Using the idea of a “superfood” as something that packs a lot of nutrients on a per calories basis, sardines hit the mark. They are nutrition powerhouses.

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Superfoods. A buzz word that has become part of our everyday language but what does it mean? While there is no standardized definition, and the use of the word is unregulated, the general consensus is that a superfood will give the consumer a lot of nutritional bang for their buck on a per calorie basis. Often the word superfood is used to describe plant foods such as kale, blueberries, quinoa or acai berries for example and with good reason: they are very nutritious. However superfoods can also be used to describe animal-based foods as well; kefir, cheese, beef, and fish are loaded with nutrients and needed necessarily be high in calories. One of our favourite superfoods is sardines.

Sardines are small fish that form large schools, swimming through the ocean with open mouths collecting small amounts of plankton.

They are small, plentiful fish that can be bought fresh or canned. Fresh sardines are available in late summer, but can be enjoyed year round canned, smoked, or frozen.

What are the advantages of sardines?

By now, most have heard of the many health promoting properties of fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout, and mackerel, as well as sardines, probably best known for their omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – fats that have been shown to promote overall health, specifically for the cardiovascular system, as well as for eye, skin, and brain health, and for lowering inflammation. However, many fatty fish high in omega-3s have fragile fish stocks, meaning they are commonly overfished, which can harm the ecosystem. Sardines, primarily due to their small size, are considered to be a sustainable species, which can be enjoyed without guilt.

Sardines are much more than their omega 3 fatty acid content

One 92 g or 3.2 oz can of sardines provides almost twice the recommended average daily intake of 500 mg of EPA and DHA combined.

Sardines also include other nutrients needed for the production of neurotransmitters; chemicals that regulate mood and brain function. These include iron, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium. (

The following illustrates how sardines have nutrient density extraordinaire just one 92 g / 3.2 oz can of sardines yields the following (on average)*:

  • 23 g protein
  • 351 mg calcium (more than a glass of cow’s milk)
  • 2.7 mg iron
  • 451 mg phosphorus
  • 465 mg sodium
  • 1.2 mg zinc
  • 49 mg selenium
  • 4.8 mg vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • 70 mg choline (a vitamin B-like molecule)
  • 8 mcg vitamin B12
  • 100 IU vitamin A (retinol)
  • 178 IU vitamin D
  • 435 mg EPA
  • 468 mg DHA

For more tips on healthy nutrition and weight loss, click here for our presentation.

*Source: USDA database

Not only do sardines provide a significant amount of total nutrients, but because the nutrients are found in an animal-based food, they are absorbed efficiently – some more so than from plant foods – a fact that is often overlooked in nutrition. While plant foods have other health-promoting advantages – like higher amounts of phytonutrients than in meats, fish, or dairy – one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that animal-based foods are highly nutritious in their own right.

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Comments 37

  1. What great news about the humble tinned sardine! One of my favourite simple meals is a can of sardines (in chilli or lemon oil preferably) stirred into penne pasta. The whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts!

  2. Hi Kathylyn – you’re right, depending on where you live, GMOs may not be labelled. There’s an article on that very topic – check it out. Where I am in North America, GMOs do not have to be labelled…buyer beware

  3. I love sardines and also an avid label reader and watch out for things like added Canola oil, (as Canola is one of the 9 GM food products). I guess – depending on where you live – it may or may not be law to have food labeled “GMO-free”. So it is important to be informed.

  4. I always have canned sardines on hand for right-now food. Especially fond of the lemon sauce kind and on toast for breakfast. Used to eat these at the office but alas fishy smells are frowned upon all too often. And brushing one’s teeth in the office bathroom sink is just too gross and germ infested a location.

  5. I recently met a spry, engaging 99 year old who is still a champion veteran swimmer. I asked him the secret of his
    vitality and he replied ‘Whisky Mac and Sardines’ and he wasn’t joking according to his daughter.

  6. (Ossie, 6/16/13) Thanks for the ‘course correction’ re oils in sardines. I wasn’t aware of this and very much appreciate the information. I’ll bet, after draining, a few drops of really nice quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil would be a good replacement (with maybe a compliment of finely minced garlic and freshly ground peppercorns)? Followup comment welcome if I’m off track on this idea.

  7. Hi, Shirley. It would be recommended to drain the oil, since sardines are generally canned in oils very high in omega-6 fatty acids , of which we get too much in the western diet. If you like oil with your sardines, you can always add a good oil after draining.

  8. My Mum had the best Sardine recipe…Id love to share it with you all…pick bones and back bones off the tinned Sardines, then place into a mixing bowl, chop an onion finally, add and then add enough tomato sauce to cover without drowning the mixture. Make a couple of pieces of wholemeal toast and spread Sardine mixture on top! So simple and so yummy! Enjoy! 🙂

  9. Pilchards would be similar in terms of having the same nutrients, depending on the serving size etc the exact numbers, e.g. mg of calcium, would be different but keeping the big picture in mind, they are equally nutritious !

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