Let’s face it, I’m adventurous. The fact that I love sardines may indicate this. However, this tiny fish (and its cousin the anchovy) is a powerhouse of nutrition. Adding sardines to your diet will provide health benefits that far outlast the odor sardines might leave in your kitchen.
Who knows how long sardines have been among us. Frankly, that fact is not really important. What we do know is that “sardine” is actually a broad term for small, oily-fish that are in the herring family. During the 1400s, these fish received their name after the Italian island Sardinia, where many schools once lived. They are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet and are eaten in abundance in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Norway. They can be found fresh but they are widely available canned. In fact, sardines are among one of the first foods to be canned.
While it is always best to find sardines fresh, doing so is not always possible. The nice thing about canned sardines, however, is they are cheap and have a long shelf life. Sardines in general are very low in heavy metals, like mercury. Their affordability and low toxicity make sardines a perfect REAL food protein to take along when backpacking, hiking, or on road trips. Look for sardines, whether fresh or canned, that are “Wild-caught.” This means they were not raised on a fish farm, where conditions are dirty and the fish do not eat their natural diet. “Wild-caught” sardines are pulled directly from the water.
Also, try to find sardines that are packed in water (sometimes referred to as “spring water”). Although olive oil is good for you, the canning processes can be harsh, so the oil may be rancid by the time you open it. Further, you don’t always know the beginning quality of the oil. Stay completely away from sardines packed in marinades with high fructose corn syrup, MSG, or other nasties. And, of course, steer clear of sardines packed in any industrial oils, such as soy and canola. Finally, try and find sardines that have the bones in. The bones are very, very soft. So soft, in fact, that they can be mixed into the meat with a fork. The bones lend a highly digestible form of vital calcium.
Sardines are very nutrient dense, meaning they have a high nutrient to calorie ratio. Sardines are a great source of vitamin B12, selenium (an anti-cancer mineral), protein, omega-3’s, vitamin D, and Calcium. The vitamin D in sardines is the animal form (D3), so it’s easily absorbed by the body.
For 3.75 oz-wt (92 grams) in oil (% of DV provided when available)
- Calories 10% DV
- Vitamin B12 137%
- Selenium 69% DV
- Phosphorus 45% DV
- Vitamin D 63% DV
- Calcium 35% DV
- Vitamin B3 24% DV
- Choline 78.2 mg
- Omega-3 fats – 1362 mg
- Protein – 22.7 g
Health Benefits of Sardines
Sardines contain a high quality protein that is excellent for rebuilding the muscles after a workout or to maintain normal cellular health.
The omega-3’s contained in sardines are essential fatty acids that help the body fight inflammation and build healthy cells. The combination of these essential fats with the minerals zinc and calcium, along with vitamin B12, promote a healthy nervous system and optimal muscle function.
Since sardines are high in calcium and vitamin d3, eating sardines can also help make your bones and teeth stronger!
The Take Away
Sardines are a powerhouse of nutrition. Try to find them packed in water, because if they’re packed in oil, you don’t know whether or not the oil is rancid. When possible, choose wild-caught sardines with the bone-in. Take advantage of the the fact that, for now, sardines are a cheap, take-anywhere super food.
Spicy Balsamic Sardines on Rice Cakes (2 servings)
Ingredients: 1 can of sardines packed in water and drained, 2 T of balsamic vinegar, 1 T of garlic infused EVOO, GMO-free rice cakes, red pepper flakes to taste, cayenne pepper to taste
Instructions: Thoroughly mix all ingredients together and eat on rice cakes
Wild Sardines from Wild Planet
References: USDA Nutrition Database
Originally posted 2013-08-27 09:00:16.