Sardines to your health

February 24, 2012

Food, Health

Sardines are low on the food chain; therefore, they contain fewer food contaminants such as mercury.

by Erlinda Tom — 

During the spring, massive schools of small fish swim to the shores for food — from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. Some of these fish are called pilchards or sardines, named after the Mediterranean island Sardinia. Sardine, however, is a general term used to describe other ocean fish such as herring, spats and brisling. Sardines are low on the food chain; therefore, they contain fewer food contaminants such as mercury.

Why sardines? Consider sardines healthy “fast food in a can” for people who are always on the go. Sardines are rich in omega-3 oil — a polyunsaturated essential fatty acid that is acquired from dietary sources, yet is a key nutrient lacking in the American diet. Omega-3 lowers the serum level of cholesterol in our blood, which reduces the potential risk for cardiovascular disease.

Sardines have a low-glycemic index, and they may help to decrease blood sugar levels in small amounts. Sardines are also a good source of protein, vitamin D and calcium, which promote healthy bones.

The right balance of food (including sardines), vitamins and minerals can relieve problems such as arthritis, asthma and psoriasis. Sardines contain vitamin B12, which is necessary for a healthy nervous system, mental alertness and fighting depression.

After preparation in the cannery, sardines are either deep-fried or steamed, and then dried. Good quality sardines with head and gills removed are packed in either olive, sunflower or soybean oil, water, or in a tomato, chili, salsa, pesto or mustard sauce. Small canned sardines are portable, self-contained and nonperishable.

Sardines may be round herrings or sprat (Nordic brisling). Nordic brisling sardines from a northern habitat are known to have higher concentrations of omega-3 oil.

Sardines have been a sustainable global food staple for thousands of years. Coastal Balkan towns flourish today because of sardine fishing.

In France, Brittany is known as the birthplace of sardine canning and where most French canneries remain. Morocco is the leading supplier of sardines in Europe and the world’s largest sardine exporter. Spanish sardines (sardinella longiceps) are popular in Southeast Asia.

In the U.K., from 1750 to 1880, pilchard fishing and processing in Cornwall was thriving, but almost went into decline. As of 1997, Cornish sardines were again sold in Cornwall.

The sardine canning industry was at its peak in the U.S. in 1950. A seafood plant in Prospect Harbor, Maine, operated for more than a century. It closed its doors in April 2010 due to federal restrictions on the amount of herring that can be caught.

Here is a quick recipe for lunch: Place pieces of sardines on two slices of whole wheat bread with one tablespoon of low-fat mayo, one-half cup of salad greens and three to five slices of avocado. Et voilà!


  1. Herring.
  2. Sardines.
  3. O’Toole, M.T. ED, RN, FAAN, editor. Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health. 7th edition 2003 p. 657.
  4. Glassman, Keri, MS, RD, CDN. The Sardine Diet 2006 pp.25,38,43.
  5. America’s Last Cannery Going Out of Business.


Erlinda Tom is an RN, BSN LMT, NCTMB, AMMA therapist trained at New York College in 2000. She combines careers as a nurse specialist and energy healer. 575-494-4562 or e-mail

 Reprinted from AZNetNews, Volume 30, Number 4, Aug/Sept. 2011.


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