Reconsider grabbing that can of sardines next time you’re in the canned goods aisle. Get to know why it’s time you give this underrated superfood a try.
Sardines. What does the name conjure up for you?
A smelly, oily fish? Or a decadent superfood?
If you are like many Americans, you bypass the sardine section at the grocery store without a second glance. But what if you knew that these little fish were actually a nutrient powerhouse, helpful in reducing inflammation, promoting bone, heart and skin health and vitality as well as providing a plethora of other nutritional health benefits ?
Part of the herring family, the name sardine is thought to have originated from the fact that these fish were once abundant around the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia. Today, sardines are eaten worldwide, and are considered an inexpensive, high-quality source of protein. In the US, we mostly see them canned; however, in other parts of the globe such as Spain, Portugal, Morocco and India, they are eaten in a variety of ways: grilled, served with pasta sauce, made into meatballs, or fried.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program lists Pacific sardines as a “best choice” due to their abundance and high production rate. They also have one of the lowest mercury levels of any fish, making them an excellent choice for everyone, but especially kids and pregnant women.
Many foods are called ‘superfoods’ but sardines are truly the ultimate one.
According to the USDA database, one 3.2 oz can of sardines has 20g protein (that’s a lot!). It’s important to note that not all protein is made equal – there is a difference between plant and animal protein. Animal proteins tend to a better, more complete nutrition complement because their amino acid profiles typically include more essential amino acids necessary for our diet.
Sardines are an excellent source of the highest quality protein available. One can of sardines also contains about 300 mg calcium — more than a glass of cow’s milk. They are high in Vitamin D (a vitamin the majority of Americans are deficient in!) and have an outstanding Omega-3 fatty acid profile. On top of this they are a great source of B12, as well as numerous other nutrients.
Can you see why they are truly a superfood? Let’s dive in more:
Reduction of inflammation
Sardines are an abundant source of EPA and DHA, which are two fatty acids that studies show your body can use to reduce inflammation.
Brain development and function
EPA and DHA are essential for fetal brain development. Sardines are one of the safest fish that pregnant women and children can consume because of their very low mercury content.
Sardines contain a high amount of selenium, which is necessary for your thyroid and overall immune system to function optimally. Most of the selenium is in the silvery skin of the sardine so don’t be afraid to eat this part!
A skin superfood
The abundant omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines are a critical component of radiant skin. Some small studies have even shown the DHA and EPA fatty acids found in sardines to help improve responses to sun exposure (of course sun screen should always be used!) as well as improvements in conditions like psoriasis.
May lower insulin resistance and blood sugar.
An animal-based study published in 2012 looked at the effect of diets containing sardines on bloods sugar and insulin levels. It was shown that sardine protein diets diminished plasma insulin as well as insulin resistance. Plasma free fatty acids were also lower. Finally, the sardine diets showed significantly decreased plasma glucose and HbA1C (a measure of long term blood sugar).
Keeps you full and satisfied.
Sardines are high in protein and have an optimal balance of Omega-3’s. The combination of these two essential nutrients is ideal for providing fullness and long-lasting energy: protein helps keep you feeling full longer, while healthy fats help manage insulin response, thus helping stabilize blood sugar levels and control cravings and hunger.
And what’s the ultimate health benefit of sardines? They are the better choice for our planet’s health.
These mighty fish are very low in mercury, but eating them also has the potential to help rebalance the marine ecosystem. A study recently suggests that by consuming more of the fish on top of the food chain and less of the forage fish, like sardines, the population of forage fish has increased, throwing off oceanic ecosystems. Eating fewer large fish (like tuna) and more small fish (like sardines) can help us maintain a healthy balance in our ecosystem.
Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN is a Los Angeles-based private practice dietitian who shares her love of health and wellness through a unique global perspective. From world-class U.S. medical centers to rural villages in Africa, Mascha has dedicated herself to traveling the world, spreading her love of healthy living through both her humanitarian work and private practice. Learn more about Mascha at Nomadista Nutrition.