Sardine Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Sardines, annotated
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman  

Sardines are a small, oily fish that's packed with nutrition. If you're wary of the health benefits of canned foods, you can rest assured that sardines have a lot to offer. In addition to being high in quality protein and healthy fats, sardines are a great source of iron and calcium. Because of their low mercury levels, sardines don't have the same toxicities you might expect with other types of seafood.

Sardine Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1/4 cup of sardines canned in water (55g).

  • Calories: 96.8
  • Fat: 5g
  • Sodium: 82mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 13g

Carbs

Sardines do not contain any carbohydrates, fiber, or sugar.

Fats

The oils in sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly referred to as “healthy fats.” A 1/4 cup of sardines canned in water has 5 grams of total fat. When sardines are canned in oil, they are higher in fat.

Protein

Just a 1/4 cup of canned sardines has 13 grams of complete protein, including all of the essential amino acids. Sardines are a healthy way to boost your protein intake.

Vitamins and Minerals

Sardines are high in iron and calcium. If you eat a 1/2 cup of canned sardines, you'll get 30% of your daily requirements for these minerals.

Sardines are also a good source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Health Benefits

If you enjoy eating sardines, you'll reap several health benefits. Along with "good" fats and protein, sardines are rich in several vitamins and minerals associated with disease prevention.

Protects Cognitive Function

Sardines and other types of seafood have been associated with lower cognitive decline. Seafood is protective against some types of Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and dementia. A type of omega-3, DHA, is especially helpful for maintaining a sharp memory. For optimal memory function, include sardines in your meal plan twice a week.

Strengthens Muscles

Sardines supply complete protein and essential fatty acids for muscle building and fuel. Instead of loading up on processed protein powders and bars, sardines provide all the amino acids your body needs to build strength without unnecessary additives. When you're doing a tough strength-training workout, the fats in sardines will give your muscles a steady stream of calories to finish all of your reps, and the protein profile of sardines gives your muscles the building blocks required for recovery.

Aids Heart Health

The omega-3 fatty acids in sardines protect the heart in several ways. Omega-3s reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol. They lower blood pressure, prevent abnormal heart rhythms, and decrease hardening of the arteries and blockages. Upping the sardine intake in people with diabetes has been shown to reduce inflammation and cardiovascular risks. Pretty much anyone could stand to benefit from the heart-health benefits of sardines.

Supports Healthy Pregnancy

Omega-3s are essential for a healthy pregnancy, especially when it comes to the baby's brain and vision development. For this reason, women of childbearing age are advised to consume 2–3 servings of fish per week. Sardines are on the "best choices" list due to their low levels of mercury. They provide the benefits of fish with minimal risk of mercury toxicity.

Builds Strong Bones

Sardines are a good source of both calcium and vitamin D (which enhances calcium absorption). Most adults should aim for the RDA recommended 1000 mg of calcium-rich foods per day to get enough calcium to maintain strong bones. A 3-ounce serving of canned sardines with the bones counts as 25% of your daily value of calcium. Regular intake of sardines, along with some muscle-building exercise, can help protect your bones from weakening with age.

Allergies

Fish allergies are common and may not appear until adulthood. Allergies to fish, like sardines, are usually separate from shellfish allergies to shrimp and crab. Symptoms may include asthma, hives, headache, or stuffy nose. See an allergist for a professional diagnosis if you suspect an allergy to sardines.

Varieties

Sardines are usually sold fresh or canned. Some canned varieties are packed in water, oil, mustard sauce or tomato sauce. If you prefer, you can find canned sardines that are boneless and skinless. However, since the bones are such a good source of calcium, and the skin is such a good source of omega-3s, it's best to eat them.

There are several varieties of sardines found around the world. Pacific sardines are from the United States and Canada. Imported sardines include European pilchard sardines, Japanese sardinellas, orangespot sardines, and Spanish sardines.

Storage and Food Safety

Food safety rules for sardines are the same as for any other type of fish. If you buy fresh sardines, you want to make sure they've been stored at properly cold temperatures (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) and packed on ice. Fresh sardines should smell fresh, not overly fishy. The eyes should be clear and shiny.

Keep fresh sardines refrigerated and cook or freeze within 2 days of purchase. Wash your hands well along with any utensils or cutting boards used for raw sardines. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. When serving, avoid keeping fish out at room temperature for more than an hour at a time.

Canned sardines should be eaten once opened. If you don't eat the whole can, place in a covered plastic or glass container and store in the refrigerator for consumption within a couple days.

How to Prepare

The fact that sardines are most often purchased canned means that you don't have to do much in the way of cooking or preparation. Canned sardines are usually pretty flavorful on their own, as they are usually preserved in salt. They can be eaten cold in salads, on top of crackers, warmed in pasta dishes, or even grilled as a main course.

Recipes

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