The healthiest sardines in a can are hard to find because sardines vary a lot in quality and nutrition. Brand-to-brand differences can be like experiencing entirely different foods.
You may even cringe at the thought of a mushy, fishy experience and waste a lot of money pursuing the best one out there. You are not alone.
There are some really GOOD sardines out there and also some really BAD ones, as far as taste and health benefits. Pursuing a good sardine is a very important task; it will safely boost your omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients.
Sardines are also a great food to have on hand when food is flying off the shelves due to a pandemic. As a bonus, sardines are more nutritious than most foods that many people are stocking in their cupboards
Like most Americans, you probably don’t get enough omega-3 fats in your diet. Sardines are a great way to eat fish that is sustainable and that is good for you too.
Here, I will review the important criteria to get the best sardines out there, the health benefits of sardines, and review sardine brands for you so that you can make an informed choice.
Table of Contents
Types of sardines
You will find many names of sardines out there, but they refer to similar types of small fish in the Sardina family. These common names can include:
- Clupea pilchardus
- Brisling sardines-younger, smaller sardines
- Round sardines
- White sardines
Flavorings in sardines
Sardines vary by taste preference and also by flavorings that are added. The ingredients added can also greatly affect the health benefits of sardines.
- Olive Oil Sardines to be healthy
- Packed in Marinara or tomatoes-healthy, but usually saltier than oil-packed
- Sardines in Mustard-moderate in sodium typically
- Spicy Sardines-adding spices can make the sardines more delicious and more healthy
- Packed in Water is usually lowest in sodium, but sometimes less flavorful for some people’s palates
Most brands have all of these types of flavor variations too.
Best healthy sardine brands ranked
|1||Matiz Sardines||*Favorite for taste, Spanish gourmet, a wild-caught natural fish, certified B corporation||Slightly more expensive, more sodium than some|
|2||King Oscar||Richest in omega-3 fats at 3000 mg per can (1000 mg EPA and 1000 mg DHA per serving), 6 packs of 4.4 oz cans, Organic extra-virgin olive oil, From Portugal wild-caught, Firm, meaty texture||More Expensive|
|3||Santo Amaro||Iberian style from Portugal, sardines canned with the highest standards, 100% Natural Canned Wild Sardines in Natural Tomato Sauce, with low acidity tomatoes, Meaty texture, not mushy||Too salty for some people, but still only 200 mg of sodium|
|4||Vital Choice||Best sardines in a can-water variety, No salt added, Kosher sardines, Larger sardines with a firm texture, Friend of the Sea Certified, 1700 mg omega 3 per serving||Most Expensive|
|5||Season||Taste quality is variable, choose the smoked variety for the best taste||Less flavor when canned in water|
|6||Connetable||No added salt, Wild-caught & Responsibly sourced sardines, 3rd party certified, Bargain price compared to many others, Wild-caught from Morocco||Less flavor when canned in water|
More Information About Healthy Sardines Brands
Here are the important details about each healthy sardine brand that you may want to know in terms of quality, nutrition, and taste.
*Please note that there have been recent shortages of sardines due to shifts in food purchasing.
Matiz Sardines in Olive Oil, Value Pack
Matiz Sardines in olive oil features:
- Spanish gourmet
- Wild-caught natural fish
- Certified B Corporation
- Moderate sodium content
- 4.2 Ounce Can
- My personal favorite for taste: has a firm wild salmon-like texture
- Variety pack including spicy wild sardines
- Free of artificial ingredients
- Some reviews state that you can detect fish scales.
- In my opinion, this wasn’t a concern at all and I can’t even tell what people are talking about.
If you want a pack of sardines that has an extra zip of flavor, my go-to is the Matiz spicy sardine in a can. Don’t worry, the spice is overall mild and won’t make your mouth on fire.
Downside: a bit more expensive than some of its competitors, but makes up for it in taste. Contains 340 mg of sodium per serving, which may be too much sodium for some people.
King Oscar Wild Caught Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
King Oscar olive oil with jalapeno features:
- Skinless and Boneless Mediterranean Style Mackerel Fillets
- With hot jalapeno peppers
- 4.05 Ounce, Pack of 12
- BPA free
- Small, high-quality brisling sardines
- Wild caught sardines
- Moderate sodium (330 mg per can)
Note that these are brisling, which means they are smaller fish. The smaller sardines tend to be softer in texture, as this variety. The spice helps to balance out the stronger flavor of sardines compared to other brislings.
Downside: for people limiting sodium, a better choice would be Connetable or Season brand.
SANTO AMARO European Wild Sardines in Tomato Sauce
Santo Amaro sardines features:
- 12 packs of 120 grams per can (about 4 oz)
- Iberian style from Portugal sardines canned with the highest standards
- 100% Natural
- Canned Wild Sardines in Natural Tomato Sauce, low acidity tomatoes
- Meaty texture, not mushy
- BPA free cans
- Great firm texture
- Lower sodium sardines at 190 mg
Iberian-style sardines have a great texture and flavor. Less fishy than many brands out there, so you will love the flavor and value of this 12-pack.
Drawbacks: contains sunflower oil instead of extra virgin olive oil.
