Get Your Sardines On!
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Sardines provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Sardines can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Sardines, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
Promote Heart Health
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, second only to calf’s liver as 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.
Promote Bone Health
Sardines are not only a rich source of bone-building calcium, but they are also incredibly concentrated in 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.
Promote Optimal 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. Selenium, of which sardines are also a very good soruce, is a mineral with powerful antioxidant activity, whose dietary intake has been associated with reduced risk of cancer.
Packed with Protein
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’s 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.
Tips for Preparing Sardines:
Canned sardines require minimal preparation. For canned sardines packed in oil, gently rinse them under water to remove excess oil before serving. Fresh sardines need to be gutted and rinsed under cold running water.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Sprinkle sardines with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
Combine sardines with chopped onion, olives, or fennel.
Top sardines with chopped tomatoes and basil, oregano, or rosemary.
Balsamic vinegar gives sardines a nice zing.
Make a sauce with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, pressed garlic, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Serve over sardines.
Sardines and Purines
Sardine contain naturally occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as sardines.
Allergic Reactions to Sardines
Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. It’s important to realize that the frequency of problems varies from country to country and can change significantly along with changes in the food supply or with other manufacturing practices. For example, in several part of the world, including Canada, Japan, and Israel, sesame seed allergy has risen to a level of major concern over the past 10 years.
In the United States, beginning in 2004 with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), food labels have been required to identify the presence of any major food allergens. Since 90% of food allergies in the U.S. have been associated with 8 food types as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it is these 8 food types that are considered to be major food allergens in the U.S. and require identification on food labels. The 8 food types classified as major allergens are as follows: (1) wheat, (2) cow’s milk, (3) hen’s eggs, (4) fish, (5) crustacean shellfish (including shrimp, prawns, lobster and crab); (6) tree nuts (including cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts); (7) peanuts; and (8) soy foods.
These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.
Food allergy symptoms may sometimes be immediate and specific, and can include skin rash, hives, itching, and eczema; swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat; tingling in the mouth; wheezing or nasal congestion; trouble breathing; and dizziness or lightheadedness. But food allergy symptoms may also be much more general and delayed, and can include fatigue, depression, chronic headache, chronic bowel problems (such as diarrhea or constipation), and insomnia. Because most food allergy symptoms can be caused by a variety of other health problems, it is good practice to seek the help of a healthcare provider when evaluating the role of food allergies in your health.
Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12 and tryptophan. They are a very good source of selenium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and phosphorus. In addition, they are a good source of calcium and niacin. For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Sardines
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Sardines is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System Chart
In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.
3.25 oz can
Nutrient Amount DV
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 8.22 mcg 137.0 12.9 excellent tryptophan 0.25 g 78.1 7.3 excellent selenium 48.48 mcg 69.3 6.5 very good vitamin D 250.24 IU 62.6 5.9 very good omega 3 fatty acids 1.36 g 56.7 5.3 very good protein 22.65 g 45.3 4.3 very good phosphorus 450.80 mg 45.1 4.2 very good calcium 351.44 mg 35.1 3.3 good vitamin B3 (niacin) 4.83 mg 24.1 2.3 good
Rule excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10% very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5% good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%
In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Sardines
- Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986 1986. PMID:15210.
- Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988 1988. PMID:15220.