8 Benefits of Sardines (& How to Make Them Taste Great)

8 Benefits of Sardines and How to Make Them Taste Great

Let me guess, you are one of two kinds of people when it comes to sardines:

  1. You love them and eat them regularly
  2. or you can’t stand them and don’t even know why you are reading a post about them

Statistically, it’s likely you are in the latter group, as 73% of people claim to dislike sardines. But give me 5 minutes and I might convince you to try them… and maybe even love them!

Here’s why:

Sardines are often called the healthiest fish and they are certainly one of the most budget friendly. In fact, I order sustainably caught canned sardines (from here) and we consume them regularly. Some experts call them a natural multivitamin and they are one of the few truly healthy canned portable foods.

But I get it…

They have a strong smell and a stronger taste. And they are weird and scary because they have bones and skin and you don’t want to try them. I get it, but here’s why you should anyway:

The Benefits of Sardines

Sardines are a tiny fish with a very big nutrient profile! In fact, very few other foods pack the same amount of nutrients per ounce. Liver comes pretty close, but it is often more dreaded than the humble sardine!

Real food is often more expensive than processed foods, but sardines are a notable exception! Canned sardines are one of the few super-healthy, budget-friendly portable “fast foods” out there. They also don’t carry the same mercury risk as bigger fish do.

Here are eight reasons you should learn to love them:

Source of Omega-3

Omega-3s benefit the body in many ways and are well-studied for their importance in the body. One can of sardines contains over half of the recommended daily dose of Omega-3. Sardines provide both EPA and DHA fats, which are beneficial for the brain, heart and to reduce inflammation.

Many people consume large amounts of high Omega-6 oils like vegetable oil and margarine. This may disturb the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats in the body and lead to a variety of problems. Experts claim that DHA and EPA are the most easily usable forms of Omega 3 for the body and consuming these from foods like sardines and other fatty fish can help correct this ratio.

Various studies show the importance of consuming enough Omega-3 to keep cholesterol levels in healthy ranges, for heart health, to support the brain and for optimal fertility and hormone balance.

Super Source of Selenium

Experts like Chris Kresser and Dr. Paul Jaminet explain the importance of selenium for thyroid and adrenal health. One theory is that too much iodine (found in processed foods) without enough selenium may be hard on the thyroid and adrenals. Selenium is also needed for glutathione production in the body.

Selenium and iodine are synergistic and occur together in most naturally occurring sources, including sardines. In fact, one can of sardines contains almost the entire RDA (recommended daily allowance) of selenium and a smaller amount of iodine. This may help the body obtain a proper balance of selenium and iodine.

Personally, I’ve found that since consuming rich food sources of selenium (like sardines and brazil nuts) and Omega-3s my thyroid symptoms are reduced.

Bioavailable Calcium & Phosphorus

Sardines (even canned ones) are great because they are one of the few animal foods that we still consume all of, including the bones and skin. While this makes some people squeamish, these “odd bits” of the fish have important vitamins and minerals, including a great dose of calcium from the bones. One can contains about 1/3 of the recommended daily amount of calcium in a highly absorbable form.

More and more people are having reactions to dairy, and consuming fish with bones is one of the ways to get enough calcium without consuming dairy. With recent studies finding some scary results of supplementing with calcium, sardines are a safe food-based way to get enough.

Phosphorus is an important mineral for bone and tooth health as well and difficult to find in food sources. Sardines are one of the best natural food sources, which is why they are often recommended for healthy skin, teeth and bones.

Vitamin D Boost

The vast majority of us are Vitamin D deficient. And this number is even more drastic if we consider the optimal levels of Vitamin D and not just the minimum! It is one of the reasons that experts are calling for a change to the recommendation to avoid the sun! Some have even gone so far as to claim that we have a sun deficiency and that widespread vitamin D deficiency is contributing to various cancers and health problems.

One can of sardines contains almost half of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin D.

High in Protein

Sardines are a great protein choice. One 3 ounce can provides 23 grams of protein and a big dose of vitamins. These tiny fish are considered a very “efficient food” since they contain a very high amount of vitamins, protein and Omega-3 for the amount of calories they contain.

