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Sardines vs Mackerel (Complete Comparison)

Sardines and mackerel are among the top ten healthiest options for canned fish. But how do they compare to each other? Do they differ greatly in taste and texture? What is the nutritional content of each one? To find out the answers, I am going to do a side-by-side comparison of these two fish. I also want to see how they fare against each other in culinary use.

Sardines have a strong fishy taste. The degree of fishiness will depend on how the fish has been prepared and packed, such as in good olive oil or tomato sauce. The texture is meaty, dense, and oily.

Sardines on a platter and mackerel on a plate

Mackerel does not have a strong fishy smell or taste. It has a tender, buttery texture with sweet and salty notes. From a physical perspective, mackerel has a torpedo-shaped body and typically weighs about one pound. Sardines possess an elongated, flat body and usually weigh between four ounces to one pound.

Sardines and mackerel are both high in protein, selenium, and potassium but this is where the similarities stop. Sardines have higher amounts of selenium and zinc but almost 26 times the amount of calcium than mackerel.

Mackerel contains twice the amount of vitamin B12 and almost 3 times the amount of magnesium. Understanding these differences in taste, texture, and nutritional content can help you decide which fish is right for your next meal.

Ingredient Comparison

Sardines and mackerel both offer a variety of health benefits. However, their nutritional profiles differ in a few key areas.

Vitamins and Minerals

Sardines are relatively richer in some vitamins and minerals compared to mackerel. They provide higher levels of iron, zinc, and calcium. In fact, the level of calcium in sardines is 26 times higher than in mackerel. This makes sardines an excellent source of calcium for those looking to maintain strong bones and teeth.

Mackerel has high amounts of vitamin B12, niacin, and potassium but it contains almost 3 times more the amount of magnesium than sardines. Magnesium is essential to keeping our blood vessels healthy and can even improve migraines. Mackerel is also lower in sodium, making it a better choice for those watching their salt intake.


Both sardines and mackerel are high in protein and calories, but mackerel has more calories per serving. A 100-gram serving of sardines has almost 25g of protein and 208 calories whereas mackerel has 24 grams of protein and 262 calories. The calories come from the high protein content of the fish but also from the fatty oils.

Sardines and mackerel are powerhouses when it comes to heart-healthy fats. Both types of fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Flavor and Texture

Sardines have a distinct fishy smell and taste with a meaty texture. The taste is affected by the type of oil or tomato sauce it is soaked in. Mackerel, on the other hand, does not have a fishy taste or smell but has a buttery texture that is slightly sweet and salty. The texture of mackerel is firmer than sardines, much like canned tuna.

Both sardines and mackerel offer unique nutritional benefits, flavors, and textures. Including both fish in your diet will provide a variety of essential nutrients and delicious taste experiences.

Nutritional Comparison

Best for Calorie Content

Sardines and mackerel both have a naturally high calorie count but mackerel contains the highest amount. A 100-gram serving of sardines has 208 calories. The same serving size of mackerel has 262 calories.

Best for Carbs & Sugar Content

Neither sardines nor mackerel contain any carbohydrates or sugar, making either fish a great option if you are on a low-carb diet. However, the sugar content will be affected if you select sardines or mackerel that have been preserved in a sauce so be sure to check the nutrition label before consuming.

Best for Protein Content

Sardines and mackerel are both excellent sources of protein. A 100-gram serving of sardines has 24.6 grams of protein. The same serving size of mackerel has 23.8 grams. If you are looking for an easy way to increase your daily protein intake, either sardines or mackerel are a great option.

Best for Fat Content

Sardines and mackerel are both naturally high in fat but they both also contain heart-healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel has a higher overall fat content (17.8 grams per 100-gram serving) compared to sardines (11.4 grams per 100-gram serving).

Best for Fiber Content

Fiber is crucial to any healthy diet. Unfortunately, neither sardines nor mackerel contains any fiber. You can add fiber to your meal by pairing either of these fish with high-fiber foods such as steamed vegetables or a salad.

Best for Sodium/Salt Content

Four cooked mackerel on a wood plate

The FDA recommends that a healthy adult consume no more than one teaspoon of salt a day. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, it is even more crucial that you monitor your daily salt intake. In this case, you will want to avoid sardines. Both sardines and mackerel contain sodium but mackerel only contains 83 mg per 100 grams. Sardines, however, contain over 300 mg per 100-gram serving.

Best for Vitamins/Minerals

Both sardines and mackerel are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Sardines contain higher amounts of iron, calcium, and zinc. The amount of calcium in sardines is almost 26 times more than that in mackerel. Mackerel, on the other hand, has almost 3 times the magnesium content of sardines and is also a great source of vitamin B12, niacin, and potassium.

Deciding whether sardines or mackerel is right for your and your family will ultimately depend on the nutritional needs of you and your family. You can find a more comprehensive nutritional list on the USDA website.

