Anchovies vs Sardines: which is healthier?

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

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

You can eat these fresh fish, but they are often canned, which changes their nutrient composition. For example, anchovies are commonly canned in salt, which makes 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 around the world (1, 2).

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

Anchovies are smaller than sardines and range 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 are commonly canned in oil or water to extend their shelf life (3).

While sardines are processed at 113–160 ºC (235–320 ºF) before canning, anchovies are often cured in salted 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 in length, while canned anchovies tend to be significantly more salty.

Sardines are a rich source of vitamins B12 and D while anchovies are slightly richer 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 sardines and anchovies in oil are as follows (6, 7):


Sardines and anchovies are an excellent source of healthy fats, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Sardines are richer 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 benefits 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).

However, if you are comparing canned varieties, you should pay attention to the very high sodium content of anchovies. Anyone watching your salt intake may want to buy canned sardines or cook one of these fresh fish instead.

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

It can help brain health

Sardines and anchovies are excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which are found in abundance in some fish and can promote brain function (6, 7, 89, 10).

Inadequate omega-3 intake can increase the risk of mental illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression (11).

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

It can support heart health

The omega-3s in these fish can also improve heart health by reducing triglyceride levels and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These effects help reduce the 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 per day helped the general population and diabetics, while people with high triglycerides needed four grams per day to reduce risk (14).

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

However, selenium, present in high quantities 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 can promote brain and heart health. These fish also provide abundant amounts of protein and other nutrients.

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

A sodium-rich diet can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease (19).

Sodium content

Both sardines and anchovies are naturally low in sodium. However, canned varieties contain more sodium. At just 3.5 ounces (100 grams), canned anchovies pack 153% of the DV for this mineral (5, 7).

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

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

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

Therefore, a varied diet low in sodium and high in low-fat fruits, vegetables, and 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 talking to your doctor.


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

On a global scale, fish consumption is steadily growing and, with it, concerns about overfishing and the sustainability of fish 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 fish population is too small to reproduce at a rate that replaces the stock that has been harvested (24).

In particular, sardines and anchovies are a rapidly growing population because they reproduce within a few 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, reproductive habits and migratory routes of the species (22, 26).

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a popular international non-profit organization that aims to protect the oceans and fish supply. Its blue MSC mark is found on some seafood products it has certified (27).


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

You can add canned sardines and anchovies to sandwiches, salads, pasta and pizza, 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 some crackers.

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

Numerous regions have their own take on sardines and anchovies, 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 cook them fresh as easily as using them from a can.

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

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

Canned anchovies are very high in sodium because they are cured 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 both fish will significantly reduce the sodium content.

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