Low in Mercury and Other Metals

Heavy metal contamination is an understandable concern with consuming fish. Especially in the wake of recent contamination, many people are concerned about eating fish. Thankfully, sardines are considered one of the safest fish to consume due to their small size.

Sardines eat plankton and are at the bottom of the ocean food chain. This means that they contain much less mercury and other heavy metals than larger fish such as tuna.

Sustainable

With the rise of farmed fish and overfishing, sustainability is also a problem. Thankfully, sardines are considered one of the most sustainable fish available. They are still abundant in the oceans and don’t show the same signs of deletion that many species are experiencing.

Personally, I make sure to stick to sustainably caught seafood (we get ours here) and canned sardines.

Budget Friendly

Real food costs more than the subsidized processed foods on grocery store shelves. Sardines are one of the few amazing nutrient-dense foods that won’t break the bank. I’ve been ordering sustainably caught wild sardines for under $2 a can (from here) and we use them all the time. They can substitute for canned tuna in almost every recipe. We make “tuna” salad with sardines for lunch at least once or twice a week. I also love them on top of a Caesar salad with homemade dressing.

How to Choose Good Sardines

If you’re convinced enough about the benefits to give them a try, make sure to find a high-quality source. If you’re new to the taste, I recommend starting with canned sardines in olive oil instead of water. The oil seems to help improve the taste for many people.

Most grocery stores carry canned sardines on the same aisle with tuna and other canned fish. I typically order them in bulk once a month from here since they are cheaper than the ones our local store carries and specify that they are from a sustainable source. Look for sardines in a BPA free can.

Ways to Eat Sardines (Without Gagging)

So, you have some sardines. You know they are healthy. Yet, that can stares back at you like a menacing foe! The most common way to consume them is on saltine crackers. If you avoid grains like I do, or just aren’t a fan of the refined flour, there are many other delicious ways to eat them. They are a little bit of an acquired taste, but you can learn to love them. Promise!

If you’re having a hard time learning to actually *like* them, try these ideas:

  • On healthier crackers with a little bit of cheese
  • Straight out of the can with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • On a Caesar salad with homemade dressing
  • In place of tuna in “tuna salad” with homemade mayo (or this avocado oil mayo), mustard and pickles
  • With cottage cheese and hot sauce
  • Scrambled into eggs and topped with hollandaise sauce
  • Mashed into half of an avocado with a squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Mix canned sardines with some chopped red onions and olives
  • Fisherman’s eggs- bake sardines with onions, eggs and spices

Sardine Cautions

As one of the lowest contamination sources of seafood, sardines don’t carry the same risk many fish do. Recent recommendations even list them as a safe food for pregnant women when consumed 1-2 times per week. They are also high in purines, so those with gout or other disorders should check with a doctor before consuming sources of purines.

Bottom Line: Grab a Fork!

Congrats if you made it this far! Did I convince you to give sardines a try?

These nutrient-packed little fish are one of the most budget-friendly real foods. They taste delicious when prepared correctly and your body will love the nutrient boost. Take a deep breath and give them a try. You may even learn to love them!

Do you like sardines? Will you try them?

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Reader Comments

  1. My teenage daughter loves sardines!
    She will eat them right out of the can.
    I guess the rest of this family needs to take a page from her playbook & get on the sardine wagon!

  2. The only suggestion I have is to NOT purchase them caught from the Pacific, due to radiation from Fukushima. Otherwise, this sounds superbly healthy and I might try considering them now!

    • Excellent note!

    • This is ridiculous! The ocean is one of the highest sources of radiation; Fukushima had very little fallout…fear mongering! Enjoy Pacific sardines! 🙂

  3. I make “sardine sushi” with avocado and spicy mayo (sometimes cream cheese), wrapped hand rolls style with nori! Sardines and seaweed for a great nutrient dense snack (and my baby loves them as well!)

    • Great ideas! Thanks

  4. I never leave Trader Joe without 10 cans of wild-caught sardines canned in water with no salt. I throw a can into a big salad and chop the fish into oblivion. It makes the salad more filling and so nutritious. I’ve also done the same into a skillet filled with onion, garlic, ginger, mushroom and I’ll then throw water and wheat berries + quinoa + millet to make a grain dish which I freeze in individual containers. Great article on sardines! I won’t buy anything that says boneless & skinless because I’m looking for the calcium boost.

