Before tuna fish was a staple in American cupboards, canned sardines reigned on the shelves as an inexpensive source of protein. The popularity of sardines declined after World War II, along with a dramatic decrease in the fish population, according to an article in "The Washington Post." While the number of sardines has rebounded, they have not yet reclaimed their position as a culinary staple. If you want a healthy way to get more omega-3 fatty acids and calcium in your diet without spending a lot of money, sardines are a good choice.
Sardines are smoked before being packed in cans, usually with some type of oil. The nutritional content of smoked and canned sardines varies between manufacturers depending on the type of oil used and the amount of salt added as a preservative and for flavor. One can is considered a serving, and a typical serving of smoked sardines packed in olive oil contains around 14 grams of protein, 168 calories and 14.4 grams of fat. 2.4 grams of the fat content is saturated. Most of the fat content in sardines stems from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which may help to lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that you can only get from food sources. Tufts University School of Medicine notes that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Sardines contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA, which are particularly helpful in lowering your risk of developing heart disease. A 4-oz. serving of canned sardines contains 1.7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.
Calcium is a vital mineral for the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth and the prevention of osteoporosis. It also plays an important role in blood clotting and muscle contraction. If you are lactose-intolerant, it is particularly important to find other food sources high in calcium and eat them daily. Recommended daily intakes of calcium vary depending on age and gender, with teens and adults needing from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day. Just 2 oz. of canned sardines holds 240 milligrams of calcium. The calcium in sardines mainly comes from the bones, which are soft and edible from the canning process.
Read the labels of canned, smoked sardines carefully. While they offer many health benefits, they are often high in sodium. Sodium levels vary significantly among producers. A can of sardines can contain anywhere from 160 milligrams of sodium to 340 milligrams. A healthy adult should get no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but if you are dealing with kidney disease or high blood pressure, you should limit your intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.