Nutrition: Sardines

Tuesday 08 May 2018

This week I thought that I would have a complete change of pace and focus on a food that is extremely nutritious, fresh varieties are now in season and they are cheap, easily available and if canned can be a very good store cupboard food. I am talking about the humble Sardines!! I think that they are a little bit like marmite you either love them or hate them. I think it would be a good idea to try and love them because their nutritional profile is excellent.

Why sardines?

  • They are a very good source of protein and are particularly rich in an amino acid, called  Tryptophan (amino acids if you remember are the building blocks that make up a protein). Tryptophan is of particular interest because it is from tryptophan that we make the neurotransmitter Serotonin. I am sure that some of you will have heard of this as it is the neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that lifts mood and gives us the feel good factor. Also from serotonin we make Melatonin which is the neurotransmitter that we produce in the hours of darkness to induce a good sleep. Melatonin is also known as a powerful antioxidant that has the ability to enter every cell and disarm the potentially harmful free radicals . It also acts as a suppressor for oestrogen, important if oestrogen has been the driving force in the cancer development and it also suppresses the IGF-1 levels in the body. IGF-1 or insulin growth like factor makes cells divide at a faster rate. The production of melatonin declines with age and is disrupted by poor sleeping habits and has been shown to be very disrupted in people who work shift patterns. EMF’s (electromagnetic force) will also deplete its production so mobile phones and overhead power cables would potentially be a problem. So by eating the humble sardine you may feel better in yourself and sleep better and possibly have the benefits of lower oestrogen and growth factor.
  • Sardines are also a very good source of vitamin B12. Vitamin B 12 has been shown to be low particularly in women with breast cancer. Also chemotherapy is designed to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells and the cells of the digestive system are also rapidly dividing so consequently chemotherapy can have an adverse effect on nutrient absorption particularly vitamin B12.
  • Chemotherapy may also reduce red blood cell count which can cause fatigue and one of the side effects of B12 deficiency is also fatigue. We rely on a type of protein compound called the ‘intrinsic factor’ in our stomachs in order to be able to absorb vitamin B12 from the small intestine. The production of the intrinsic factor can be depleted as a result of treatment.  So super sardines may be really beneficial in replacing B12, possible depleted through treatment. Chemotherapy can also cause nerve tissue damage which may result in peripheral neuropathy, causing pain, tingling and numbness in your hands or feet. Vitamins B12 and vitamin B6 have been shown to improve this.
  • Chemotherapy can cause what some people describe as ‘brain fog’. According to the book, The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, B12 may help to restore cognitive function in those undergoing treatment.
  • Sardines are also an excellent source of vitamin D which is necessary for the efficient absorption of calcium into the bones, Vitamin D has also been shown to be hugely beneficial at boosting the immune system, we as a nation tend to be very deficient in this vitamin.
  • They are a very good source of calcium which is readily utilised into our bones because of the presence of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a cofactor necessary for good calcium absorption. So really sardines appear to be super food for the bones as well.
  • Sardines are also a very good source of selenium (like Brazil nuts and garlic). Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and has been cited as being particularly beneficial for those with prostate cancer.
  • Sardines are a really fantastic source of the essential fatty acid omega 3. This has such a lot of positive benefits. I did complete a blog on this on 5/6/12 (see link). So will not go into detail here but do read about its benefits and why we all tend to be so deficient.


It is also really worth mentioning that sardines feed on plankton and are at the lower end of the food chain so they are one of the least contaminated fish that we can eat and they are a sustainable source. The bigger the fish the more potentially contaminated it can be. Fish like swordfish and tuna tend to be the biggest culprits.


How to use sardines

Below I have added some very simple ways that you can use sardines in the diet, either fresh or canned. I would buy canned in water or brine and drain them well.

1. Simply sprinkle with some lemon juice and some extra virgin olive oil and serve on a bed of rocket and sliced tomato with some black pepper for a healthy snack or light meal.

2. Combine sardines with chopped spring onion, olives, or fennel.

3. Have on a slice of wholemeal toast topped with sardines, sliced tomato and basil.

4. Make a simple sauce with extra virgin oil, lemon juice, some garlic and mustard and seasoning and pour over the sardines with pasta in a bowl.

5. Make some sardine fish cakes. Use a recipe for normal fish cakes but replace any other fish with sardines. I put a recipe of the month on the blog a year ago this July for salmon fish cakes. Just substitute the salmon for sardines, much cheaper a stronger flavour and delicious.

Baked Sardines with coconut and lime. Serves 4 (from the recipe book Nourish by Christine Bailey)


1 can of coconut milk
1 tbsp of cornflour
2 tsps of red thai curry paste
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp turmeric
6 tbsps of water
8 fresh sardines filleted (fishmonger will do this)
2 bok choy cut into quarters
12 cherry tomatoes cut in half

1. Heat the oven 350’F. Mix a little of the coconut milk with the corn flour to make a paste. Add this to the pan along with the remaining ingredients except the sardines, bok choy and tomatoes.
2. Put the sardines and bok choy in a shallow oven proof dish, pour over the sauce ingredients and scatter over the tomatoes.
3. Bake for 20 mins.

I hope that this has convinced to resurrect sardines in to the diet. When I mention them to people I see at Maggie’s they quite often say that they have forgotten all about them. Such a simple nutritious way to boost our health in so many ways.

 see also  Blogs on free radicals and insulin growth factor IGF-1

Blog originally written by Caroline  Sept. 2013

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