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Food of the month - Sardines

March 2015

Sardines are a tasty food, affordable, available all year round and very easy to prepare. Most of us today also know that oily fish, including sardines, are very good for us. So why aren’t sardines given a higher status? Mention sardines for supper and it is unlikely you will get a truly excited response.

Maybe it is because sardines have been around for all of our lives; always available in little tin cans.

Maybe it is because of this that sardines generally are greatly undervalued by the British public. For a start, few of us know much about them. The difference between a sardine and pilchard is not an exact science. While generally sardines and pilchards are names used to cover small oily fish within the herring family, there are conflicts on what exactly comprises a sardine. The Sea Fish Industry Authority suggests sardines are simply young pilchards; while other authorities name 21 species as specific sardines. Then some groups say a pilchard is when the fish is more than 15 cms in length, smaller fish are sardines.

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There may be many similar species of fish within the sardine and small pilchard family, but for most of us it would be hard to tell the difference.

Interestingly, the word sardine is thought to have originated in the 15th century on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where sardines were plentiful.

But whatever their designation and history, sardines are a great food to include in our normal diet.

For a start, they are excellent for heart health, something that we become increasingly interested in as we age. Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which have been found to lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Sardines also contain vitamin B12.

Then, to keep our bones healthy and strong, sardines contain vitamin D, plus good levels of phosphorus. These small little fish are also rich in protein giving us amino acids. Sardines also contain phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin and vitamins B-6 and B-12.

All in all sardines are a tasty and healthy food to include in our regular diets. There is just one word of warning; sardines contain a naturally occurring substance called purines. These are common in many plants, animals and in humans but a few people are susceptible to purine-related conditions including painful gout and also the formation of kidney stones. In these cases, it is probably best to avoid over consumption of sardines.

Today you can buy canned sardines in various forms including in olive oil, soybean oil and water; but increasingly fresh sardines are becoming available throughout the year. Here you need to look for sardines that smell fresh, are firm to the touch, have bright eyes and a shiny skin.

But however you buy and use sardines, these humble little fishes deserve more credit than most of us give them.

 


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