There’s a consensus among the nutrition community that people should be eating less meat and more fish. For most people, this means salmon or canned tuna. These are indeed very popular and nutritious choices.
However there are several problems with tuna and salmon. Both are very large fish that take several years to mature, during which their bodies absorb mercury and PCBs. These poisons have doctors and nutritionists advising limits on weekly consumption of big fish, especially for children and pregnant women.
They are also starting to disappear from the oceans as world demand has grown so much in the past 50 years.
Enter sardines, an entire section of canned goodness that we often skip while grocery shopping. Too bad. These under-appreciated cousins of herring, are a wonderful nutrition source.
What you need to know:
Sardines are a small type of fish, also known as pilchards. They are usually less than 15 cm in length. They have soft bones and can be eaten whole without fear of choking. While we normally eat them canned, in the Mediterranean they are also served grilled or smoked.
Due to their small size and diet consisting of plankton, sardines do not accumulate heavy metals in their bodies like the big fish do. There is also no fear of stock depletion any time soon.
Nutritionally , sardines are a hit:
- They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- Their fat content is mostly unsaturated
- They are high in vitamin D, and elusive vitamin for many people
- They are very high in vitamin B12
- They are protein rich – a can of sardines contains almost half the daily value of protein
- Those soft bones are full of calcium, and you can get a third of the daily value just from one can.
On the downside, canned sardines tend to be high in sodium (20% of the daily value) and high in cholesterol (should only concern people with serious blood cholesterol issues though).
What to do at the supermarket:
You’ll most likely buy canned sardines packed in oil. While the oil is fine and dandy for preserving the fish, you don’t need it. Use paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Squeeze a lemon over the sardines for added flavor.