Paleo Plan

How and Why to Eat Sardines

sardinesI recently decided I don’t like to eat meat that much because the taste of it grosses me out. So I started eating tuna because it’s much more palatable to me.

Then my husband decided he doesn’t want to deal with a senile wife 30 years from now – brought on by mercury poisoning – and he 86-ed the tuna.

A few of my friends swear by sardines, so I decided I’d give them a try. Turns out they’re AMAZING! I eat them every day now. More on how I eat them in a moment, but first I want to tell you another reason, aside from them being delicious, that you should eat them.

They’re nutritional powerhouses.

My naturopath told me to take fish oil supplements, but I hate taking those things. They give me weird burps. Remember, omega 3 fatty acids help lower inflammation in your body, which means less heart disease, diabetes, pain, skin problems, and many other things. Well, it turns out that sardines have more omega 3’s in them than many supplements, plus the added benefit of calcium (from the bones), iron, potassium, vitamin B12, choline, and a ton of protein.

sardines

I eat the Wild Planet Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. According to the USDA food database, one 5 oz serving of sardines contains:

  • 295 calories
  • 16 g fat
  • 0 g carbs
  • 35 g protein (5 oz chicken breast has 44 g)
  • 541 mg calcium (8 oz of milk has 35o mg)
  • 4 mg iron (5 oz steak has 3 mg)
  • 563 mg potassium (medium banana has 422 mg)
  • 13 micrograms vitamin B12 (5 oz steak has 3.1 micrograms)
  • 106 mg choline (1 large egg has 146 mg)
  • 670 mg EPA (omega 3)
  • 722 mg DHA (omega 3)

So you can see that these nutrient amounts are really up there with some of the top sources of them. I mean, if you’re worried about calcium intake on Paleo, here’s your answer.

Now, let’s talk a little bit more about the omega 3’s.

If I were to take the fish oil supplement my ND wanted me to take, which was called LipiChol540 by PharmaceutiX and costs about $75 per 60 capsules… I would’ve gotten the following:

  • EPA per 2 capsules – 155 mg
  • DHA per 2 capsules – 105 mg
  • That means I’d have to take 14 capsules to get the same amount that’s in one can of sardines…

Another brand of omega 3 fish oil capsules that’s good and popular is Designs for Health. They have a product called OmegAvail Ultra, which is their highest dosage of omegas and costs about $75 for 240 capsules. It contains the following:

  • EPA per 2 capsules – 600 mg
  • DHA per 2 capsules – 400 mg
  • That means I’d have to take 4 capsules to get the same amount that’s in one can of sardines…

That’s a lot of pills.

So how do I eat them?

  1. I take a can of sardines and pour it all into a bowl. Yes, even the oil.
  2. Then I add half an avocado and about a teaspoon of mustard and smash it all up with a fork. It turns into sort of an artichoke dip-like consistency.
  3. Then I eat it with vegetables (carrots and celery do well) as a dip, or on potato or sweet potato chips (yes, I eat chips sometimes and I’m still alive), or on a tapioca crepe.

You could add anything you want to this mixture, just as you would a tuna salad. Maybe some peppers, spinach, cabbage, onions, olives, tomatoes, basil, or any other veggies you love. You could put it over a bed of lettuce if you wanted to, or spice it up with your favorite herbs.

I hope this gives you some inspiration to try out sardines! If anyone else has delicious recipes for them, please comment :)

Oh, and by the way, I told my naturopath the other day that I’ve been eating this every day and he told me not to worry about taking the pills as long as I’m doing that. Ha! Yay food!

One more thing…

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44 Comments

  1. I love sardines too! Yesterday I had them over a baked sweet potato with butter, onion, tomato, cucumber and spinach leaves. Or in a salad. Or on paleo pumpkin bread.
    Yum.

  2. I eat them right out of the can with my fingers or a fork.

  3. I eat sardines once in a great while, and usually with unhealthy white crackers of some sort or Wheat thins. I never thought of using them just like you would tuna and making a “sardine salad”. I am so unimaginative when it comes to food sometimes. I take the capsule Omega 3 supplements and I don’t really like that. So I’ll give this a try and see what happens!

  4. ashley

    I was a pescetarian for a long while and still cant take the thought of sardines..bleh

  5. John P.

    I’ve been eating them for about 6 mo.s. It was suggested to me after a piece of plaque broke off and caused a heart attack. I was lucky that the heart wasn’t damaged, as they put a stint in immediately. When I left the nutritionist suggested that I sardines were an excellent form of omega oils as well as the bones were a great calcium source. Any way they really are good with wasa rye cracker as well.

