Let me guess, you are one of two kinds of people when it comes to sardines:
You love them and eat them regularly
or you can’t stand them and don’t even know why you are reading a post about them
Statistically, it’s likely you are in the latter group, as 73% of people claim to dislike sardines. But give me 5 minutes and I might convince you to try them… and maybe even love them!
Sardines are often called the healthiest fish and they are certainly one of the most budget friendly. In fact, I order sustainably caught canned sardines (from here) and we consume them regularly. Some experts call them a natural multivitamin and they are one of the few truly healthy canned portable foods.
But I get it…
They have a strong smell and a stronger taste. And they are weird and scary because they have bones and skin and you don’t want to try them. I get it, but here’s why you should anyway:
The Benefits of Sardines
Sardines are a tiny fish with a very big nutrient profile! In fact, very few other foods pack the same amount of nutrients per ounce. Liver comes pretty close, but it is often more dreaded than the humble sardine!
Real food is often more expensive than processed foods, but sardines are a notable exception! Canned sardines are one of the few super-healthy, budget-friendly portable “fast foods” out there. They also don’t carry the same mercury risk as bigger fish do.
Here are eight reasons you should learn to love them:
Source of Omega-3
Omega-3s benefit the body in many ways and are well-studied for their importance in the body. One can of sardines contains over half of the recommended daily dose of Omega-3. Sardines provide both EPA and DHA fats, which are beneficial for the brain, heart and to reduce inflammation.
Many people consume large amounts of high Omega-6 oils like vegetable oil and margarine. This may disturb the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats in the body and lead to a variety of problems. Experts claim that DHA and EPA are the most easily usable forms of Omega 3 for the body and consuming these from foods like sardines and other fatty fish can help correct this ratio.
Various studies show the importance of consuming enough Omega-3 to keep cholesterol levels in healthy ranges, for heart health, to support the brain and for optimal fertility and hormone balance.
Super Source of Selenium
Experts like Chris Kresser and Dr. Paul Jaminet explain the importance of selenium for thyroid and adrenal health. One theory is that too much iodine (found in processed foods) without enough selenium may be hard on the thyroid and adrenals. Selenium is also needed for glutathione production in the body.
Selenium and iodine are synergistic and occur together in most naturally occurring sources, including sardines. In fact, one can of sardines contains almost the entire RDA (recommended daily allowance) of selenium and a smaller amount of iodine. This may help the body obtain a proper balance of selenium and iodine.
Personally, I’ve found that since consuming rich food sources of selenium (like sardines and brazil nuts) and Omega-3s my thyroid symptoms are reduced.
Bioavailable Calcium & Phosphorus
Sardines (even canned ones) are great because they are one of the few animal foods that we still consume all of, including the bones and skin. While this makes some people squeamish, these “odd bits” of the fish have important vitamins and minerals, including a great dose of calcium from the bones. One can contains about 1/3 of the recommended daily amount of calcium in a highly absorbable form.
Phosphorus is an important mineral for bone and tooth health as well and difficult to find in food sources. Sardines are one of the best natural food sources, which is why they are often recommended for healthy skin, teeth and bones.
Vitamin D Boost
The vast majority of us are Vitamin D deficient. And this number is even more drastic if we consider the optimal levels of Vitamin D and not just the minimum! It is one of the reasons that experts are calling for a change to the recommendation to avoid the sun! Some have even gone so far as to claim that we have a sun deficiency and that widespread vitamin D deficiency is contributing to various cancers and health problems.
One can of sardines contains almost half of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin D.
High in Protein
Sardines are a great protein choice. One 3 ounce can provides 23 grams of protein and a big dose of vitamins. These tiny fish are considered a very “efficient food” since they contain a very high amount of vitamins, protein and Omega-3 for the amount of calories they contain.
Low in Mercury and Other Metals
Heavy metal contamination is an understandable concern with consuming fish. Especially in the wake of recent contamination, many people are concerned about eating fish. Thankfully, sardines are considered one of the safest fish to consume due to their small size.
Sardines eat plankton and are at the bottom of the ocean food chain. This means that they contain much less mercury and other heavy metals than larger fish such as tuna.
With the rise of farmed fish and overfishing, sustainability is also a problem. Thankfully, sardines are considered one of the most sustainable fish available. They are still abundant in the oceans and don’t show the same signs of deletion that many species are experiencing.
Personally, I make sure to stick to sustainably caught seafood (we get ours here) and canned sardines.
Real food costs more than the subsidized processed foods on grocery store shelves. Sardines are one of the few amazing nutrient-dense foods that won’t break the bank. I’ve been ordering sustainably caught wild sardines for under $2 a can (from here) and we use them all the time. They can substitute for canned tuna in almost every recipe. We make “tuna” salad with sardines for lunch at least once or twice a week. I also love them on top of a Caesar salad with homemade dressing.
How to Choose Good Sardines
If you’re convinced enough about the benefits to give them a try, make sure to find a high-quality source. If you’re new to the taste, I recommend starting with canned sardines in olive oil instead of water. The oil seems to help improve the taste for many people.
Most grocery stores carry canned sardines on the same aisle with tuna and other canned fish. I typically order them in bulk once a month from here since they are cheaper than the ones our local store carries and specify that they are from a sustainable source. Look for sardines in a BPA free can.
Ways to Eat Sardines (Without Gagging)
So, you have some sardines. You know they are healthy. Yet, that can stares back at you like a menacing foe! The most common way to consume them is on saltine crackers. If you avoid grains like I do, or just aren’t a fan of the refined flour, there are many other delicious ways to eat them. They are a little bit of an acquired taste, but you can learn to love them. Promise!
If you’re having a hard time learning to actually *like* them, try these ideas:
Mashed into half of an avocado with a squeeze of fresh lemon
Mix canned sardines with some chopped red onions and olives
Fisherman’s eggs- bake sardines with onions, eggs and spices
As one of the lowest contamination sources of seafood, sardines don’t carry the same risk many fish do. Recent recommendations even list them as a safe food for pregnant women when consumed 1-2 times per week. They are also high in purines, so those with gout or other disorders should check with a doctor before consuming sources of purines.
Bottom Line: Grab a Fork!
Congrats if you made it this far! Did I convince you to give sardines a try?
These nutrient-packed little fish are one of the most budget-friendly real foods. They taste delicious when prepared correctly and your body will love the nutrient boost. Take a deep breath and give them a try. You may even learn to love them!