Best for Flavor/Texture

Here is where our comparison will really start to separate these two types of fish. While both sardines and mackerel have a lot in common when it comes to their nutritional content, they differ greatly in flavor and texture. I will list a few of their differences but your taste buds will be the ultimate judge.

Sardines have a reputation for being fishy. They have a fishy taste and a fishy smell. The high-fat content, though, gives it a soft texture. Sardines do contain bones, but the bones are soft and can safely be consumed. The bones are also part of the reason why sardines have an incredibly high amount of calcium.

Sardines are small fish and are often sold whole, either fresh or canned. The flavor will vary depending on how the sardines were prepared and packed. For instance, sardines are more commonly packed in olive oil, water, or tomato sauce. Here are some ways to enjoy sardines:

  • As a topping for crackers or bread
  • Mixed into pasta dishes
  • In salads
  • Grilled or sautéed as a main course

Mackerel is a larger fish with a firm but smooth texture. Unlike sardines, mackerel does not have a fishy smell or taste and is often easier to palate than sardines, especially if you are turned off by the fishy smell and taste of sardines.

Mackerel is also very high in both mono- and polyunsaturated fats, making it a great way to consume healthy fats that will benefit your heart, brain, and skin. Here are a few ways to enjoy mackerel:

  • Pan-fried with a simple seasoning like salt and pepper
  • Grilled with a marinade or a spice rub
  • Baked in the oven with herbs and vegetables
  • Added to soups or stews

As you can see, sardines and mackerel are very different. If you want a fish that is oily, high in calcium and potassium and you don’t mind the fishy smell and taste, sardines are right for you. If don’t want the fishy taste and smell but want a fish that has healthy fats, a smooth texture, and is low in sodium, mackerel is the right fish for you.

If you are still unsure which one is right for you, give them both a try. Experiment with different recipes and preparation methods and see which one you like. You might end up liking both types of fish.

Health Benefits

One of the main ways I decide which food is right for me and my family is by examining the nutritional components of the food. In this section, I am going to discuss the nutritional advantages of each fish to help you make an informed decision.


Sardines are rich in minerals, and vitamins, and contain lower amounts of saturated fat compared to mackerel. Some of the key benefits you can derive from sardines include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Mackerel contains higher amounts of omega-3s in the form of DHA and EPA compared to sardines. These fatty acids support heart health, reduce inflammation, and aid in cognitive function.
  • Calcium: You’ll find 26 times more calcium in sardines than in mackerel, which is essential for strong bones and teeth.
  • Protein: Sardines provide a good source of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair.


Mackerel is also packed with essential vitamins and minerals and contains higher amounts of both mono and polyunsaturated fats. Here are some specific benefits:

  • Lower cholesterol: Mackerel contains lower levels of cholesterol, which may be beneficial for heart health.
  • Potassium: Mackerel is 3 times higher in potassium, an essential mineral that helps maintain fluid balance and supports nerve function and muscle contractions.
  • Vitamins: Mackerel offers higher levels of vitamin B12, potassium, and niacin, along with less sodium.

Sardines and mackerel are comparable when it comes to protein but mackerel has a much lower caloric count than sardines. However, both fish are excellent sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.

Allergies and Sensitivities

If you or a family member have a fish allergy, sardines and mackerel should be avoided. Fish allergy symptoms typically occur within an hour of eating and may include some of the following symptoms:

  • Hives or generalized itching of the skin
  • Swelling of the lips and throat
  • Stuffy nose and sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Indigestion and stomach pain

If you have any unpleasant symptoms after eating sardines or mackerel, see your doctor right away. It is important to know whether you are experiencing a food allergy or food intolerance. A food allergy affects your immune system and can be life-threatening. Your doctor can provide the appropriate testing and diagnosis so you stay healthy.

Which do you prefer?

Overall Winner – Which One is Better?

After examining these two types of fish side-by-side, it’s now time to see which one is better. Let’s review some of the things we have learned.

Both sardines and mackerel offer tremendous health benefits. Sardines contain 26 times more calcium, while mackerel has 3 times more magnesium. Both are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and potassium, essential for heart health and brain function. However, sardines have fewer calories (208 per 100g) compared to mackerel (262 per 100g).

Taste-wise, mackerel is a larger fish with a smooth, firm texture but with a more mild flavor than sardines. Sardines are smaller and have a soft, oily texture but they have a distinct fishy taste. Depending on your preference for taste and texture, you may lean towards one fish or the other.

Here are some quick comparisons for easy reference:


  • Higher calcium content
  • Fewer calories
  • Distinct fishy smell and taste


  • Higher potassium and magnesium content
  • More calories
  • Firmer texture and milder flavor

Either sardines or mackerel would be a good addition to any healthy diet but it is ultimately up to you and your personal preferences which one you will choose. The best way to ensure you get all the nutritional benefits of either type of fish is to purchase fish that has been sustainably sourced and minimally processed.

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