I’ve been developing diets (or what I call Nutrition Plans) for the last 20 years. And while the quality of the protein I personally eat and suggest to “clients” is of utmost importance, I believe I may have overlooked one of the top “dogs”.
Sardines, as many of you already know, are a great source of protein. However, before you say, “I knew it!” let me explain why and also some of the concerns associated with these Italian Treats.
Named after the Italian island of Sardinia, because of the plentiful numbers in that region, these tiny silver fish (baby herring in actuality) contain the same amount of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids per ounce as salmon and, due to their relatively petite sizes – putting them near the bottom of the food chain, lower levels of mercury due to their relatively petite sizes – putting them near the bottom of the food chain.
However, when it comes to nutrition, don’t let their size fool you. Ounce per ounce Sardines contain more protein than steak, more potassium than bananas and more iron than spinach. Along with vitamin B12 and the powerful antioxidants coenzyme Q10 and selenium, a 3.5 ounce serving has three times the calcium (if you eat the bones) as one cup of milk, as well as vitamin D and a phosphorous which are essential for calcium absorption.
So, what are their drawbacks?
While these little Pilchards are extremely convenient, in that them come nicely packed in an easy-to-open tin, they can be relatively expensive; up to $4 per 3.5 ounce can, depending on the brand.
Sardines contain purines which, when broken down by the digestive system, form uric acid. Therefore, an excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid, resulting in gout (where uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet, and episodes of acute pain) or the development of kidney stones.
Sardines also contain high levels of sodium. The same 3.5 ounce serving that packs more calcium than milk also provides almost 25% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of sodium (505 mg per serving in Atlantic and 414 mg in Pacific).
Does that mean the presence of purines and sodium negates the benefits of Sardines? Not necessarily. But caution should be used. If you have kidney problems, you may want to avoid them entirely. However, if it’s the sodium you are concerned about (and you should be), do the following:
First, make sure you purchase the fish in water and avoid those containing oil, tomato sauce or mustard; because you are just going to have to rinse them off anyway. Right? Right. Then, soak them in water by placing the little tikes in a colander and them for five minutes, space them 1/4-inch apart in a shallow baking dish and cover with water. Soak the sardines for two to four hours in the refrigerator before discarding the water and patting them dry with paper towels.
So the next time you want a different protein source or are just planning your next Cena della Vigilia di Natale, try unrolling, rinsing and enjoying some SARDINES!