course, some preparations, such as pickling, may add sodium or other preservatives, so if you’d like to limit additives, always read ingredient lists and nutrition labels for accurate information.

Different types of herring also have varying “premium catch” periods when their fat content is highest, giving them more flavor. For North Sea herring, for example, this occurs in the summer; while in Alaska, herring season begins in the spring. When ordering herring, ask your butcher or purveyor about the seasonality of fish you purchase. 

Storage and Food Safety

Since herring is sold in such a variety of preparations, it’s important to follow storage instructions and freshness dates on its packaging. Cook raw herring safely by heating to an internal temperature of 145 degrees or higher.

Recipes

As a small, oily fish, herring can be used interchangeably with similar swimmers like mackerel or sardines. Try herring as a substitution for the fish in these recipes.

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