9 Reasons Why Anchovies Should Be Included In Your Diet

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Widely available, easy on the pocket, and always accessible as a pantry essential, anchovies can almost instantly uplift any food they are added to- be it pizzas, sandwiches, pasta sauce (for the umami flavor), and Caesar salad. But, unfortunate as it may be, not everyone belongs to the same school of thought, thanks to their strong, intense, and pungent flavor, which makes them unpalatable for many.

However, these small silver fishes come with a plethora of health benefits which may include their potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems and maintain a healthy heart, bones, and teeth, and aiding in weight loss among other things. They may also be are rich in omega-3-fatty acids, proteins, and various nutrients, which makes them beneficial for health. That is why whether you like them or not, including them in your diet is highly advisable. However, ensure that they need to be taken in moderation, as they can have potential side-effects too. Now without further ado, let us look at the benefits and side effects in detail.

What Are Anchovies?

Anchovies are small (generally 5-8 inches long), saltwater, foraging fish with more than 100 different species spread across the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Similar to most other small fishes like the herring, they are found in large schools.

One of the most popular places to catch anchovies is the Mediterranean Sea, which is why they are such an integral part of European, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. The biggest and major sources of anchovies are the Peruvian anchovies fishery, where over 68% of the catch takes place. This is followed by the Japanese anchovy fisheries that account for 19 % of the catch, and finally, the European fishery is at over 8%. [1]

Unlike salmon, tilapia, and catfish, anchovies are not farm-raised. Anchovies are directly caught in the wild, which keeps them away from the dangerous chemicals exposed to other farm fishes for food production. This, in turn, makes anchovies highly sustainable. [2]

Nutrition Facts

Fish, anchovy, european, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]73.37
Energy 131
Energy [kJ]548
Protein [g]20.35
Total lipid (fat) [g]4.84
Ash [g]1.44
Calcium, Ca [mg]147
Iron, Fe [mg]3.25
Magnesium, Mg [mg]41
Phosphorus, P [mg]174
Potassium, K [mg]383
Sodium, Na [mg]104
Zinc, Zn [mg]1.72
Copper, Cu [mg]0.21
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.07
Selenium, Se [µg]36.5
Thiamin [mg]0.06
Riboflavin [mg]0.26
Niacin [mg]14.02
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.65
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.14
Folate, total [µg]9
Folate, food [µg]9
Folate, DFE [µg]9
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0.62
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]15
Retinol [µg]15
Vitamin A, IU [IU]50
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.57
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]0.1
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]1.28
12:0 [g]0.01
14:0 [g]0.3
16:0 [g]0.72
18:0 [g]0.25
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]1.18
16:1 [g]0.4
18:1 [g]0.62
22:1 [g]0.12
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]1.64
18:2 [g]0.1
18:4 [g]0.06
20:4 [g]0.01
20:5 n-3 (EPA) [g]0.54
22:5 n-3 (DPA) [g]0.03
22:6 n-3 (DHA) [g]0.91
Cholesterol [mg]60
Tryptophan [g]0.23
Threonine [g]0.89
Isoleucine [g]0.94
Leucine [g]1.65
Lysine [g]1.87
Methionine [g]0.6
Cystine [g]0.22
Phenylalanine [g]0.79
Tyrosine [g]0.69
Valine [g]1.05
Arginine [g]1.22
Histidine [g]0.6
Alanine [g]1.23
Aspartic acid [g]2.08
Glutamic acid [g]3.04
Glycine [g]0.98
Proline [g]0.72
Serine [g]0.83
Sources include : USDA [3]

Anchovies Nutrition

According to the USDA FoodData Central, anchovies are rich in omega-3-fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals that help maintain good health. They may also contain calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc. Anchovies might also be a good source of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, selenium, folate, vitamin C, B12, B6, A, E, and K. This fish also contains good fats and cholesterol. [4]

Health Benefits of Anchovies

Anchovies have many health benefits, let us discuss them in detail below.

