Tiny & Mighty: Why the Sardine Is A True Superfood


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The idea of superfoods is something that has been popularized in the last few decades. These superfoods are nutrient-rich, colourful, and promise cancer-fighting, age-defying, and optimal health results. They are also typically very expensive. But what if we told you that we’ve had access to a cheap superfood for as long as humans have been fishing?

Sardines are a small fish typically sold in cans due to the fact that they go bad very quickly. Inside these little silvery fish lies a wealth of nutrition. Due to their small size and being at the bottom of the food-chain, they are also lower in heavy metals and PCBs, compared to other larger fish sources like tuna.

If you want to know how this inexpensive little fish can provide you with the necessary nutrients for truly optimized health, then keep reading!

Macronutrient Breakdown

Although small, these fish pack a powerful protein punch. In 1 sardine (around 12g), you’ll find 3g of protein. That means that 25% of their calories are made up of important amino acids for muscle growth, tissue repair, and healthy brain function. 

If you are looking for a protein that comes with a moderate amount of fat, then these little guys are a great choice. In 1 sardine, you’ll get 1.35g of fat (~11g/can). 

Lastly, and especially important for those of you looking to keep your carb-take low, sardines are carb-free (as most animal protein sources are). 

The macronutrient breakdown of a sardine is impressive, but where they really pack their nutritional punch is in their micronutrient profile. The vitamins and minerals they provide contribute to things like a healthy heart, healthy bones, and brain health.

Micronutrient Details

Sardines are one of the best food sources out there because they provide us with more than 40% of our daily recommended value of critical nutrients. These include vitamin B12 (338%), selenium (87%), phosphorus (64%), omega-3’s (61%), and vitamin D (44%). 

Vitamin B12 is an important water-soluble vitamin that provides us with energy and helps build DNA – meaning it is part of every cell regeneration in the body and can therefore have protective effects on some of our most vulnerable cells, like nerve/brain cells. 

Selenium is a less common nutrient that doesn’t get as much attention as we think it should. It is an antioxidant, and a cofactor in the production of thyroid hormone, which plays an important role in human metabolism. Selenium also acts as an enzyme and therefore aids in the multitude of chemical reactions that go on inside our bodies every day. It is required for proper immune function, sperm motility, and evidence suggests it can reduce the risk of miscarriage. If you do not get enough selenium you can experience unpredictable mood fluctuations, and you put yourself at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and have a weaker defence against some cancers. The fact that you get 87% of your daily selenium from this tiny fish makes sardines a nutritional hero.

Phosphorus is another nutrient that isn’t spoken about or glorified in the fitness industry but holds incredible power in the body. Phosphorus works behind the scenes to ensure that many cellular functions go down as they should. ATP, adenosine triphosphate, is the energy molecule that our body uses for everything. Phosphorus also enables enzymes to catalyze reactions and helps carry the signal from the nervous system to vital organs. 

Omega-3’s and vitamin D are two nutrients that gain a lot of attention in the media, the fitness industry, and at your favourite health food store. The two work together to keep the brain healthy, the immune system working properly, and your bones strong. Omega-3’s are also an important nutrient for heart health, and vitamin D works with neurochemicals in the brain to regulate our moods.

Sardines offer even more nutrients, which you can find below:

Sardines micronutrient profile

How To Enjoy

Not everyone likes the idea of small, canned fish, so we want to give you a few resources to help you enjoy sardines and benefit from their impressive nutrient profile.

Picking Sardines:

If you are buying them fresh, you want their eyes to be bright, and their bodies to be firm. If you are buying them canned, it will depend on your preference. Always choose olive oil over soybean oil if you are going for canned sardines in oil. If you want to keep your grams-of-fat low, then you can always grab the sardines in water. According to ChefsResource.com, the top 3 brands of canned sardines are:

  1. King Oscar Sardines (best tasting sardines)
  2. Wild Planet Wild Sardines
  3. Season’s Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Pure Olive Oil

Based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, pacific sardines are the best option, especially the ones caught in the Gulf of California or Southern Australia. Whole sardines have to be gutted and deboned. This video will show you how to prepare sardines.

Once you have chosen your sardines, it is time to make a meal! Sardines can be put in salads, on sandwiches, or simply cooked in olive oil with fresh garnished like parsley and hot peppers. For 15 great-tasting sardine recipes, check out saveur.com’s top 15 sardine recipes.

So there you have it! In honour of National Sardines Day, this article should have given you a better idea of why these little fish are a secret superfood, and maybe even inspired you to try something new!

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