Can You Eat Sardines Every Day? — Yes, But…

Canned sardines are a dietary staple. Sardines are packed full of minerals, protein, Omega fatty acids, and vitamins like B12. As a result, people often assume that they’re super healthy to eat, which is true, but can you eat canned sardines every day? Is it safe to do so?

sardines on the plate

In this post, I will cover the benefits of eating canned fish and the dangers of eating too much of it, and which type of canned fish is the healthiest.

How Often Should You Be Eating Sardines?

eating canned sardines

Though sardines are healthy and very nutritious, they do contain low levels of mercury and sodium. Therefore, canned sardines should be eaten in moderation — not every day. It would be perfectly OK and even beneficial to eat one can of sardines 2-3 times a week as a part of a balanced diet.

So, what would happen if you eat them every day?

Most likely, you will be fine. There just aren’t any studies to conclusively show if eating more than a recommended amount will do you any harm or give you any extra benefits.

Based on the current research, most of the benefit comes from moving from eating no fish at all to eating fish once or twice a week. And if you do decide to eat sardines more than 3 times a week instead of eating junk food, I would say you would definitely be better off. [1]

While it might be safe to eat sardines or many other fish every day, the truth is that your diet should follow a rule of ‘everything in moderation.’ There certainly are some concerns that eating canned sardines every day may be detrimental to your health rather than supporting a healthy lifestyle.

So, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of eating sardines and canned fish in general so that you can make a sensible decision.

Why Should You Eat Canned Sardines?

omega 3 fish oil

Eating fish, in general, is very good for you in numerous ways, especially if it comes to cold-water oily fish such as sardines. 

Here are some of the benefit of eating canned sardines:

  • Lots of omega-3 fatty acids, good for blood pressure and heart health.
  • Vitamin B12, helping the cardiovascular system.
  • Vitamin D for bone health.
  • Calcium for bone health.
  • Minerals like niacin, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus.
  • Protein, which helps you build healthy bones and muscles.

As you can see, canned sardines are super healthy and contain lots of excellent nutrients. However, many consumers wonder whether canned sardines provide the same levels of nutrients as their fresh alternatives.

Furthermore, some consumers are concerned about levels of mercury and sodium in their canned fish.

Are these things really problems for our health?

Read Also: 8 Incredible Omega 3 Rich Vegan Foods You May Not Have Known About!

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Canned Fish?

Canned fish has several advantages over fresh fish. Many of these are, perhaps surprisingly, related to the health benefits – I’ll get into those later. However, canned fish is worth more than just its nutritional value. Here are some other advantages.

Pros of Canned Fish

  • It’s often cheaper than fresh fish, such as tuna steaks.
  • Usually, canned fish is quicker and easier to work with than a whole fish.
  • Canned seafood stays fresh for longer, meaning you can store it in the pantry. You don’t even need to take up freezer space!
  • There are lots of fish species to choose from in supermarkets.
  • Canned fish is convenient because you don’t have to spend time preparing the fish.

It’s not all rosy, though. There are also a few downsides.

Cons of Canned Fish

  • Sometimes, canned fish is stored in oil. This isn’t ideal if you’re on a low-fat diet. It also increases the calories.
  • Canned fish is more likely to be wild-caught. In some cases, this is a good thing. In others, it depletes fish stocks and is less sustainable. Depending on the fishing method, it may also harm other wildlife.
  • Those who prefer to eat fresh ingredients may not like to use food that is already processed.

The benefits often outweigh the negatives here, especially since many canned fish products these days are sustainable and eco-friendly. It’s a simple matter of checking the label.

In many cases, consumers are wary of the health content of canned fish, too. Is it healthy for you?

Canned vs. Fresh Fish

You’ll be pleased to hear that canned fish and fresh fish are one and the same.  The USDA study also discovered that canned pink salmon contained more omega 3s than fresh salmon. [2]

In other words, canned fish is no worse for you than fresh fish. At least in terms of nutrition, the two are virtually the same. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are some differences when it comes to convenience, storage, and price.

What About Mercury?

Many people are now aware that the mercury levels in fish could present a risk for your health. Although mercury is acceptable in low doses, high amounts can be toxic. [3]

Unfortunately, mercury can also accumulate in the body over time. Fish are exposed to mercury due to water pollution, and then we humans ingest mercury when we eat seafood.

Some fish species can be quite high in mercury, including swordfish, albacore tuna, marlin, king mackerel, and northern pike.

