Anchovies vs. Sardines: Which Is Healthier?

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

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

You can eat these fish fresh, but they’re often canned — which changes their nutrient composition. For example, anchovies are commonly canned in salt, making them very high in sodium.

Sardines and anchovies are a source of healthy omega-3 fats, 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 worldwide (1, 2).

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

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

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

While sardines are processed at 235–320ºF (113–160ºC) before canning, anchovies are often cured in saltwater beforehand, which gives them their distinct salty flavor (4).

Summary

Sardines and anchovies are oily fish that can be cooked fresh or eaten out of a can. Sardines are slightly larger in length, while canned anchovies tend to be significantly 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 increases the sodium content significantly (5).

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

Summary

Sardines and anchovies are a great source of healthy fats, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Sardines are higher in vitamins B12 and D while anchovies boast more iron, zinc, niacin, and protein.

Sardines and anchovies are similar in terms of health benefits.

One of the biggest advantages of fatty 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).

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

Furthermore, if you have questions about getting omega-3s in your diet, consult a qualified health professional.

May aid brain health

Sardines and anchovies are great sources of omega-3 fats, which are found in abundance in certain fish and may promote brain function (6, 7, 8th9, 10).

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

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

May support heart health

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

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

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

All the same, 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 may increase heart disease risk (15, 16, 17, 18).

Summary

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

If you eat canned anchovies, you may need to be mindful of salt content.

A high sodium diet may lead to an increase in blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease (19).

sodium content

Both sardines and anchovies are naturally low in sodium. However, canned varieties contain more sodium. In just 3.5 ounces (100 grams), canned anchovies pack 153% of 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).

One 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 those with high blood pressure, emphasizes fruits, veggies, and low fat dairy (20).

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

As such, a varied diet that’s low in sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy may assist in lowering and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

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

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

summary

Canned anchovies are often very high in sodium, which may be a health risk for those with high blood pressure. Canned sardines are much lower in this mineral.

On a global scale, fish consumption has been growing steadily — and with it, concerns about overfishing and the sustainability of seafood stocks (22).

While different organizations have varying standards for sustainable fishing, the aim is to prevent overfishing, minimize fishing’s environmental impact, and enforce certain rules and regulations (22, 23).

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

Notably, sardines and anchovies are a fast growing population because they breed within a matter of 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 the season, fishing methods, and the species’ breeding habits and migration routes (22, 26).

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a popular international nonprofit organization that aims to protect oceans and seafood supply. Its blue MSC stamp can be found on certain seafood products that it has certified (27).

Summary

Sardines and anchovies can breed within a matter of days and are considered relatively sustainable sources of fish.

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

Sardines are milder and less salty, so you can even eat them straight out of a can or on some crackers.

Plus, you can eat these fish fresh if they’re available at your local fish market, farmers market, or grocery store. Fresh versions aren’t as salty as canned, and you can grill, steam, or fry them.

Numerous regions have their own spin on sardines and anchovies, whether fresh or canned. If you’re unsure where to start, try these recipes:

Summary

Different cultures have their own recipes for sardines and anchovies. You can just as easily cook them fresh as use them out of a can.

Sardines and anchovies are oily fish that are commonly added to pizza, pasta, and other dishes.

They’re nutritionally similar, both being a great source of omegas-3 fats. 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’re cured in saltwater, which also gives them their distinct, strong flavor.

Although neither is necessarily healthier than the other, anyone who’s watching their salt intake may need to avoid canned anchovies. Cooking fresh varieties of either fish will cut down significantly on the sodium content.

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