Shyla sardine salad

Sardine salad (Credit: Shyla Cadogan)

Canned fish isn’t glamorous, especially not sardines. Although TikTok “wellness gurus” boast about their pretty kale salads and bright green juices, healthy food isn’t always going to look aesthetically pleasing.

According to a publication from Johns Hopkins, 90 percent of Americans don’t eat enough seafood. Adults with low incomes are more likely to eat significantly less seafood compared to those with higher incomes, according to researchers at the Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Even greater gaps emerged after considering race and ethnicity.

Seafoods like salmon, shrimp, crabs, and lobster are already on the more expensive side. With prices rising even more in today’s economy, there’s an even greater accessibility barrier. However, canned seafood still provides fantastic nutrition and has a much less daunting price tag. Canned mackerel, herring, sardines, and even pink salmon are not only more affordable, but convenient as well. The researchers from the report also shared that many Americans get their main seafood intake through shrimp, salmon, cod, tilapia, and canned tuna.

Although there are several options, sardines are worth highlighting here. Both fresh and canned varieties are highly nutritious and easy to incorporate into your meals. Although they may not taste the best, this is a seafood protein that you should probably (definitely) be eating more often. There are ways to make it taste great and keep you wanting to eat more. Here’s this dietitian’s favorite sardine salad recipe that does just that:

Brain-Boosting Sardine Salad


  • 1 can wild sardines in extra virgin olive oil drained
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cups spring mix lettuce
  • 1 small carrot chopped or grated
  • Chopped red onion (amount by preference)
  • Sourdough croutons (~2-3 tbsp)
  • Favorite salad dressing (Carrot Ginger Dressing featured here)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Place drained sardines in a large bowl and mash with a fork.
  • Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, and mix.
  • In another bowl, add the salad greens.
  • Top with the remaining ingredients.
Sardine salad
Sardine salad (Credit: Shyla Cadogan)

How do sardines boost the brain?

The human brain is 60 percent fat. You’ve probably heard that sardines are super rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). One can of sardines provides close to 1,800 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA. Omega-3 may lower inflammation and increase learning, memory, and cognitive function.

They also provide close to 40 percent of the daily value of vitamin D for adults. Vitamin D has consistently been shown to be neuroprotective, particularly from cognitive decline. Sardines are additionally rich in selenium, which is a mineral that is needed to make selenoproteins. These proteins are critical for preventing oxidative stress and maintaining optimal brain function. A decrease in selenoproteins is implicated in cognitive decline, and associations with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease have been shown.

Additional salad benefits

This salad is fiber-rich with an abundance of vegetables. There are lots of salad greens, carrots, and red onions included. High-fiber diets have been consistently linked to better brain health. Findings continue to suggest that the more fiber people eat, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia later in life.

Of note, onions contain sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral that is plentiful in the human body, and is important for making proteins, regulating gene expression, building and repairing DNA, and helping the body to metabolize food. Sulfur-rich foods have been shown to potentially protect against conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and even brain function losses that come with age.

Photo by Ben Wicks from Unsplash

A Dietitian’s Take

Eating more seafood is one of the best things you could do to provide your body with bioavailable nutrition to support the brain. Although prices on whole and fresh varieties continue to rise, canned options are a great choice for affordability while still providing great benefits. Sardines are of the best out there, and while they might not be that palatable at first, this salad is a great introduction to brain-boosting eats that include them.

About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Cool says:

    I know. Sardines are yucky. Eat them anyway. Healthy medicine is rarely tasty. Propagandize yourself into good health behavior by reading everything you can about how to be healthy.