SARDINES – AN EXCELLENT FOOD
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© March 2020, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
UPDATES. 3/25/20. We most recommend Brisling sardines. These are not as easy to find. However, they are smaller, more delicate and tastier. Most important, they are more yang in macrobiotic terminology.
2/6/17. We do not recommend Chicken Of The Sea or Bumblebee brands of sardines. They seem overcooked and somewhat toxic.
The humble sardine is an important special food for development. This article explains why, and which ones we recommend.
The benefits of sardines include:
1. Very high in omega-3 fatty acids. Everyone needs more omega-3 fatty acids in their diets due to the use of processed vegetable oils in foods, and feeding livestock on corn, rather than pasture land.
Sardines are a wonderful source of high-quality omega-3 fatty acids. To read more about this topic, please read Omega-3 Fatty Acids on this site.
2. High in vitamin D3 and vitamin E. Everyone over about the age of 6 or 7 needs more vitamin D. The sun is not providing enough, even for those who like to sunbathe, and even in those who live in sunny, Southern climates.
Sardines are a rich source of this very essential vitamin. To read more, please read Vitamin D on this site.
Sardines are also a good source of the other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin E. Vitamin K comes mostly from vegetables.
3. Low in mercury. The small size of the sardine means that it has less opportunity to pick up and accumulate mercury. Skinless and boneless sardines are even lower in mercury, with up to 50% less mercury than regular sardines because the mercury concentrates in the sardineŐs spinal cord that is removed in the boneless ones (or you can remove the spinal cord – see below).
All larger fish, even salmon, concentrate mercury up to a million times more than the lowly sardine. We do not agree with some health authorities who recommend some of the larger fish under any circumstances.
They are nutritious, but they are too high in mercury. The mercury shows up quickly on hair mineral tests if one eats just one serving of salmon per week, for example. To read more, please read Mercury on this website.
4. A quality protein food. Sardines provide a wonderful, complete and balanced protein that is well utilized by human beings.
5. High in calcium and selenium. This is very important because there are few such excellent sources of these forms of minerals. The sardine is much better than dairy products, for example, for calcium.
6. A good source of many minerals. Sardines offer many minerals, among them calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, iodine, zinc, and others.
7. High in coenzyme Q-10. Co Q-10 is an excellent nutrient of which most people do not get enough. It is required for energy production in the cells, and is especially important for the health of the heart and the brain. Sardines are among the richest food source of coenzyme Q-10.
8. Wild caught and cooked quickly. To the best of our knowledge, sardines are still caught with nets in the ocean. This means they eat what they like, swim where they wish, and are a lot healthier and cleaner than most fish sold today. They are then cooked very quickly, which helps preserve them.
Most fish today are farm-raised. A few fish farms are quite health-conscious. Most are disgusting and the fish are thoroughly unhealthy, as a result. The fish often lie almost motionless surrounded by their own urine and feces until they are ŇharvestedÓ.
We do not recommend farmed fish, no matter how attractive they look. One can dress them up with chemicals, and this is standard in the industry.
9. High in RNA and DNA. Sardines are rich in nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA. This can help rebuild and nourish our bodies.
It makes the sardine a rather heavy food, so that some people donŐt like them as much as some fish. However, it is a benefit for most people today, especially fast oxidizers.
10. A very yang fish. Yang in macrobiotic terminology and in Chinese medicine means compact, warm and these days it means healthier because all the bodies today are too yin.
Sardines are more yang because they are very small. Eating yang foods helps balance the body. Eating yin food - such as fruit, nuts, seeds and raw food - makes the bodies much less healthy, no matter what nutritional benefits the food or supplement offers.
This is also the reason to avoid:
- most herbs
- all fruit except a few dried botija olives per week
most juices except 10-12 ounces of carrot juice or a little wheat grass juice twice a week.
- Ňgreen superfoodsÓ except for kelp capsules
- all coconut products (a sub-tropical fruit)
- fermented foods except a little miso, a little cheese, and a little yogurt or kefir if you like. These are not required or important foods for development.
- most nutritional supplements.
