Are Canned Sardines Good for You?

Tin can of sprats, sardines
Small can of sardines. (Image: Photosiber/iStock/Getty Images)

Sardines contain a variety of vital nutrients. They’re packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re a natural source of vitamin D, which is typically obtained from enriched foods. In spite of the benefits, whether canned sardines are good for you depends on one deciding factor: portion control. The calories and sodium you’ll get can quickly accumulate to amounts that turn an otherwise beneficial snack into an unhealthy dish.

Deal With the Downside

Depending on the size of the fish, a 1-ounce serving consists of one or two sardines. When they’re canned in oil, a 1-ounce serving has 59 calories. Even if the sardines come canned in tomato sauce, the same portion still has 52 calories. Getting too much salt is also a potential concern because you’ll get 87 milligrams of sodium from a 1-ounce serving of sardines canned in oil. The sodium actually goes up to 117 milligrams when they're in tomato sauce. Based on the recommended daily intake of 1,500 milligrams, 1 ounce of sardines provides 6 percent to 8 percent of your daily sodium.

Fill Up With Favorable Fats

Even though they're low in total fat, sardines are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. They also prevent irregular heart rhythms, slow down the growth of arterial plaques and fight inflammation. A 1-ounce serving of sardines canned in oil has 0.27 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. This amount provides 25 percent of women’s and 17 percent of men’s recommended daily intake, based on the adequate intake established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Sardines are low in mercury, which means even pregnant women can consume two 6-ounce servings weekly, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Get a Lot for a Little

Vitamin B-12 primarily comes from animal-based foods. The top sources -- liver, kidneys and giblets -- are not a regular part of most daily diets, so look to the next best source: fish. A small, 1-ounce serving of canned sardines provides an entire day’s recommended intake. Vitamin B-12 helps synthesize red blood cells and metabolize fats and proteins. It also lowers the amount of an amino acid in your bloodstream called homocysteine. This may help prevent cardiovascular disease because high levels of homocysteine damage the arteries, according to FamilyDoctor.org.

Surprising Source of the Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight. Most dairy products and ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with vitamin D because it’s not naturally found in many foods. Fatty fish, including sardines, represent one of the rare natural sources. Because your body can’t absorb calcium without vitamin D, you need this vitamin to maintain strong bones. Vitamin D may also lower your risk of heart disease, although more studies are needed to verify its exact role, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. One ounce of canned sardines supplies 9 percent of your recommended daily allowance.

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