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14 Facts About Sardines

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Sardines are a type of small, oily fish in the herring family. The name “sardine” refers to several species of fish, usually on the smaller side, that are often eaten by humans. Sardines live in large schools and are abundant in certain areas, making them a relatively inexpensive fish that has been eaten for centuries around the world. They are commonly canned or smoked to preserve them.

Canned sardines are packed tightly in rows, which led to the phrase “packed like sardines.” Sardines are high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, and selenium. They have also had historical importance as an accessible source of protein, sometimes called “poor man’s protein.” Modern sardine fishing and canning methods help maintain healthy oceans while providing a long-lasting form of this important fish.


1. Sardines are named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia

The small silver fish take their name from the Italian island of Sardinia, where they were once found in abundance.

2. They are very high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids

Sardines contain high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have been found to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of developing heart disease.

3. Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12

Important for nerve tissue and red blood cell health, sardines are loaded with vitamin B12. Just 3.5 ounces provides over 300% of your recommended daily intake.

4. They are loaded with bone-building calcium

In addition to vitamin D and phosphorus, sardines contain high amounts of calcium, making them an excellent food for building and maintaining bone strength.

5. Sardines provide selenium, an important antioxidant

This essential mineral boosts the immune system and thyroid function. It also helps regenerate vitamin C in the body.

6. The fish have very low mercury levels

Unlike larger fish such as tuna, sardines are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain and do not accumulate high amounts of mercury in their tissues.

7. Sardines were once widely known as “poor man’s protein”

In the early 20th century, sardines were an inexpensive source of protein available to people across social classes. Canned sardines helped feed soldiers during wartime.

8. They are quite low in calories

A standard 3.5-ounce serving contains just 190 calories, yet packs in 23 grams of protein. This makes sardines an incredibly nutrient-dense food.

9. Most sardines are caught wild

Unlike tuna, which is often ranched, sardines are most often caught wild in large nets, which helps maintain healthy oceans.

Grilled Sardines.
Grilled Sardines.

10. Sardines were made famous by their cameos on pizza

Sardines became trendy pizza toppings in the 1940s when soldiers returning from Italy began requesting the combo stateside.

11. Much is still unknown about sardine migration

Sardines travel long distances in large schools, but since they swim hundreds of meters below the surface, many mysteries remain about their seasonal movements.

12. They are quite low on the food chain

Feeding on tiny plankton, these small fish help form the crucial foundation of the aquatic food web.

13. Some cultures use sardines to make fermented fish sauce

Known as garum by ancient Romans, liquid made from salted, fermented sardines adds a powerful umami kick to dishes.

14. Canned sardines last for several years

Thanks to canning, sardines keep their nutrition, flavor, and texture for up to four years in the pantry.


These tiny nutrient-packed fish have fed people for millennia. While fresh sardines only last for a few days, canned and smoked sardines make this important protein available year-round. Easy to eat, affordable, and loaded with nutrients vital to human health, sardines deserve a place in modern diets.

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