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Introduction

People tend to either love or hate anchovies. This salty fish has some great health benefits but also some drawbacks that you should be aware of. High in several vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, anchovies contain an abundance of nutrients, but they also can have some parasites and mercury if you buy certain varieties. Anchovies can be eaten in pasta, on pizza, grilled, fried, preserved, or in condiments and sauces (for a salty tang). So let’s take a closer look: are anchovies good for you?

Summary

Anchovies has several health benefits. They are high in omega-3 fatty acid that improve your cardiovascular system. They are high in antioxidants and essential nutrients like selenium, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12. But we recommend you some caution when purchasing them. They might contain heavy metals like mercury, microplastics and parasites. Our tip for you is to prefer fresh anchovies to preserved one and always cook them carefully.

Health Benefits of Anchovies

They are high in omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in a variety of fish, including anchovies. These long-chain fatty acids can lower your risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, ventricular arrhythmias, and heart failure (1). Omega-3s have been suggested to reduce cancer risk, but no evidence has been found to support this yet (2). Healthy eating guidelines currently recommend two servings a week of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, and anchovies can certainly help you on the way to meeting this goal (1).

Learn more about omega-3 and -6, read “What Is The Best Omega 6:3 Ratio?”

Their protein is high in antioxidants

When tested, researchers found that anchovy proteins are high in antioxidants, which can neutralize our free oxygen radicals produced by your metabolic processes and can cause disease and wreak havoc on our bodies. They also found that protein hydrolysates isolated from anchovies can improve mice’s memory with amnesia (3). This suggests that anchovies might be a great potential preventative measure against memory loss, but much more work remains in this area.

They contain selenium, an essential nutrient

Selenium is a trace element in anchovies that our body needs. It plays a role in thyroid function, DNA synthesis, and protecting our body from oxidative damage and infections. Selenium is incorporated into our body and stored primarily in skeletal muscles until it is needed (4). Increased selenium intake has been associated with improved reproduction, reduced risk of thyroid disease, and even some potential protection against various forms of cancer (5).

They are a great source of niacin

Niacin is also called vitamin B3 and is converted into NAD, required for our cells’ metabolic processes. NAD helps us break glucose into useable energy for our cells (6). Niacin has also been shown to reduce high cholesterol, lowering cardiovascular disease risk (7). For this reason, niacin-rich anchovies are part of a healthy diet, especially if you’re at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

They contain riboflavin

Riboflavin is also called vitamin B2. This vitamin is needed to form some coenzymes that we need to keep our cells functioning and growing, metabolize fats and some pharmaceutical drugs, and even metabolize foods into energy (8). Riboflavin has also been associated with improving iron uptake, preventing anemia. Anchovies are a good source of riboflavin and can keep these processes running smoothly (9)

They are rich in vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an underrated vitamin that helps our red blood cells to form properly, and DNA synthesis to occur correctly. We need B12 for our metabolic functioning, too (10). While it remains a bit of a mystery, vitamin B12 also seems to be involved in our cognitive function, as a B12 deficiency seems to be associated with dementia development (11). Much more research is needed in this area, but this is a very interesting start.

Many of these nutrients are also present in Cream of Wheat; check out “Is Cream Of Wheat Good For You?”

Considerations When Purchasing Anchovies

Heavy metal (particularly mercury) content

Heavy metals, including magnesium, iron, copper, and mercury, are a prevalent problem in many varieties of fish, and anchovies are no exception. The silver lining is that anchovies (being a smaller fish) accumulate less heavy metal content than larger fish (12). But, you still want to be cautious about where your anchovies come from and how they are processed to ensure you get the best for your health.

 Microplastic contamination

Plastic is everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s now in our environment, our water, and our food chain. When plastic “breaks down,” it simply breaks into smaller pieces, which are then eaten or taken up by the plants and animals we eat and the water we drink. In a recent study of Mediterranean anchovies, 60% were contaminated with microplastics (13). However, it’s difficult to avoid these contaminations in many foods, and unfortunately, there is no clear solution to date.

Preserved anchovies can be less healthy than fresh

Canned or otherwise preserved anchovies come with two drawbacks – salt and oil. Anchovies packed in oil contain 147mg of sodium and more fat than fresh anchovies (14). Try to stick to fresh or tinned-in-water anchovies to decrease both of these components from your diet. Anchovies are a low carbohydrate and high protein food, and you don’t need added salt and fat ruining the health benefits of this already salty fish.

They can contain parasites

It’s important to be mindful that some anchovies can contain anisakiasis, which is also called “herring worm disease.” The worms infect and attach to the esophagus, stomach, and intestines of the anchovies, and the larvae can infect humans if we eat infected anchovies. Symptoms include gastrointestinal distress and digestive pain. It is highly recommended to cook your anchovies thoroughly rather than eating them raw to avoid infection (15, 16).

In summary, are anchovies good for you?

Avoid salt and oil-packed anchovies and always cook them before eating. As long as you source your anchovies through a reputable company or brand, they are a low-mercury source of fish, a great source of protein, and low in carbohydrates. Anchovies also contain a wealth of nutrients such as vitamin B12, niacin, riboflavin, and an abundance of antioxidants to prevent disease. Help yourself to fresh, cooked anchovies for a great protein alternative to your routine meat and fish options.

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