Eating mercury can cause numerous health issues, but you would have to eat a lot of seafood to experience mercury poisoning. It’s still worth noting that children and women are more at risk. In particular, girls and women should be careful eating fish with lots of mercury, as it can lead to infertility or problems with fetuses during pregnancy. [4]

Fortunately, mercury is much less of a problem in smaller fish like sardines, which are relatively low in mercury compared to many other fish species. Sardines contain an average of 0.013 ppm of mercury; compare this with swordfish, which contains 0.995 ppm.

What About Sodium?

Canned fish also tends to be high in salt, meaning lots of sodium. For example, 3 ounces (85 g) of canned tuna contains 300 mg of sodium, and sardines can contain anywhere between 250-350 mg of sodium per one can of 3.75 ounces (92 g). [5]As you can see, eating lots of canned fish can lead to a very high sodium intake, which can be bad for you.

Eating high amounts of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, putting increased strain on your heart. So, for the sake of your heart health, it’s important to keep sodium levels low.

Once more, it’s essential to note that eating 2-3 cans of sardines a week won’t hurt you. However, eating canned sardines every day is probably not a good idea due to the small amounts of mercury and sodium that will build up over time.

Read Also: 5 Clever Ways to Fix Over-Salted Food

Which Canned Fish Is the Healthiest?

different types of canned fish

All canned fish is healthy in its own way. As a result, defining the ‘healthiest’ canned fish is no easy feat – it depends on your diet and what you are trying to achieve. That said, some picks are thought to have a high health rating that makes them beneficial for most people.

  1. Atlantic Mackerel: Mackerel is high in both omega 3s and omega 6s, making it superb for heart health. It also has very low mercury levels, making it a super healthy canned fish. Not to be confused with King Mackerel, which should be avoided.
  2. Sardines: Coming in at second place is sardines. This species is high in lots of nutrients that we don’t often get elsewhere. It also has a relatively low mercury content and is packed with omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Skipjack tuna: In third place is skipjack tuna, which is thought to decrease blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk. Skipjack tuna has a lot lower mercury levels than albacore tuna.

Sardines and tuna are often canned in different substances, and this can alter their perceived healthiness. For example, it’s common for tuna to come in water, brine, or oil. While brine is less fatty, it’s higher in salt; and while oil is less salty, it’s higher in fat. Select a product that fits with your dietary needs.

How Are Sardines Canned?

sardine canning process

Sardines are canned at a place called the ‘cannery.’ First, the workers remove the heads and tales and place the fish in the cans. Then the sardines are cook by steaming, oil or sauce is added, and the cans are sealed and sterilized, and boxed for shipping.

The canning process may vary from factory to factory. Sometimes the fish is fried instead of steaming, and olive oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil is added. Also, tomato, chili, and mustard sauces are popular options. The oil or sauce acts as a preservative to keep the fish fresh even when out of the fridge.

Watch this short Discovery Channel video below to see exactly how it is done.

Should We Drain Out the Oil or the Sauce?

If your sardines have come in a sauce, and you like the extra flavor, leave the sauce in your meal. Just keep in mind that sauce can add some extra salt and also calories as it may contain sugar and other carbohydrates.

sardines in tomato sauce

However, if your sardines are packaged in oil, the choice is yours. Some people prefer to leave the oil on because they like the taste. But bear in mind that oil adds extra fats to your meal. It can be healthy depending on the oil, though; olive oil can be good for you and add additional nutrients.

Of course, you can always drain the oil or the sauce out. The best way to remove the oil is to strain as much of it out as you can and then place the sardines onto a thin layer on a paper towel, which will absorb most of the remaining oil.

How to Store Canned Sardines After Opening?

Sometimes, you open the tin and wonder what to do with the leftover sardines. 

Opened canned fish should be treated in the same manner as for regular fish. Once opened, refrigerate leftover sardines in a tightly covered plastic or glass container for up to two days. It is best not to leave the sardines in the opened can, as it may become rusty or give out a metallic taste.

You can keep an unopened can of sardines in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard. An unopened tin can be stored for up to many years.

Final Thoughts

Canned sardines are healthy seafood packed with nutrients. Although sardines are good for you, you should avoid eating them every day; like most fish, sardines contain trace amounts of mercury and sodium.

As long as you enjoy sardines in moderation and in accordance with your diet, you should be fine.

About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, and writer, interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.