In a world where big players like tuna and salmon take center stage on most plates, lowly sardines don't get a whole lot of love. Which is a shame, because they might not have size going for them, but sometimes it's the little guys that pack the biggest punch.
The small, silvery fish boost brain health, protect the heart, have anti-inflammatory properties, keep bones strong, and may even help fight depression.
What makes them so powerful? Not only are nutrients packed like, well, sardines into these little fish, but their small size and short lifespan sardines also mean toxins like mercury don't accumulate in their bodies. They also reproduce quickly, which makes them very sustainable.
Sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids—currently the darlings of the nutrition world, and for good reason. When it comes to health, it seems that there isn't much omega-3's can't do. There is strong evidence that omega-3's protect your heart by decreasing blood clot formation and preventing arrhythmia. They also lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and tackle triglyceride levels. Not impressed yet? Omega-3s also show promise in treating depression, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, eczema, and even cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Your body needs them but can't make them, so you have to get them from food. Experts recommend 500 milligrams of omega-3 per day; a three-ounce serving of sardines provides 835 milligrams: All you need in a day and then some.
The benefits don’t end there; sardines are also a great source vitamin D, an important nutrient for bone strength, preventing osteoporosis and keeping the immune system strong. Known as the sunshine vitamin, our bodies can make vitamin D from sunlight. Since not everyone lives in warm climates like California or Florida, most Americans don't get enough sunshine to make adequate vitamin D, especially in the cold, dreary days of winter. One three-ounce serving of sardines packs about 25 percent of your daily vitamin D needs.
Sardines are also a good source of another key nutrient for bone health: calcium. A three-ounce serving provides about 32 percent of our daily need. Calcium not only helps keep bones strong, it is also an important mineral for proper nerve function.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week, so next time seafood is on the menu, choose small but mighty!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont