Much like it’s cousin the anchovy, there has not always a lot of love for the humble sardine. With its somewhat “acquired” taste and texture, you either love sardines or hate them. But this little cold-water fish actually has some mega health benefits. There are plenty of ways in which you can incorporate sardines into your diet without having to eat them straight from the tin.
History of the Sardine
The sardine is a small, oily fish belonging to the herring family. It’s thought that the word “sardine” may have come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where sardines were once abundant, though this is oft debated. Certainly, the Mediterranean diet relies heavily on the little fish, and they appear frequently in Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Italian and Moroccan cuisine.
Fresh sardines are usually grilled, pickled, smoked, or they’re preserved for export in cans.
Interestingly, Napoleon Bonaparte helped to popularize sardines in the 1800s. The French emperor employed an expert to develop a way to preserve food for his hungry soldiers on the road. Sardines were seen as one of the ideal foods for this undertaking.
But they have far more to offer than just being a preservable staple food. Each tiny fish is literally packed with essential nutrients.
Why You Should Eat Sardines
Here are six reasons on why you should embrace the humble sardine.
1. They’re Packed With Heart Healthy Omega-3 Fats
Sardines are an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to a healthy diet. The fish oil provides both EPA and DHA omega-3 fats, which are beneficial for your brain, heart, and skin. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids are able to break down “bad” LDL cholesterol and arterial plaque, which helps to combat high blood pressure and serious heart diseases. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming two fish meals per week, with an emphasis on fatty fish (like sardines) to lower your risk of heart disease.1,2
The National Academy of Medicine puts the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of omega-3 acids at around 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women.3
One standard can of sardines contains 1.36 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.4
2. Your Thyroid Will Thank You For It
Sardines also offer a high level of selenium. Selenium is a nutrient that your body requires for reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and for protection against free radical damage and infections.
Studies have suggested that people who consume too little selenium may have an increased risk of abnormal cell growth in their bodies. Other studies have suggested that lower selenium levels may lead to poorer mental function, or that women, who tend to have lower levels of selenium, might develop problems with their thyroid if they don’t get enough of this beneficial trace mineral.5
One can of sardines provides a hefty 69 percent of the daily RDI for selenium.6
3. They Help You To Maintain Strong Bones
Unlike most fish, you eat the tiny, soft bones of the sardine without really noticing it. This is part of what makes sardines so healthy, as these bones are a big source of calcium.7
Calcium helps to create and maintain strong, healthy teeth and bones. Maintaining optimum calcium levels in your body can help keep you active and healthy for years to come.8 The greatest source of calcium in the human diet is dairy, so if you have a dairy intolerance, sardines may offer a solid alternative for your bone health.
One can of sardines provides up to 30 percent of the RDI for calcium.9
4. They’re Better For You Than Sun Bathing
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so it too plays a big part in bone health. A vitamin D deficiency can result in soft, brittle bones. One of the greatest sources of vitamin D is that big, fiery ball in the sky – the sun. But with a greater awareness of sun protection, some people are becoming vitamin D deficient. The good news is, you can also get vitamin D from your food – and fish oil, including sardine oil, is one of the best sources.10
One can of sardines provides around 63 percent of the RDI for Vitamin D.11
5. They’re a Quick and Easy Protein Snack
Protein is one of the primary elements your body relies on, alongside carbohydrates and fats, to stay healthy. Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, connective tissue, blood, skin, hair, and nails.12
But your body is unable to store protein. So, some of the best sources for high-quality protein include meat, poultry, fish, and dairy.13
Fish, like sardines, are particularly good sources of protein as they are low in saturated fats but, as we saw, they have a high level of those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
One can of sardines contains almost 50 percent of the RDI for protein.14
6. They Won’t Burn a Hole in Your Wallet
One of the greatest things about sardines is that (unlike most seafood) they’re extremely budget-friendly, making them easily accessible to everyone. Just as you keep the kitchen pantry stocked with canned tuna for cheap lunches and quick snacks, you can keep tins of sardines on hand for low-price, high-nutrition, meals.
One can of sardines costs, on average, between $1.50 to $3.15
Simple Ways to Incorporate Sardines Into Your Diet
If the thought of eating sardines straight out of the can makes you shudder, try some of these delicious ideas:
- Sauté canned sardines in olive oil, and add them to your pasta
- Throw them into your salad (that sardine oil is especially tasty!)
- Add them as a pizza topping
- Mash them up, and serve them on crackers
- Pan fry until crispy, and drizzle with lemon juice
- Add them to an omelet
- Sauté sardines with garlic, and serve as a tapas dish
- Smear them with cream cheese for a savory bagel topping
- Serve with a hard-boiled egg on toast
- Top avocado halves with sardines, and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice
- Mix with a tomato sauce, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and bake
If you’re looking for a new, healthy snack food in your life (and, aren’t we all?), sardines might just be an ideal choice. You can literally throw them in your handbag or backpack, eat them right out of the can, and feel nourished and satiated afterward.
And because they’re packed heart-healthy fatty acids, protein, calcium, selenium, and vitamin D, (not to mention a whole host of other vitamins and minerals) you’d be crazy not to at least give these little fish a chance.
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