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Are Sardines Good for Your Health?

March 23, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Brooke McKelvey

Most types of oily fish may look unassuming, but they typically have numerous health benefits. From mackerel and anchovies to herring and pilchards, several of these fish are a good source of nutrients and minerals like vitamin B12, omega-3, magnesium, and much more.

One of the most common of these types of fish is sardines—a small, oily fish that’s eaten whole. You'll find them in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. Despite their small size, the steel blue fish have a nutritional profile that offers up numerous health benefits. Anglers sometimes use sardines as bait for larger fish, but they're a popular food item in their own right. 

Sold fresh, smoked, dried, and canned, they’re an excellent source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain magnesium, protein, potassium, selenium, and vitamins like vitamin B12; it’s safe to say these little fish pack a big nutritional punch.

If you didn’t grow up in a household that regularly ate sardines, they might be intimidating, thanks to their appearance and intense flavor. But we love them! We’d go so far as to say they’d be a pretty good contender on a list of superfoods.

We recommend adding them to your diet, not just because we love their intense flavor but also because of the potential health benefits associated with eating them. Read on to see what these are and then check out some fun facts about this delicious oily fish at the end of this article. 

Fresh vs. Frozen vs. Canned Sardines—Does it Matter?

frozen sardines and slices of lemon

If you're looking for a healthy, affordable, and sustainable source of protein, sardines may be the perfect food for you. But with so many different types of sardines on the market, it can be challenging to know which ones are the best choice.

Should you pick up a can of sardines? Should you forgo dried and tinned options for fresh sardines? And does any of this even matter? Take a look at what we found out.

Fresh Sardines

Fresh sardines are not as commonly found as canned sardines, but they can be a good option if you find them. You also can prepare these little fish smoked, fried, baked, or grilled! 

Frozen Sardines

Frozen sardines are the least common way to buy these fish in supermarkets. There isn’t a big difference in buying them fresh or frozen as long as they were flash-frozen upon being caught. 

Canned Sardines

Canned sardines are the most popularly bought and stocked types of sardine. The fish are washed and either steam-cooked, dried, or fried before being tinned. Most have their gills and heads removed and are de-scaled. Some canned sardines have tomato, soy, and mustard sauce, but they're most commonly packed in olive oil or water. 

What to Pick

We’re big fans of fresh fish, but fresh sardines are difficult to get your hands on. And while they’re worth it if you do find them, don’t miss out on this oily fish if you can’t. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, sardines contain less mercury than most other fish. Even canned, they contain enough healthy fats to have several health benefits, including helping with heart disease and decreasing triglycerides

So they’re likely not terrible for you, even in their canned form. Of course, before changing anything in your diet, find out what your body responds well to. It’s best to consult a nutritionist or registered dietitian and use tools like continuous glucose monitors.

Some Nutritional and Health Benefits of Sardines

baked sardines

Sardines are a rich source of nutrients like protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin D. They’re also low in mercury and other toxins. So, it’s no surprise they’re considered a healthy option.

However, they also contain mercury (even though they have less mercury than other fish), so it is essential to eat them in moderation.

Scientists have found that a diet heavy in fish, like the Mediterranean and paleo diet, is ideal for most people’s optimal health. But even with all the potential health benefits of sardines, it’s best to find out if they suit your body.

If you can tolerate this type of fish, some reasons to include sardine in your diet are:

Its Calcium Content

if you're like most people, you probably think of milk and healthy bones when you think of calcium. However, canned fish like sardines with the bones intact can also be a great source of calcium. The canning process softens the bones and makes them easy to chew along with the meat in canned fish. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is involved in many vital functions, including muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve transmission. 

Minerals like Selenium and Magnesium

Minerals like potassium, phosphorous, zinc, iron, and magnesium play a role in many critical body functions. If you don't get enough of them, you could be at a higher risk of many health problems. Minerals are essential for many bodily processes, including maintaining fluid balance, transmitting nerve impulses, and building bones. 

They also have anti-inflammatory properties, play a role in energy production. Fish contain iron and zinc, essential minerals for the human body.

Selenium is an essential mineral that your body needs for various functions. It may help protect against cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. In addition, selenium supports healthy thyroid function and helps keep the immune system strong. You can get selenium from foods like nuts, eggs, and fish or take a supplement if you're not getting enough through your diet. 

