The Superb Sardine

June 08, 2010

What’s small, sustainable, swims in the sea, and is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D- and not to mention, readily available in almost any supermarket?

What’s small, sustainable, swims in the sea, and is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D- and not to mention, readily available in almost any supermarket? Sardines of course! Sardines have been consumed as food for far longer than written records can vouch for; but what we do know is that sardines were first made popular by Napoleon Bonaparte who initiated the canning of these little fish. Lately, sardines have become increasingly popular, as more and more consumers realize their incredible nutrient density, overall sustainability and healthfulness.

Sardines are rich in omega-3s, an essential fatty acid needed for optimal brain health, aids in the reduction of inflammation in the body and are also known to reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have suggested that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. As compared with other omega-3 rich foods like salmon, and scallops, sardines contain more of these essential fatty acids per three ounce serving.

Sardines are a great source of dietary calcium; and this is especially true for sardines packed and consumed with their skin and bones. They are the most naturally rich source of vitamin D. Vitamin D’s main and most well known role in the body is to aid in the absorption and regulation of calcium. Calcium helps maintain healthy strong bones and supports proper functioning of nerves. Research also suggests vitamin D may aid in the reduction and protection from hypertension, cancer, and several autoimmune diseases - by modulating neuromuscular and immune function and helping to reduce inflammation. Vitamin D also helps control the cell life cycle, keeping good cells and getting rid of cells that are no longer necessary.

Another reason sardines are so important to include in your diet is because they are the second most concentrated source of vitamin B12 (next to calf’s liver). Vitamin B12 supports the production of red blood cells which aids in the prevention of anemia, allows nerve cells to develop properly, and helps your cells metabolize and use protein, carbohydrate, and fat. B12 deficiency can lead to depression, memory problems, nervousness and various other symptoms.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, sardines, specifically the US Pacific wild caught variety, are considered a ‘best choice’ when it comes to sustainability (abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways). Sardines are extremely low in contaminants such as mercury because they are so small and low on the food chain.

Supermarket Guru has a few tips for trying sardines for the first time and enjoying them as a regular part of a well balanced diet. 

• If it’s your first time trying sardines, a great place to start is with a boneless, skinless variety, packed in water or olive oil. For those concerned with their fat intake, sardines packed water may be a better choice. Although they may have a strong smell, their flavor is mild, and can be used in recipes in place of canned tuna. 
• Check with your supermarkets fishmonger, fresh sardines are great grilled, baked or sautéed. Check out this Steal this Recipe forSpaghetti con Sarde.
• Sardines serve as a fabulous spread - on a cracker or piece of toast – they also come smoked and packed in sauces like mustard and tomato, which can serve as a great snack, hors d'oeuvre, or even light lunch spread on toast, served on a cucumber, or in a mini lettuce cup. 
• Sardine is known as iwashi when prepared for sushi.

As always, please consult your physician or speak with a medical professional before changing your diet as not all foods are suitable for all diets.