Anchovies vs sardines: which is healthier?


Sardines and anchovies are small varieties of oily fish. Due to their size and similar culinary uses, they are often confused with each other, but they are not the same.

Anchovies are slightly smaller and have dark grey-red flesh. Sardines are larger with white flesh. The flavor of sardines is also less intense than that of anchovies, especially canned varieties.

You can eat these fish fresh, but they are often canned, which changes their nutritional composition. For example, anchovies are usually canned in salt, which makes them very high in sodium.

Sardines and anchovies are a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, selenium, iron and vitamin B12.

This article explains the differences between sardines and anchovies.

Sardines and anchovies are saltwater fish found in oceans around the world (1, 2).

Sardines are small, elongated and fatty. They are silver in color and range in size from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) (1, 2).

Anchovies are smaller than sardines, ranging from 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 cm). They have a green and blue back with a silver underside (1, 2).

Although both can be cooked fresh, they are usually canned in oil or water to extend their shelf life (3).

While sardines are processed at 235-320°F (113-160°C) before canning, anchovies are often dried in salt water beforehand, which gives them their distinct salty flavor (4).


Sardines and anchovies are fatty fish that can be cooked fresh or eaten canned. Sardines are slightly longer, while canned anchovies tend to be much saltier.

Sardines are a rich source of vitamins B12 and D while anchovies are slightly higher in iron, zinc, niacin and protein.

Both fish are naturally low in sodium. However, canning significantly increases the sodium content (5).

The nutrients in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of canned sardines and anchovies in oil are as follows (6, 7):


Sardines and anchovies are an excellent source of healthy fats, as well as many vitamins and minerals. Sardines are higher in vitamins B12 and D while anchovies contain more iron, zinc, niacin and protein.

Sardines and anchovies are similar in terms of health benefits.

One of the biggest benefits of oily fish is that they provide omega-3 fatty acids. They also offer protein and a range of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, selenium, niacin, and vitamins B12 and D (6, 7).

However, if you are comparing canned varieties, you should be aware of the very high sodium content of anchovies. Anyone watching their salt intake may want to buy canned sardines instead — or cook either of these fresh fish.

Also, if you have any questions about getting omega-3s in your diet, consult a qualified healthcare professional.

May help brain health

Sardines and anchovies are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in abundance in some fish and may support brain function (6, 7, 8, 9, ten).

Inadequate intake of omega-3s may increase your risk of mental disorders like Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression (11).

In a 6-month study of adults over 60 with mild mental impairment, those who took omega-3s daily experienced improvements in brain function, compared to those who received an oil capsule. olive (12).

May support heart health

The omega-3s in these fish may also improve heart health by reducing triglyceride levels and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These effects help reduce your risk of blood clots by reducing inflammatory markers in your body (13).

One review found that omega-3s reduced the risk of heart disease, but the results depended on the dosage. One gram a day helped the general population and people with diabetes, while people with high triglycerides needed four grams a day to lower their risk (14).

However, more research is needed to support some of these claims.

Nonetheless, selenium, found in high amounts in both fish, plays a role in reducing oxidative stress and maintaining heart health. Studies have shown that a deficiency in this mineral can increase the risk of heart disease (15, 16, 17, 18).


The omega-3s in sardines and anchovies may support brain and heart health. These fish also provide large amounts of protein and other nutrients.

If you eat canned anchovies, you may need to pay attention to the salt content.

A diet high in sodium can cause your blood pressure to rise, which increases your risk of heart disease (19).

Sodium content

Sardines and anchovies are naturally low in sodium. However, canned varieties contain more sodium. In just 3.5 ounces (100 grams), canned anchovies contain 153% DV for this mineral (5, 7).

Canned sardines aren’t as much of a concern because they only contain 21% of the DV in the same serving size (6).

A study in 412 people with high blood pressure compared a high-sodium diet with a high- and low-sodium DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). DASH, a popular diet for people with high blood pressure, emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products (20).

Those on the low-sodium DASH diet saw a significant decrease in blood pressure, compared to the high-sodium control diet (21).

Thus, a varied diet that is low in sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products can help lower and maintain healthy blood pressure.

If you’re watching your sodium intake, be sure to limit yourself to a few canned sardines at a time and consider avoiding canned anchovies.

If sodium intake is a concern, consider speaking with your doctor.


Canned anchovies are often very high in sodium, which can pose a health risk to people with high blood pressure. Canned sardines are much lower in this mineral.

Globally, fish consumption has been on the rise – and with it, concerns about overfishing and the sustainability of seafood stocks (22).

Although different organizations have different standards for sustainable fishing, the goal is to prevent overfishing, minimize the environmental impact of fishing, and enforce certain rules and regulations (22, 23).

A species is considered overfished when the population of fish is too small to reproduce at a rate to replace the stock that has been harvested (24).

In particular, sardines and anchovies are a rapidly growing population as they reproduce within days, so they can be considered a sustainable source of fish. However, overfishing remains a risk (25).

The sustainability of any fish species depends not only on the total catch, but also on the season, fishing methods, breeding habits and migration routes of the species (22, 26).

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a grassroots international non-profit organization that aims to protect the oceans and seafood supply. Its blue MSC label can be found on certain seafood products it has certified (27).


Sardines and anchovies can reproduce within days and are considered relatively sustainable sources of fish.

You can add canned sardines and anchovies to sandwiches, salads, pastas and pizzas – although you can probably get away with adding more sardines than anchovies due to their salt content and flavor profiles.

Sardines are sweeter and less salty, so you can even eat them straight from a can or on crackers.

Additionally, you can eat these fish fresh if they are available at your local fish store, farmer’s market, or grocery store. Fresh versions are not as salty as canned ones and you can grill, steam or fry them.

Many regions have their own version of sardines and anchovies, whether fresh or canned. If you don’t know where to start, try these recipes:


Different cultures have their own recipes for sardines and anchovies. You can both cook them fresh or use them canned.

Sardines and anchovies are fatty fish that are commonly added to pizzas, pastas, and other dishes.

They are nutritionally similar, with both being an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are higher in vitamins B12 and D while anchovies offer more protein, iron, zinc and niacin.

Canned anchovies are very high in sodium because they are dried in salted water, which also gives them their distinct and strong flavor.

While neither is necessarily healthier than the other, anyone watching their salt intake may need to avoid canned anchovies. Cooking fresh varieties of either fish will significantly reduce the sodium content.


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