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Surprising Sardine Science

Friday, January 25, 2019

Some of our friends poke fun at our passion for educating and changing public opinion on the science-proven health benefits of small canned fish. We keep an abundant supply of the real things in the Biosyntrx test kitchen and eat them often.

Unfortunately, many of the larger fresh fish available in the supermarkets contain toxic amounts of chemicals including mercury, which can lead to detrimental health effects. The percentage amount of mercury in fish is directly proportional to their size and lifespan. 

Very small fish, such as fresh or canned sardines and anchovies, rarely ever contain mercury, because they can’t retain it in their short lifespan.

Nutritionally, both anchovies and sardines include surprisingly large amounts of protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, potassium in varying amounts, and healthy amounts of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most abundant omega-3s in the brain and eye, as well as being an important structural component of heart tissue.

Nutrition facts

A four-ounce serving of sardines canned in oil includes 28 grams of protein and 15 grams of fat, of which only two grams are saturated fat. It also provides 170 percent of vitamin B12; 80 percent of recommended vitamin D; 60 percent of phosphorus; 45 percent of calcium; 30 percent of niacin; 20 percent of iron; 15 percent of riboflavin; 10 percent of niacin; 10 percent of magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6; six percent of thiamine and vitamin; and four percent of folate and healthy amounts of synergistic omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

A normal two-ounce serving of canned anchovies includes about half the amount of nutrients included in a four-ounce tin of sardines.


As an aside: We frequently melt nutrient-dense canned anchovies into meat sauces since they quickly dissolve, beautifully replace salt, and add a unique layer of flavor that almost no one ever identifies as anchovy...unless we tell them.

Omega-3 content

Sardines are one of the best sources of long-chain omega-3 fats, containing 1.8 grams of omega-3 fats per four-ounce serving. Sardine oil contains even more, with one tablespoon including 3.7 grams of omega-3 fats EPA/DHA. Anchovies include almost the same amounts of omega-3 fatty acids per serving size.

The current Federal Government Dietary Guidelines for Americans are to eat eight or more ounces of a variety of seafood per week for the total package of nutrients seafood provides. 

Interestingly, two tins of sardines in oil provides the recommended weekly amount of omega-3 long chain fatty acids now recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

A quick omega-3 science refresher for biochemistry geeks

Omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) have a carbon–carbon double bond located three carbons from the methyl end of the chain.

Omega-3s, sometimes referred to as “n-3s,” are present in certain foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, and fish, as well as dietary supplements such as fish oil. 

Several different omega-3s exist, but the majority of scientific research focuses on three: plant-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can convert to EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish require no metabolic conversation to EPA / DHA, since the fish has done the conversion from its plant-based diet. 

ALA contains 18 carbon atoms, whereas EPA and DHA are considered long-chain omega-3s, because EPA contains 20 carbons and DHA contains 22.

Enjoy, and have a good weekend.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff


PEARL: The vast majority of large-scale omega-3 clinical studies suggest that long-chain fatty acids, EPA / DHA are more effective when consumed through diet, instead of fish oil supplements, again proving that nutrients are not as effective in isolation as they are from food sources or well-designed indication-specific nutritional formulations. 

During periods of fasting or omega-3 intake deficiency, the body releases these stored essential fatty acids from adipose-tissue reserves, explaining why twice-weekly fish intake is adequate for disease prevention for most people.