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Let me guess, you are one of two kinds of people when it comes to sardines:
- You love them and eat them regularly
- 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 enough to bulk order them each month like I do!
Why I Eat Sardines (& You Should Too)
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 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…
Sardines 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:
- They’re highly nutritious
- They cost less than most other protein sources (especially if you get them here)
Health 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 sardines:
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 consuming rich food sources of selenium (like sardines and brazil nuts) and omega-3s has reduced my thyroid symptoms.
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 some 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.
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 and sardines.
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 just a little over $2 a can (from here) and we use them all the time. They can also substitute for canned tuna in almost every recipe, and it’s healthier and cheaper! Win!
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 Thrive Market 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 (which the Thrive Market brand is).
Ways to Eat Sardines (Without Gagging)
So, you have some sardines. You know they are healthy. Yet, that sardine tin 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:
- Straight out of the can with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- On healthier crackers with a little bit of cheese
- On a Caesar salad with homemade or avocado oil Caesar dressing
- Mashed into half of an avocado with a squeeze of fresh lemon
- In place of tuna in “tuna salad” with homemade mayo (or this avocado oil mayo), mustard, and pickles
- With cottage cheese and hot sauce
- Fisherman’s eggs- bake sardines with onions, eggs, and spices
- Scrambled into eggs and topped with hollandaise sauce
- Mix canned sardines with some chopped red onions and olives
- Served with a side of lemon garlic aioli
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.
Bottom Line: Sardines Are Good for You!
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!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Galamaga, whois a board-certified internal medicine physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Do you like sardines? Will you try them?
Discussion (95 Comments)
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!
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.
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.
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.
Indeed. A cool foodie daughter you have, Beth!
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.
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.
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
Do you eat the head and tail !?
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!
This is ridiculous! The ocean is one of the highest sources of radiation; Fukushima had very little fallout…fear mongering! Enjoy Pacific sardines! 🙂
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!