  5. I make a spaghetti with sardines in tomato (or chili) sauce, and especially when I eat Miracle Noodles, they have a slightly fishy smell that has no bearing when I mix in sardines with sauce.

  6. Indeed. A cool foodie daughter you have, Beth!

  7. Although I no longer eat animal flesh because of an allergy, there was a time when I enjoyed sardines, or their older incarnation – pilchards, on a regular basis.

    A simple light meal can be had from canned fish by grilling them on toast. When fried they give a rather nice crunchy base to an omelette. Heated in a tomato sauce, they make a terrific alternative to the cheese in mac & cheese. They also go well with fresh spinach or in a fish pie. Because of their small size they can readily be grilled or fried until crispy and then crumbled over salad to add a bit of flavourful crunch.

    Whilst fresh sardines can be used similarly in a variety of dishes they make excellent finger food at a barbecue, cooking in mere moments if the coals are really hot.

  8. I am a bit on the fence about sardines and your article has pushed me over…to the good side.
    We have always had sardines in our earthquake boxes -we live on a fault-as we knew they packed a punch in the nutrition area but never really knew what to do with them. I love the idea with avocado but honestly I tried a sardine omelet once and the flavours just don’t go together!
    As always, I appreciate your wisdom and will take a new look at these little powerhouses.
    .

  9. I love them in tomato sauce and mixed with boiled potatoes….quick food on the run. Sometimes I stand over the sink and eat them straight out of the can…yummy.

  10. Great article Katie! I am forwarding this to my hubby who is resisting! I eat sardines three times a week with my organic salad (you should see the faces of people when I open my cans at Whole Foods at lunch!). Cheap, nutrient-packed and so so yummy. I can see how people struggle with the fishy taste. I was raised eating cod liver (no, not the oil! Real liver, fried, atrocious, CLO is better than this!) so sardines are so tasty to me!

  11. Are they safe to eat for 15 month old? He is sensitive to dairy, so this would be a great source of calcium and Omega 3, as well as vit D.

    • My dr recommended sardines for my one year old when we suspected a dairy allergy.

  12. I’m curious if you would consider sardines high in sodium? I’ve always eaten the very sparingly because they taste so salty. (I don’t eat much salt/sodium in general.)

    • You can certainly get them without added salt. They do have some naturally occurring sodium but I wouldn’t personally consider them high in sodium. But, I’m also not concerned with sodium consumption for the most part. I don’t eat much processed food and actually have to make a point to get enough sodium in my diet.

  13. I was just in the grocery and was looking at them, as I was buying canned salmon (skin & bones!) for salmon cakes (we’re a combo of paleo / atkins) and I was highly tempted to try sardines as the primary protein for sardine cakes. Funny that this comes up a few days after that debate. Guess I’m meant to go try them. 😉

  14. I’m the Cook in a pre school nursery and the children love my Sardine Pasta Bake!

  15. On crackers, doused in vinegar!!! Yum! Yum! Yum!
    On salads with radishes and gouda is yum for lchf meals, grainfree.
    Mashed into softened cream cheese and vegs dipped in or put into celery stalks
    Or spread the cream cheese mix onto nori sheets and layer avocado sticks and cucumber sticks and thin carrot sticks. Roll up tightly n slice…sushi!

  16. I JUST ADORE THOSE LITTLE GUYS…. I JUST BREAK THEM UP WITH DICED TOMATOES AND PUT THEM INTO A LETTUCE LEAVE. SIMPLE….AND YUMMY

  17. Sardines are good. I eat them with a bit of capers

  18. I agree with you about sardines, I eat them regularly with a bit of red onion and celery over lettuce — but PLEASE PLEASE buy them in jars rather than cans. I get mackerel that way, too. No BPAs!!!

  19. I love sardines, NOT anchovies though. I eat sardines out of the can and usually buy them in olive oil, since olive oil has additional health and nutrient benefits. However, my wife won’t eat them and hates the smell, so I have many cans in my pantry but eat them rarely. And, I don’t really like them in recipes. Honestly, a can of sardines is a great lunch and pretty filling just on its own. I do like the idea of adding a bit of lime though and think that next time I get a chance to eat this smelly, misunderstood treat, it will have a bit of lime or lemon on it. Cheers!

