I visited Japan for the first time in 2014, and one of the things I was blown away by the food.
The sushi was way better than I even expected, and I generally ate tons of great food for less than I expected.
But one of my favorite discoveries – and stick with me here – was sardines.
I know!! Who would have thought?
Fuji (a town near Mount Fuji) is famous for its young sardines, also known as “Shirasu.” You can buy them fresh or dried (we went for fresh), and they’re absolutely delicious.
As it turns out, I’d spent my whole life being afraid that I’d hate this little fish, only to find out just how great they are.
What is a Sardine?
There are actually many fish that are known as “sardines,” but they’re all so closely related genetically that they’re usually just considered to be the same fish. These include many small types of herring that are caught at night, when they rise to the surface of the water to eat plankton.
It is said that Napoleon was responsible for the sardines’ rise in popularity, and although sardines fell out of popularity for a short time, they are making a comeback now as more people realize their impressive health benefits.
Are Sardines Healthy?
Oh yes, let me count the ways:
- Sardines are packed with calcitriol, a form of vitamin D that regulates cell cycles. Because the disruption of proper cell cycles is what causes cancer, keeping these cycles the way they’re supposed to be is one of the most effective forms of cancer prevention.
- Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Since our diets often contain far too many omega-6s, these healthy omega-3s help our bodies to balance out and reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions like heart disease.
- The most prevalent nutrient in sardines, vitamin B12, clocks in at a whopping 337% of what you need every day! B12 reduces homocysteine, an element that builds up and plays an important role in the degeneration of bone through osteoporosis. So with all this vitamin B12, sardines do their part to support bone health.
- Like most other seafood, sardines are generally full of a variety of vitamins and minerals, too numerous to list here.
- The protein in sardines provides us with necessary amino acids that build and regenerate our bodies. These amino acids transport oxygen through the body and repair tissue. Don’t forget that amino acids are also responsible for building antibodies, so the huge dose of protein in these little fish also strengthens the immune system.
Many people are afraid to try sardines, mostly because they seem just about as “weird” as anchovies, for no real reason. Sardines have a rich, flavorful taste without a fishy aftertaste, and there’s really nothing unusual about them at all.
But for those of you who have yet to actually sink your teeth into these tiny fish, there are many options.
How to Choose Sardines
If you can’t make it to Mount Fuji, here are a few tips.
- Finding actual, whole sardines could be a bit of quest, as they are usually sold only in cans. However, some stores have sardines at the seafood counter, and they are glad to remove the bones for you. You can ask them to remove the large bones and leave the little bones, as cooking the sardines softens them and you don’t even know they’re there.
- You also have a lot of options for buying canned sardines. Some of the most common options are sardines in water, soy oil, canola oil, tomato sauce, and olive oil.
- When selecting canned sardines, make sure to read the labels for information about what they’re packed in. Be sure to avoid those packed in soy oil, canola oil, or tomato sauce with a lot of sugar in it.
- Generally, buying sardines packed in water is the best bet—you can always spice them up with some homemade Paleo mayo or put them into your next culinary creation.
- Remember that while sardines are a great snack just by themselves, they can also be used in a variety of dishes and as a salad topper. Try dumping your sardines into a bowl and mashing in some avocado—it makes a great veggie dip!