  6. I prefer them in water instead of oil and without avocado. MUCH less calories.

  7. Yuck!!! I have a very hard time getting any type of fish down me. What am I supposed to do? I do take fish oil capsules that contain sardines, herring and marcel and it doesn’t give me the burps. My husband loves sardines and I can’t get anywhere near him after he has eaten them. The smell alone makes me sick to my stomach. I used to eat tuna fish until it started making me feel sick. I can stomach a little bit of cod and orange roughy but that is the only fish that I can keep down and I don’t think they contain the omega’s we are looking for. Am I okay just taking the supplements?

  8. Diana

    Sardines and sriracha. Combo is fantastic!

  9. My grandpa drank excessive amounts of gin (insert: alcoholic) for a good part of his life and passed away at the ripe old age of 89. We all attribute his long life to his other habit….eating a can of sardines every day! :)

  10. Sarah

    I am so happy I ran across your blog today! This is the second thing I’ve read of yours and now I am on my way out the door to get sardines…
    One question…are there any paleo friendly hot sauces (I am very new to the paleo game…day 2) ??

    thank you so much! :)

  11. I do something very similar to your sardine recipe, except I haven’t added the avocado. And when using any kind of fish, I always chop up a good handful of cilantro, as it is a known detoxifier of heavy metals, and that would include mercury. Also throw in some parsley, as that too, has detox elements.

    Really enjoyed your article, and will be checking back often.

  12. I’ve finally eaten sardines twice…sautéed with some broccoli and red pepper flakes. I don’t think I could eat them straight out of the can!

  13. kathy

    Struggle all my life with weight. I have diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis. Only wish I could afford a health practitioner that didn’t shove carbs down me. I am trying to read all I can about Paleo. Been trying to do it for a week now but am feeling very tired and am sleeping a lot.

    I’m 58, not using meds for diabetes or M.S. Feeling much better with my sugars these last few days but tired. God, I hope this works. I’m 90 lbs overweight and raising grand kids. Sooo need to feel better.

  14. Brainbuster

    The fish oil supplement you compared them to is terrible!

    I have right here DoctorsNutra Ultra Pure Omega3. Cost: $18
    EPA content per 3 capsules: 860 mg!!!

    Your supplements cost $75 ??? and give you 155 mg of EPA per 2 capsules?

    Why are they so expensive?

    • Neely Quinn

      Brainbuster – Yeah, they’re pretty expensive. They’re top quality, 3rd party assayed brands that are encapsulated such that they don’t go rancid very easily, etc., etc. It’s hard to find a high quality brand that doesn’t cost a lot. I don’t mess around with fish oil supplements because the oil within them is so prone to oxidation.

  15. Brainbuster

    Great recipe! Thank you!

    Mustard, avocado, and sardines (I got mine with tomato paste in a can), all mashed together.
    It made great dip for carrots and chips.
    I’ve really been wanting to eat sardines for all their benefits, for years, but quit eating them because they’re so, um, gross.
    But now I can eat them every day and enjoy it!

  16. George H

    My feeling is to eat the oil with the sardine is not the best option, simply because the oil included is just not the high quality olive oil I prefer. Even if I don’t mind oil, I do when it is in excess, I would prefer at least extra virgin.

    But here is a question, in case you have some thought, which I don’t expect most people will.

    Does the Omega-3 in the sardines dissolve in the oil (or water) in the can that you must eat the oil as well just in order to reap the Omega-3 from the sardines?

  17. As a long-time sardine (and Mackerel) eater, one thing I’ve always struggled with is how to eat them directly from the can without getting oil all over me the rest of the nearby world. E.g., right now I’m in a hotel room and used about a 1/4 roll of TP cleaning up after myself and my sardine breakfast.

    Does anyone have practical tips to address this issue?

    Thx, Jon

  18. Steve Bergman

    The blog post implies that tuna is high in mercury compounds. This is a demonstrable factual error. Canned tuna, e.g. has, for all practical purposes, none. If we wanted to split hairs, we’d say that canned tuna contains ~1 part in 13 million Hg, which is, clinically speaking, nothing. While it’s true that sardines run generally even closer to nothing (~1 part in 100 million), both fish are *far* below an any amount that could possibly be problematic.

    People should practice thinking quantitatively rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to insignificant amounts of substances. Pretty much any food you might eat contains mercury. And the relative amounts would be surprising to most. e.g. it’s been shown that vegetables grown closer to high traffic roads contain more Hg compounds than those grown farther from roads. As a consequence, vegetables grown on large farms have less mercury than those grown on small farms. Which means that organic vegetables contain more mercury that factory farmed vegetables. But the amounts we are talking about are, as in the case of most fish, quite insignificant, clinically.

