Sardines are rich in numerous nutrients that have been found to support cardiovascular health. They are one of the most concentrated sources of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have been found to lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels; one serving (3.25 ounce can) of sardines actually contains over 50% of the daily value for these important nutrients. Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12, ranking as one of the World's Healthiest Food most concentrated in this nutrient. Vitamin B12 promotes cardiovascular well-being since it is intricately tied to keeping levels of homocysteine in balance; homocysteine can damage artery walls, with elevated levels being a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Sardines are not only a rich source of bone-building vitamin D, a nutrient not so readily available in the diet and one that is most often associated with fortified dairy products. Vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health since it helps to increase the absorption of calcium. Sardines are also a very good source of phosphorus, a mineral that is important to strengthening the bone matrix. Additionally, as high levels of homocysteine are related to osteoporosis, sardines' vitamin B12 rounds out their repertoire of nutrients that support bone health.
For many years, researchers have known that vitamin D, in the form of calcitriol, participates in the regulation of cell activity. Because cell cycles play such a key role in the development of cancer, optimal vitamin D intake may turn out to play an important role in the prevention of various types of cancer.
Sardines are rich in protein, which provides us with amino acids. Our bodies use amino acids to create new proteins, which serve as the basis for most of the body's cells and structures. Proteins form the basis of muscles and connective tissues, antibodies that keep our immune system strong, and transport proteins that deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies.
Sardines are named after Sardinia, the Italian island where large schools of these fish were once found. While sardines are delightful enjoyed fresh, they are most commonly found canned, since they are so perishable. With growing concern over the health of the seas, people are turning to sardines since they are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, feeding solely on plankton, and therefore do not concentrate heavy metals, such as mercury, and contaminants as do some other fish.
While there are six different types of species of sardines belong to the Clupeidae family, more than 20 varieties of fish are sold as sardines throughout the world. What these fish share in common is that they are small, saltwater, oily-rich, silvery fish that are soft-boned. In the United States, sardines actually refers to a small herring, and adult sardines are known as pilchards, a name that is commonly used in other parts of the world. Sardines are abundant in the seas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean with Spain, Portugal, France, and Norway being the leading producers of canned sardines.
Sardines date back to time immemorial, but it was the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who helped to popularize these little fish by initiating the canning of sardines, the first fish ever to be canned, in order to feed the citizens of the land over which he presided. Extremely popular in the United States in the 20th century, sardines are now making a comeback as people realize that they are an incredibly rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and that, because they are small fish at the bottom of the food chain, they are not as likely to contain concentrated amounts of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.
Canned sardines packed in olive oil are preferable to those in soybean oil. Those concerned about their intake of fat may want to choose sardines packed in water. Look at the expiration date on the package to ensure that they are still fresh.
If you are purchasing fresh sardines, look for ones that smell fresh, are firm to the touch, and have bright eyes and shiny skin.
Pacific sardines are featured on the Super Green List of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. The Super Green List is considered "the Best of the Best" in seafood; to receive this designation a fish or shellfish needed to be among their "Best Choices" for sustainability, provide at least 250 mg of omega-3s in an 8-ounce serving, and contain low levels of mercury (less than 216 ppb) and PCBs (less than 11 ppb).
Canned sardines can be stored in the kitchen cupboard, ideally one that is cool and not exposed to excessive heat. They have a long storage life; check the package for the expiration date so you know when you should use it by. Turn the can every now and then to ensure that all parts of the sardines are exposed to the oil or liquid in which they are packed; this will help keep them well-moistened. Unused portions of opened sardine cans should be refrigerated.
Fresh sardines are very perishable and normal refrigerator temperatures of 36-40F (2-4C) do not inhibit the enzymatic activity that causes them to spoil; they are best when stored at 28-32F (-2-0C). To store the fresh sardines, remove them from the store packaging, rinse them and place them in a plastic storage bag as soon as you bring them home from the market. Place in a large bowl and cover with ice cubes or ice packs to reduce the temperature of the fish. Remember to drain off the melted water and replenish the ice as necessary. Although fresh sardines will keep for a few days using this method, we recommend using the sardines as soon as possible, within a day or two. Don't forget that fish not only starts to smell but will dry out or become slimy if not stored correctly.
Fish, such as sardines, are among the eight food types considered to be major food allergens in the U.S., requiring identification on food labels. For helpful information about this topic, please see our article, An Overview of Adverse Food Reactions.
Sardines, Atlantic, canned
GI: very low
|vitamin B12||8.11 mcg||338||32.2||excellent|
|phosphorus||444.52 mg||64||6.1||very good|
|omega-3 fats||1.46 g||61||5.8||very good|
|protein||22.33 g||45||4.3||very good|
|vitamin D||175.09 IU||44||4.2||very good|
|vitamin B3||4.76 mg||30||2.8||good|
|vitamin B2||0.21 mg||16||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%