Vital Choice Wild Sardines
Vital Choice brand wild sardines in olive oil features:
- *Richest in omega-3 fats at 3000 mg per can (1000 mg EPA and 1000 mg DHA per serving)
- 6 pack of 4.4 oz cans
- Organic extra-virgin olive oil
- From Portugal wild-caught
- Firm, meaty texture
For nutrition and quality, this is probably the best brand out there. While not as big of a company, this is one to seek out if you are trying to be healthy.
Season Brand Sardines in Water
Season Brand sardines features:
- Best sardines in a can-water variety
- No salt added
- Kosher sardines
- Larger sardine with a firm texture
- Both people and pet-friendly
- 4.375-Ounce Tins (Pack of 12)
- Friend of the Sea Certified
- BPA free can
- 1700 mg omega 3 per serving
If you want a low-calorie sardine, water-packed is the way to go. Be aware that the taste and texture aren’t as rich when they are packed in water.
Sardines in water nutrition amounts are quite good- they are typically lower sodium, mineral, and vitamin-rich, and have all of the concentrated omega-3 fats.
Downside: the version in tomato sauce is very salty at 560 mg per serving, but there is a no-salt-added variety in water.
Connetable Sardines features:
- 2400 mg of omega-3 fats per serving
- Lowest price of the healthy sardines brands
- Only 41 mg of sodium
- High in vitamin D
- Wild-caught and responsibly sourced sardines with 3rd party certification
- BPA free
- Kosher Certified
Drawbacks: less taste because there is no sodium added.
Brands to avoid
Chicken of the Sea sardines in water
Not recommended for taste because of its mushy texture.
- However, if you don’t care about that, these are the best value as far as cost goes.
Brunswick sardine fillets
- Bones are taken out so they lose their nutritional value.
- Good rating for health, but the taste isn’t ideal.
Are Canned Sardines Healthy?
Most people know about the heart health benefits of fish but may not think to grab a can of sardines. Sardine health benefits include:
Sardines’ calories are all healthy ones.
Tip: Choose sardines extra virgin olive oil-style to give them an extra dose of antioxidants.
Bonus: sardines are rich in iodine, which supports brain function, thyroid function, and breast health.
High in omega-3 fats
Sardines are packed with omega-3 fats for health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that reduces inflammation, helps boost brain health and mood, and may reduce diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Low in mercury
Fish are healthy, but you don’t want a bunch of mercury served up with your meals. This is because mercury definitely has negative effects on your health.
Wild sardines are on the list of the lowest mercury fish out there, so you can feel good about eating them. Sardines are among the safest fish to eat for this reason.
Eating fish like sardines reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is because sardines have lots of omega-3 fats, which protect artery and heart tissues.
Fish like sardines also help improve blood triglyceride levels and help the body with the healthy metabolism of cholesterol.
If that wasn’t enough, fish also reduces inflammation in the vascular system.
Omega-3 fats from fish help with brain growth, development, and maintenance. They help improve mood, may improve memory, and more.
This is because omega-3 fats help with neurotransmitter function, brain structure, mood, and much more.
Sardines also have a compound linked to improved focus and memory called phospholipids.
Sardines Pregnancy Benefits
Low in mercury, sardines are a good choice for pregnant women. Since they are so nutritious, they support a healthy baby and a healthy mom.
Omega 3 fats like DHA and EPA support healthy brain development in utero. Eating fish during pregnancy may even reduce the risk of preterm birth.
Good for joints
Healthy joints require omega-3 fats and sardines are an obvious choice for joint health for this reason. They also have high nutrient content to support joint health.
Healthy for bones
Sardines contain bone-building minerals, including calcium, selenium, magnesium, selenium, and phosphorus. These minerals support healthy bone strength.
Sardines also have collagen, which may boost bone health.
Fish like sardines may temper a loss of immune tolerance that occurs in diseases like autoimmune diseases.
For example, eating fatty fish like sardines may reduce the chances of getting these illnesses, such as type 1 diabetes, and reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Want to stay young? Eating sardines may help. This is because sardines are full of type 1 collagen and omega 3’s. Both of these compounds reduce the appearance of aging and support healthy skin tissue.
Unlike some types of fish, sardines are very sustainable if wild-caught.
To find the most sustainable sardines out there, look for a sardine brand with the following labels:
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo
- Friend of the Sea logo
- Pacific sardines
- The Certified B Corporation logo guarantees the highest environmental standards.
- Greenpeace brands
A note about the sardine taste
I’ve tasted many sardine brands, and quality can vary dramatically between them.
In other words, you sometimes get what you pay for cheap brands that often taste quite awful and may throw you off the taste of sardines for good.
Trying high-quality sardines should be a pleasurable experience. Even if it isn’t, the 4-ounce cans still won’t set you back much cash.
The healthiest sardines are often also the tastiest sardines.
Criteria I used here for the best sardine brands include:
- sustainability certification
- no genetically engineered ingredients
- high ratings for taste
What about organic sardines?
Since sardines live in the sea and are wild, there is no way to establish organic certification with these fish.
I do recommend looking for added oils that are organic.
Avoid sardines in soybean oil
I generally recommend avoiding soybean oil in canned fish because it may be inflammatory in the body.
Adding inflammatory fats defeats the purpose of eating fish to a large extent.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.