    • Neely Quinn

      Steve Bergman – Do you have anything to substantiate this information? I’d love to see it.

  19. Jon:
    I struggled with this too since I eat sardines at work – now I don’t peel the lid off completely, just enough so that i can eat all the sardines. WAY less splatters

  20. Jon:

    I also struggled with this issue, so much that one time I actually had a can flip out of my hand and land on my colleague two cubes over. Now THAT was emabarrasing. A few months later after he forgave me I came up with a way to eat the sardines, without causing a risk to anyone within the vicinity. I just pulled out a paper plate, placed my sardine can in the middle, and then really focused to ensure I didn’t lose my grip or get distracted. S l o w l y opening the can and finding “I can do this!” Yes! It’s been really good so far.

    Rosco

  21. Paul Sullivan

    I just tried some lightly smoked Portuguese sardines packed in olive oil by Bela. They were larger than what I expected from a 4 oz. tin. The taste was great ( I had them with Cheez-its ) and totally defeated all my foul notions of what sardines taste like. I also think they would go well with fried eggplant slices.

  22. I live a very Mediterranean diet. Will eating sardines make me gain weight? I love them but they are high in fat

    • Li – No. Not unless you eat way more sardines than your body needs calorically.

  23. fiona mcbride

    I adore sardines, tinned with lemon and olive oil are my favourite. I am addicted to them and often eat them daily with lots of salad/raw foods of all types plus goats feta cheese. Sometimes I add hummus to the salad so no need for other dressings
    I stay slim 6 stone uk size 6 eating healthy foods like above but never feel deprived not eating junk or food without any nutritional benefits
    nice to see others love sardines too

  24. While I’m all for a healthy diet, I think some people take it too far. Except for honoring specific food allergies, or metabolic diseases such as celiac, proper nutrition can be achieved from a broad variety of foods, including those that some view as ‘unhealthy’. People have been eating processed foods for years, and there’s no evidence that it shortens lifespan, or affects quality of life.

    I understand and respect vegetarians, and hope they eat the right food combinations that give them enough nutrient. I don’t understand veganism, but I’m sure that those who practice it have a reason. We appreciate wildlife, including lions and tigers and bears (oh,my!), and they are carnivores, so why can’t we be carnivores too?

    That said, I like my sardines with whole wheat, roasted tomato and garlic triscuits…finely diced onion with a little blue cheese dressing on top (horrors!), and dijon mustard. It’s a delicious treat….and the sardines are the star of the show.

  25. I like sardines chopped up and mixed with my tossed salad. I’m sure I would like them on crackers or rye bread but I am trying to eschew breads. I could try them along with a little cheese and maybe grapes and apple slices as an assortment on a plate.

    As for the above comment about processed foods, there have been numerous recent studies suggesting (proving?) that processed foods and the chemicals and trans fats they contain could be contributing to diabetes and arthritis, along with many other ailments that have been steadily increasing in the American population in recent decades. When the good nutrients are processed out of whole foods by heat and milling it stands to reason that we’re not getting the best nutrition.

    I am not a vegetarian — more of a flexitarian — but I remember a National Geographic Magazine article of a few years ago about centenarians around the world and their eating and lifestyle habits. It happens that the longest-lived folks in the United States are Seventh-Day Adventists, a group which teaches and practices vegetarianism. I vividly remember a picture of a 100-yr-old lady pumping gas!

    Personally, I like the freedom of making a variety of wise food choices — organic fruits and vegetables of many colors, whole grains, omega-3 eggs, grass-fed lean beef, oily fish, olive oil, dark chocolate — with perhaps some minimally processed foods such as rolled oats, granola, whole-grain pizza crust, yogurt, whatever will make eating an enjoyable and healthy experience.

  26. David S.

    Joyce,

    I’d like to see some peer-reviewed journal articles that corroborate your statement, “People have been eating processed foods for years, and there’s no evidence that it shortens lifespan, or affects quality of life.”.

    You can’t be serious about that assertion.

  27. janine

    I eat them in hot sauce and scramble eggs in them.. so good!

  28. I eat six cans of fish a day (all sorts, not just sardines) with oats for breakfast and salad for lunch.

    I have lost 115lbs over the past year.

    Yummy. And I feel so fit and well.

  29. I eat Wild Planet sardines as well and they are great brand. However pound for pound, when it comes to Omega 3’s, the Vital Choice brand leaves everyone behind. Sardines in water from Vital Choice contains 1712mg of EPA and 1712mg of DHA in one can!