  20. I grew up eating sardines (and liver). We saute ours with tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot peppers and a squeeze of lime juice. We typically ate it for breakfast with fresh homemade bread. Sometimes I like to eat mine with boiled ripe plantains or Mexican sweet potatoes.

  21. Hi!! I’m a follower of yours from sometime now 🙂 I’m Portuguese, so I do love sardines (we all do, I think), fresh and grilled… now in this time of year, there’s a Holiday where everyday goes out to the streets all day and night and everybody eats grilled sardines, so the smell invades the town (Lisbon and Oporto) 😀 we love the smell 😀 It used to be considered the fish of the poor in the 19th century and before…!
    I don’t eat as much as I used to, just because of the un-practical side of grilling in an outside griller (too much smoke and smell to do inside apartments, and really only tasteful if made in a real fire) but you made me rethink that 🙂
    I think people in Portugal used to cnsume it much more but one of the reasons consume has lowered a bit is precisely the increasing percentage of people living in appartments, without those outside grills… just isn’t the same thing… 🙂
    Cheers

  22. I grew up on sardines and I’m feeding it to my children as well. One of the ways we eat it that may work well for beginners is mixed with butter put on bread (even better on toast!). We stay away from the ones in canola or soybean oil and get the ones in olive oil. I also refer them with skin and bones rather than “naked.” Quick and healthy meal straight out of the can with some bread on the side which can be used at the end to mop up the yummy oily bits.

  23. Yeah ! Finally something that I love that is good for ya ! My dad used to stand in the kitchen and eat a can of sardines w/his cold beer every Saturday afternoon when he got home from work. From the time I was about 6 yrs old he would share them with me. I love them – just did’t know they were good for you. He didn’t either I’m sure. Thanks for the information. It’s been a while since I have bought any but that will change tomorrow !! I love your tips – THANKS !!

  24. I love them smashed onto a healthiy cracker add finely diced onions and vinegar! Yum!

  25. Thank you for this article, and thanks to all of the readers comments, too. I did NOT grow up eating sardines or liver, and HATE both. I have about 20 cans of them in my disaster items, only because I know they are full of protein and good for you, but never, until now, had ANY idea how to eat them without gagging! I’m going to get out a can or two and try some of these ideas. THANK YOU!
    I’d buy sardines in jars if I could find them. Here, they seem to only come in cans. I only buy tuna in jars, and NEVER from the Pacific, as mentioned: Fukushima

  26. I eat sardines since I was a kid. My favourite way of eating them is white or black bread (or any bread of your choice) with butter, then I put sardines on top and a few slices of cucumber on top of sardines. Absolutely delicious! And so fresh, great for summer. 🙂

  27. I like sardines! They are good for lunch: First put some lettuce in a bowl with little olive oil and seasoning. (I like Herbamare). Then top with a fried egg and sardines!

  28. Healthy for dogs too. I found a brand that is sodium free and packed in water. Skinless too (I have a picky dog that loves these but hates the skin-on version).

  29. My three kids love sardines, and so do I. Everyone else in my family thinks we are weird. We eat them with a bunch of fresh lime juice and some olive or avocado oil. I usually put mine on a bed of lettuce. My kids devour them and I’m happy knowing they’re getting all that good nutrition! We regularly eat them with lunch.

  30. Ok, this is going to sound really weird but I just can’t stand the taste of anything fishy. Since I know sardines are good for me my only solution is to put them in the blender with a little water and blend for 30 seconds then CHUG with my nose plugged. Down they go! Sorry to all you sardine lovers, this probably seems like a waste. My advise…make sure you feed these to your kids so they don’t end up drinking sardine smoothies like me as adults, LOL. 🙂

  31. I started eating sardines after starting the AIP diet over two years ago. I could eat them for a while but later I couldn’t stand them anymore. They made me feel sick. Then I found skinless and boneless sardines! I eat them almost every week.

  32. I grew up eating tinned sardines on buttered toast with tomato sauce.

  33. I love sardines and your post about them is great! I just had a can of sardines this morning for breakfast with avocado, toasted whole rye bread, and onion 🙂 I sometimes eat them with baked potato and avocado and it is an awesome combination!

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