Yes, sardines–the unpretentious little fish that comes in metal tins with peel off tops–are a nutritional powerhouse. And not only are they good for you, they’re cheap and come ready to eat, making them a perfect food for the prep-challenged. But what’s so great about sardines?
Sardines are loaded with calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese. They are also a great source of nonmeat vitamin B12. In fact, one tin of sardines provides 150 percent of the Daily Value.
Sardines are also a great source of selenium.
But sardines’ biggest health benefit lies in their high concentration of omega-3-fatty acids, which reduce triglyceride levels. Besides fish such as salmon, sardines are one of the best sources of omega-3s.
The advantage of getting omega-3s from sardines is that their smaller size makes them less likely to have accumulated toxins such as mercury, dioxane and PCB.
Remember: the bigger the fish, the more mercury it contains. Fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, for example, contain high levels of mercury. And while canned light tuna contains a small amount of omega-3 and fairly low mercury levels, fresh tuna steaks and albacore tuna contain three times as much mercury.
You can’t go wrong with sardines!
You can buy sardines that are packed in water, mustard, tomato sauce or olive oil. Keep in mind that the oil can add to the calorie and fat content, but it’s a great choice if you’re using sardines as your protein on a salad, since you can use the oil in place of dressing.
The oil also contains those essential omega-3s, according to Jonny Bowden, author of 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.
“Two things to remember: One, if you eat fish packed in oil, don’t throw away the oil–instead use the oil, since a lot of the omega-3s from the fish are likely to drain into it,” Bowden explains.
“If you get fish packed in water (which is fine), the omega-3s will stay locked in the fish since oil and water don’t mix.”
Here’s a recipe for a heart-healthy beet and sardine sandwich:
1 Ezekiel English muffin
1 small cooked red beet
2 boneless sardines in oil
Chop the beet and the sardines together and spread on the Ezekiel English muffin.
You can also make your own sardine pate by mixing one tin of sardines in tomato sauce with 8oz of Philadelphia Whipped Cream Cheese. Add pepper and lemon juice to taste. Chill and serve! You can spread the pate on celery sticks for a great snack.
Why does this matter to you? If you workout, sardines provide your body with protein essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, while the omega-3s help your cardiovascular health by raising good HDL and reducing bad LDL cholesterol levels. And omega-3s, like the ones found in sardines, may also help speed recovery from certain sports injuries.