    With regards to Tuna and mercury content. I would read this article about how Selenum, which is high in Tuna, protects against Mercury toxicity. Comparable to the egg yolk cholesterol myth? you decide.

    http://chriskresser.com/is-eating-fish-safe-a-lot-safer-than-not-eating-fish

  30. Just ate my first can of sardines.It was ok, but i am trying to eat high protein foods.

    • Kinsey Jackson

      HBG,
      Kudos to you for slamming down a can of sardines! There are many benefits to including more protein in the diet, which we previously wrote about here. Also, you may want to check out our article detailing minimum and maximum protein requirements. Keep up the great work! :-)

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CN

  31. As a kid I loved sardines dipped in vinegar as a delicious snack. I haven’t eaten sardines in years. After reading this article I’m thinking I’ll incorporate them into my lunches next week! Thanks for sharing! :-)

  32. anony mouse

    Sardines are awesome with a simple home made salsa of fresh tomatoes, onion, lime juice, cilantro.

  33. Robert F

    I love sardines too! Glad you lost all of that weight. Have a problem with sardines though and I am not sure why. I recently returned to sardines after finding out that the Season cans are bpa free. Once I start eating the sardines straight out of the can or in a salad, I get extreme cravings for more and I end up eating another can or two which is ridiculous. That should not happen as the ingredients are very healthy. That used to happen to me, sometimes, with chicken until I switched to certified organic. Suspecting a lining in the can as I have chemical sensitivities and on/off type two diabetes and low thyroid, but suspect that I might be a food addict as I get extreme cravings once I start eating cheese too even when certified organic or imported from Italy (gmo free). I walk 1 hour five days per week. Before returning to the sardines, I cheated with my low glycemic diet and gained ten pounds (5’10” tall, 275) and since binging on sardines yesterday, about 10 cans throughout the day, am now 280.
    All of the other posts are positive, so there is something strange with me. Years ago, I had chelation therapy for antimony and lead – that MD said I had chemical sensitivities and diabetes and years later diagnosed the thyroid issue. I suspect the weight gain from all of the chem trails in NJ right now – extreme white out conditions – several days per week – but do not understand the sardine cravings. Thanks for reading my long blog comment. Please help with any constructive advice.

    • Kinsey Jackson

      Hi Robert,
      It’s hard to know what those intense sardine cravings could be about! Sometimes people crave foods because their bodies are deficient in a nutrient that is provided by that food. Sometimes we crave foods for psychological reasons (i.e. addiction, emotional eating), and sometimes people crave foods because they are allergic to them and when they eat them they get a small endorphin rush! In any case, a couple cans/day of sardines shouldn’t be problematic, but ideally you might consider switching up the fish source, and consuming a variety of omega-3 rich fishies. By adding variety to your diet, you minimize the risk of developing food intolerance/allergies, you minimize over-consuming any one food source (which can lead to excesses in certain nutrients), and you diversify the nutrients in your diet. Best of luck to you friend!

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS®

  34. Kristina

    I’ve been eating these sardines for a while now.

    Jon: I pour off a bit of the oil, then mash up the rest to mixed it in. The fish is usually dry enough to soak up the amount of oil I want to eat, but not slosh around.

  35. Robert M Fried

    Update – I switched to the Wild Planet brand sardines and felt satisfied with no cravings as I did with that other brand. Going to have them now in a nice salad. Thanks for this great blog!

  36. you totally just saved me! i’ve been staring at this darn tin of sardines for a week now, trying to get the courage to even open it. imagine my delight when i did, and found that they didn’t have heads! LOL! i simply was not able to stomach the thought of popping them in my mouth like others suggest…your avocado suggestion saved the day, and it’s delicious! thanks!!!

  37. I started eating sardines after I saw Dr. Oz eat some. I buy the ones at Trader Joe’s that have only two ingredients in the can: Sardines and spring water. I eat them right out of the can. Sometimes I will pour them into a small bowl and eat them just like that. Doing the low carb diet, so sardines are included in my menu. So glad the heads are removed!

  38. When I was a boy, my grandfather would always eat sardines.. Always in olive oil. He said anything else was garbage. When he used to get together with a bunch of his friends, he’d go over his friend’s house and introduce me to about 6 or 7 other people.. All gathered there to eat lunch.. The lunch was sardines.. They used to put them on bread and make a sandwich out of them or eat them plain but the old people seem to know what they need.. At least that generation did.. So for those who think sardines look gross.. I understand but they taste pretty good and I got over it real quick as a kid so it couldnt have been that bad.

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