May Potentially Be High In Omega-3-Fatty Acids

Anchovies may be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of vital fatty acid, that can help reduce the risk of heart-related diseases and cognitive issues. Research published in the Advances in Nutrition Journal states that omega-3 fatty acids may aid in losing and managing weight, boosting immunity, and maintaining eye health among other things. [5]

There is no specific limit given on the daily consumption of omega 3 fatty acids, however, as per the European Food Safety Authority, at least 250-500 milligram of combined EPA and DHA, the two main components of omega-3 fatty acids, which is present in seafood, can be consumed on a day-to-day basis. [6]

The American Heart Association also advises to include two servings of fatty fish, like anchovies, every week, or of taking fish oil supplements as a substitute to meet your omega-3 fatty acid requirements. [7]

Anchovies are said to be a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids with every two-ounce providing nearly 951 milligrams of the crucial fatty acids. This means that you can use one can of anchovies to meet your weekly omega-3 fatty acid dietary requirement. [8]

May Improve Heart Health

In a 2013 report published in the Nutrition Journal, by a team of Israeli researchers revealed that anchovies may contain large amounts of polyunsaturated fats, which can reduce the presence of LDL (bad) cholesterol. They might help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. They can also contain niacin and selenium, which help reduce the risk of coronary heart ailments. [9] [10] [11]

A pan of fresh anchovies

Anchovies are available in fresh, tinned or canned, salted, oiled, and paste forms. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

May Be Rich in Protein

According to a study published in the Diabetes Educator Journal, foods rich in protein can help regularize blood sugar levels. Proteins also help to promote weight loss and help prevent the degeneration of muscles. According to USDA, one serving of anchovies may contain 13 grams of protein. If you eat it along with legumes, beans, or other protein-rich foods, you may be able to meet your daily protein requirements. [12] [13] [14] [15]

May Aid In Skin Care

Adding anchovies as a regular part of your diet may help maintain healthy skin as well as prevent breakouts and wrinkles associated with premature aging. They may also help protect against sunburn. The reason behind this benefit is due to omega-3 fatty acids that are present in anchovies. A 2011 study published in the Experimental Dermatology Journal [16] mentioned that supplementing with a combination of DHA and EPA — two long-chain omega-3s, might have the potential to lower the skin’s sensitivity to harmful UV rays. Another research published by a team of American and Canadian researchers showed how consuming omega-3 fatty acids in your diet resulted in decrease in acne lesions. [17]

Omega-3 fatty acids may also help as a great remedy for dry, itchy skin, caused by serious skin issues like psoriasis. [18]

May Help In Weight Loss

Anchovies are a type of saltwater fish that may have significant amounts of protein and a low-calorie count, which makes them ideal for people trying to lose weight. A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition based on dietary fish being a major component of a weight-loss diet revealed that increased levels of protein in fishes may help you feel satiated, which, in turn, prevents overeating. Additionally, it suppresses the production of ghrelin (the hunger hormone). [19]

May Improve Bone Health

The vitamins, proteins, and minerals found in anchovies may provide many health benefits, including helping to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis and other bone conditions. The calcium and vitamin A, found in anchovies might also help fight bone degradation. Calcium is also integral in the protection of teeth from weakening and keeping them strong. [20]

May Aid In Tissue and Cell Repair

Protein-rich anchovies have long been known to benefit the functioning and efficiency of cell metabolism and connective tissue repair and regrowth. High protein foods may also help promote weight loss, maintain blood sugar levels, as well as build bones, muscles, cartilage, and tissues. Overall, they can be a major boost to your body’s ability to heal itself. [21]

May Improve Eye Health

Anchovies may be rich in vitamin-A, which boosts eye health. A research report published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology and Eye Science revealed that anchovy sauce, which is predominantly consumed in Pan-Asian cuisine, may have a potential protective effect against progression and severity of glaucoma. It might also prevent macular degeneration, as well as cataracts, so including anchovies in your diet is good for your eyes. [22]

