Are Anchovies Healthy? Here’s What the Science Says

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Anchovies are a small, nutrient-rich type of fish that offers numerous health benefits. You can enjoy them in a wide range of recipes and dishes. This article explains all you need to know about anchovies’ nutrition, health benefits, and potential downsides, as well as ways to consume them. Anchovies are […]

Anchovies are a small, nutrient-rich type of fish that offers numerous health benefits. You can enjoy them in a wide range of recipes and dishes.

This article explains all you need to know about anchovies’ nutrition, health benefits, and potential downsides, as well as ways to consume them.

Anchovies are tiny, silver-colored forage fish that belong to the Engraulidae family (1).

They range in size from 1 to 15.5 inches (2 to 40 centimeters) long.

Despite their size, they’re pretty flavorful and nutritious. They’re often used in small amounts and especially popular in the Mediterranean diet, where they’re consumed in a variety of dishes.

Anchovies are often considered salty and strong-flavored. However, their taste depends on their processing method.

One of the most common processing methods for anchovies, which is also the one that leads to the strongest flavor, is gutting and curing them. Salt is added to them to draw water and moisture out so that bacteria and microbes cannot thrive and spoil them.

Other processing methods include pickling them in vinegar, which results in a milder flavor.

You may also buy fresh anchovies, which are milder, or find them packed in oil or salt in small cans or tins.

Summary

Anchovies are small, nutrient-rich fish whose taste depends on their processing method. Cured anchovies stored in oil or salt have a strong flavor, while fresh and pickled anchovies tend to have a milder taste.

Anchovies pack a lot of nutrients into a small package.

A 2-ounce (45-gram) serving of anchovies canned in oil provides (2):

  • Calories: 95
  • Protein: 13 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams
  • Vitamin B3: 56% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Selenium: 55% of the DV
  • Vitamin B12: 16% of the DV
  • Iron: 12% of the DV
  • Calcium: 8% of the DV

Anchovies have a high content of vitamin B3 — or niacin, a vitamin that helps turn food into energy. They also contain large amounts of selenium, a mineral involved in heart, thyroid, immune, and bone health (3, 4).

They’re likewise sources of the minerals iron and calcium. Your body needs iron to transport oxygen from your lungs. Calcium is important for strong bones (5, 6).

What’s more, anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, they’re considered oily or fatty fish along with salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel.

Just a 2-ounce (45-gram) can of anchovies provides 924 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combined, which is more than the same amount of salmon (2, 7).

Together, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B3 and selenium are responsible for most of anchovies’ health benefits.

Summary

Even in a small serving, anchovies deliver key nutrients, including niacin, selenium, iron, calcium, and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Most of anchovies’ benefits are associated with their individual nutritional compounds, not anchovies themselves.

Nevertheless, the nutrients found in these fish offer numerous health benefits.

May improve heart health

As previously mentioned, anchovies boast omega-3 fatty acids and selenium — nutrients that may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids may help improve blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, and triglyceride levels, as well as blood vessel function and blood flow to the heart to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke (8, 9, 10).

In fact, one older study found that a daily intake of 566 mg of DHA and EPA combined could lower the risk of death from heart disease by 37%. You can easily obtain that amount of omega-3’s from a 2-ounce (45-gram) can of anchovies (11).

Research has linked low selenium levels to an increased risk of heart disease.

Increasing your selenium intake may lead to a reduction in heart disease risk due to its antioxidant capacity, which lowers oxidative stress and inflammation associated with heart disease (12, 13).

Rich source of protein

When you look at anchovies’ nutritional profile, they boast a pretty good amount of protein, with 13 grams in one serving (2).

Eating more protein-rich foods as part of an overall balanced diet may promote weight loss, as eating this nutrient helps you feel full (14, 15).

High protein diets also help preserve lean body mass and help maintain weight loss by promoting a lower weight regain than low protein diets (16, 17, 18).

Other potential benefits

Anchovies omega-3 and selenium content may provide some additional benefits, including:

  • Cancer-fighting effects. Omega-3’s anti-inflammatory effect and selenium’s antioxidant properties may play a role in fighting different types of cancer by preventing the growth and spread of tumors (19, 20, 21).
  • Improved brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain cell formation and functioning. Their deficiency has been linked to accelerated brain aging and an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression (22, 23, 24).

Summary

The high omega-3 fatty acid and selenium content of anchovies may benefit heart and brain health and reduce cancer risk. Their protein content may aid weight loss.

Because most anchovies are cured, they can be quite high in sodium. For example, a 2-ounce (45-gram) can of anchovies provides 72% of the DV for the mineral (2).

Consuming too much sodium increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. People with salt sensitivity, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, or those who already have high blood pressure should pay special attention to their sodium intake (25).

A simple way to reduce your anchovies’ sodium content is by rinsing them before eating them.

Also, anchovies may be contaminated with domoic acid. This toxin may lead to amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), which is characterized by symptoms like vomiting, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, confusion, disorientation, and memory loss (26, 27).

Lastly, eating raw anchovies increases the risk of a parasitic infection called anisakiasis, which is caused by the fish parasiteAnisakis simplex.

It may cause gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever or lead to allergic reactions, which commonly include an itchy rash (28, 29, 30, 31).

Therefore, be sure to consume fully cooked anchovies if possible, and seek medical attention if you experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms after eating them.

Summary

Anchovies may be a high sodium food, which increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. They may also be contaminated with domoic acid, and eating raw anchovies may lead to parasitic infections.

Anchovies are fleshy fish commonly found in cans or tins, stuffed into olives, or rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also a common ingredient used to flavor salad dressings, sauces, and soups.

If anchovies taste pungent to you, you may prefer mixing them into pasta or salad dressing, which tends to mellow their flavor.

Here are a few ideas on how to enjoy anchovies:

  • Add them to your pasta, sandwich, or salad to add a punch of flavor to any meal.
  • Process them with almonds, raisins, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, and water to make a dip you can serve with crackers or sliced vegetables.
  • Layer them on top of bread along with tomato paste, arugula, and Parmesan cheese for a quick appetizer.
  • Enjoy them as a topping on your pizza.
  • Mince them and add them to your usual Caesar salad dressing recipe.
  • Mix them with eggs and bread for a nutritious breakfast.

Summary

Anchovies are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen and can be enjoyed as part of many recipes.

Anchovies are small, flavorful fish with a nutrient-rich profile.

They’re particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins and minerals, which are responsible for anchovies’ benefits for weight loss, cancer, and heart and brain health.

Still, most processed varieties are high in sodium, and eating raw anchovies may increase your risk of parasitic infection.

You may enjoy a serving of anchovies in pretty much any meal, such as served with eggs at breakfast or as an ingredient in your next pasta dish, salad, or pizza.

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