The Protein

sardines and lemon on a plate

In the fitness world, protein is king. And for a good reason: it's essential for repairing muscles and helping the body create new muscle tissue. Protein can also help you feel fuller longer, helping you maintain a healthy weight. It helps build and repair tissues, produce enzymes and hormones, and keep your energy levels up. It also plays a significant role in regulating blood sugar. 

Its Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Are you getting proper levels of omega-3 in your diet? You might not be if you're not eating fish or taking a supplement. These essential nutrients are essential for many reasons, including heart health, bone health, brain function, and inflammation reduction. Omega-3s also help your body lower triglyceride levels and may help prevent anxiety and depression.  

Vitamins like vitamin D and vitamin B12

Sardines are rich in many B vitamins such as niacin as well as vitamins A, D, and B12. Vitamin B12 serves many functions. Not only is it needed for cardiovascular health, but it's vital for cognitive function, neuronal health, and DNA integrity. Vitamin D plays a role in countless functions, including regulating gene expression, bone mineralization, immune health, and so much more.

Different types of sardines have different nutritional content. But here's a good example of what you're getting in one can of sardines with bones.

macros of one can of sardines with bones

*Per the USDA

The Relationship Between Sardines and Blood Sugar Levels

a person using finger prick method to test their glucose level

Sardines are packed with health benefits, low in contaminants and toxins, promoting healthy bones and good heart health. But did you know they also impact your blood sugar levels?

Sardines are a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. They can help regulate blood sugar levels and boost metabolic health. Remember, sardines are low in calories and rich in vitamins like vitamin B12 and minerals like zinc and magnesium. So, they make a healthy addition to any diet but may be particularly beneficial if you’re trying to manage blood sugar levels.

Intermittent fasting is a hot topic in the health world recently. It may help control blood glucose levels, aid in weight loss, and positively affect your metabolism. If you’ve read up on or tried intermittent fasting, you know that one of the most important things to focus on is what you choose to eat after your fast to break it.

Foods that are high and healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids) and protein are ideal for breaking your fast because they may not cause spikes in blood sugar levels for most people. They can also help satisfy hunger cravings and make you feel fuller for longer after you break your fast.

Feeling fuller for longer will prevent carbohydrate and sugar cravings and help boost your energy levels. Because sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids and contain protein, they may be a great way to break your fast.

Sardines and Weight Loss

a person measuring their waist

Do you want to lose weight? If so, you might be wondering if it’s a good idea to add sardines to your diet. After all, they are ‘fatty fish.’ But, as it turns out, sardines are actually good for weight loss. This tiny fish is low in calories and high in protein, making it an ideal choice for people trying to slim down. In addition, sardines are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help promote weight loss by reducing inflammation and preventing overeating

How Often Can You Eat Sardines?

a can of sardines, toasts and a slice of lemon

Can you eat sardines every day? Sardines are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a healthy addition to your diet. But how often should you eat them to get the most benefits, and can you eat too many? Even though they have many health benefits, they do contain some saturated fat (which may raise cholesterol levels for some). It’s best to eat them in moderation.

Another interesting fact to note is that even with its mercury levels, this type of fish is safe and healthy for children and adults. 

The FDA states that as per the recommendations from Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which list sardines in their “Best Choices” list of fish), sardines are safe for children.

Sardines contain a small amount of mercury and other contaminants and toxins. However, they do have uric acid, which can cause kidney problems in susceptible people or those with pre-existing conditions. 

While they’re typically safe for pregnant women to consume, everyone’s body is different. So it’s best to talk to your doctor about whether this oily fish is for you.

Overall, sardines can be a healthy addition to your diet. They're affordable and easy to find (well, canned sardines are anyway!). And if you're looking for a healthy and delicious way to add more fish to your diet, sardines should be at the top of your list.

As with any food, it’s best to eat them in moderation—eating sardines two to three days a week is a safe and healthy option.

Some Fun Facts About Sardines

toasts with sardines and tomatoes
  • Morocco is the largest canned sardine exporter in the world.
  • Love Worcestershire sauce? Did you know the main ingredient is fermented sardines?
  • The term sardine is said to come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, once teeming with this type of fish.
  • You likely know the term ‘packed like sardines’ comes from how the small fish are packed into tins. But did you know it’s also the name of a children’s game?
  • Not all types of this small fish are endangered, but according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Madeiran sardine is a vulnerable species.
  • Cornish sardines have a Protected Geographical Indication status.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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Are Sardines Good for Your Health?
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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10
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.