May Be Rich In Iron

Anchovies may be rich in iron. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, every 20 gram fresh fish like anchovies contributes about 12 percent of the daily recommended dose of iron for men, and 5 percent for women. Iron is known for enhancing oxygen supply throughout the body and increasing the blood circulation in the body. It may also aid cells make more energy and help white blood cells kill bacteria, thereby, protecting the body from infections. [23]

Other Benefits

Other benefits of anchovies include:

May Be Anti-inflammatory

Omega-3 fatty acids in anchovies may possess potent anti-inflammatory properties, which prevent various chronic inflammatory diseases. Thus including anchovies to your diet in moderation might help reduce inflammations and eventually other chronic diseases. [24]

May Prevent Toxicity

One of the major dangers of eating too much fish is the high level of mercury and other environmental toxins that can often be found in their bodies. Mercury poisoning can lead to several neurological and cardiovascular problems. Smaller fishes like anchovies may have far fewer toxins and this means they add fewer toxins to your body than large fishes, while still providing many of the same nutritional benefits. [25]

Select and Store

Here are a few tips to remember while buying and storing anchovies:

  • Anchovies are available in fresh, tinned or canned, salted, oiled, and paste forms.
  • Always select fresh anchovies over preserved ones. Although, salt-preserved or canned anchovies are easily available.
  • Use the entire can of anchovies after opening the seal.
  • In case you don’t intend to use the entire container, wash off the salt, place it in an olive oil jar, seal and refrigerate again. The fish can now last for 5 days.

Note: Anchovy paste has less flavor and nutrients compared to the fresh and processed ones but can be used in sauces, jams, pickles, spreads, and more.

What Do Anchovies Taste Like?

Anchovies are known to have a strong pungent taste that can make the heartiest of food lovers give up if they aren’t cooked or served properly. That said, these small fishes of the herring family, have what most food connoisseurs and scientists call as umami, the almost indefinable fifth taste that goes above and beyond the usual salty, sweet, sour, and bitter tastes. It is well described as a ‘savory’ taste but one that’s so strong that it lingers in your taste buds long before it’s gone. You can either thoroughly enjoy them or completely dislike them based on their taste but the key lies in how well you cook them.

Let us look at the different ways in which they can be eaten.

How to eat anchovies?

Here are a few ways to use this fish:

  • Raw: Anchovies can be eaten raw as an aphrodisiac. They, however, need to be cleaned and washed properly to avoid contamination.
  • Asian cuisine: They are used in Asian sides and dishes like Javanese sambal, Vietnamese nuac mom, and Thai nam pla.
  • Sauces, Condiments, and Preserves: They can be used to make sauces, jams, pickles, and spreads, as well as be added to noodles, soups, curries, etc.
  • Cooked: Anchovies can also be grilled, steamed, fried, and fermented to prepare various dishes.
  • Canned: The easiest and most convenient choices of eating these fishes are the oiled-packed canned anchovies as they have already been deboned and cooked in advance and can be eaten directly off the can. You can also prepare your own oil-packed version of the same using salted anchovies. All you’ll need to do is take them off the tin, rinse them well to remove any excess salt. Thereafter dry and soak them in milk, white wine, or water for about 30 minutes or so to allow them to soften well. You can then either debone or fillet them and let them dry and store in oil till they are ready to be enjoyed.

Side effects

The side effects of anchovies are as follows:

  • Anisakiasis: This herring worm disease is a parasitic infection caused by eating raw seafood. The symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps. That is why it is advisable to wash and clean the fishes properly before cooking and consuming them. [26]
  • High blood pressure: A study published in the Journal of Food Safety found that salting or marinating anchovies inactivates or kills bacterias. Canned anchovies have a high level of sodium and excess intake may elevate blood pressure causing heart-related ailments. [27]
  • Neurotoxin: Domoic acid which gets accumulated in the gut of anchovies is a dangerous neurotoxin. Thus, intake of whole anchovies may cause amnesic shellfish poisoning. [28]
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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