- most medical drugs
- all homeopathy
11. Low in cost, and high in convenience. Sardines are relatively low in cost, less than most other fish. They are also convenient because they come cooked and easily eaten. We find no problems with the aluminum or steel cans in which they are packed. The canned sardines are actually better preserved and therefore fresher than most ŇfreshÓ fish that are transported sometimes thousands of miles before they are cooked.
Today, sardines are cooked quickly after being caught, sometimes right on the boat.
12. A developmental food. Development, as the word is used on this website, is a special process that grows the subtle energy field of a human being. This enhances brainpower and the immune response, and leads to a longer lifespan.
Sardines contain the correct nutrients in the right proportions to promote development. To read more about this amazing topic, please read Introduction To Development on this website.
Other developmental foods are plenty of cooked vegetables with each meal, lamb, chicken, toasted almond butter, roasted sesame tahini and organic blue corn chips. For details, read Food And Development.
Adults need 3 to 4 cans weekly of the 3.75 ounce cans of sardines. These are the standard sized cans. If the cans are smaller, have a little more. If larger, have fewer.
Several clients asked if they can eat them more often because they are such as simple, easy and nutritious food.
Do not have more than 3-4 cans weekly unless the sardines are boneless or you have removed the spine. This is because even sardines contain a little mercury, and too much is not good. Boneless sardines have less mercury, so it is possible to eat more safely. However, it is best to vary your proteins and not just eat sardines.
This will supply enough omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, and this is a major concern.
Warning. If you eat this many cans of sardines, do not take additional supplements of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. You can easily overdo on omega-3 and vitamin D, and this is not desirable.
Do not be misled by the fact that nutrition books or the label says that a can of sardines only contains about 200 IU of vitamin D, whereas we recommend taking 5000 iu daily of a fish oil vitamin D supplement.
According to a 2016 medical study, https://open.bu.edu/handle/2144/16849, the vitamin D label on the sardine can is not accurate. Sardines actually contain much more vitamin D than the label suggests.
This study found the following:
* The average vitamin D3 content of the sardines packed in olive oil was 2555.6 iu. Of this amount, 20.9% of the vitamin D went into the olive oil in which they were packed. This leaves 2044.48 iu of vitamin D in each can of sardines - just in the sardine, not the olive oil.
* The average vitamin D3 content of sardines packed in water was 1993.7 iu. Of this amount, 14.2% of the vitamin D went into the water. This leaves 1710.6 iu of vitamin D in just the sardines, not the water.
Even with these amounts, if one eats three or four cans weekly, the amount of vitamin D3 one receives level does not add up to our recommended 5000 iu daily. However, we find that three to four cans of sardines provide sufficient vitamin D for most people. Occasionally, we need to recommend a little extra vitamin D, but this is rare.
It is possible that the vitamin D3 found in the sardines is better absorbed or better utilized than the vitamin D3 in a store-bought capsule. This is very possible because the food probably assists absorption of the vitamin D3 and/or might help preserve the vitamin D3.
Another conclusion from this study is that if you want the most vitamin D3, donŐt throw away the oil or water in which the sardines are packed. Pour it over your vegetables or eat it in some other way. This is not required, however.
We most recommend Brisling sardines. Two companies that offer these are King Oscar and Crown Prince. These companies sell different kinds of sardines, so you have to check the label. Among the King Oscar brand, we would not buy the Mediterranean variety, which has fewer sardines and some olives.
Brisling sardines are only sold with the skin and bones. They are fine to eat. However, if you donŐt mind going to a little more trouble, you can slice open the sardine lengthwise and remove the spine, which reduces their mercury content even further.
Most other brands are okay. In the USA, a brand called Seasons is good. The pinkish can of sardines from Trader JoeŐs in America is also okay, though not as tasty as the brisling sardines. Both of these are packed in olive oil, which provides more vitamin D than those packed in water.
Stay away from Bar Harbor Sardines. They are not sardines! Also, at this time we donŐt recommend Chicken Of The Sea or Bumblebee brands of sardines as much. These are overcooked and somewhat toxic. Sardines should not be mushy.
Buy ones packed in oil, water or mustard. Oil seems to be best, however. Those packed in tomato sauce or hot sauce are more yin and more irritating to the body.
Smoked sardines are fine, and are a little more yang in macrobiotic terms, which is good. Smoking adds some minerals.
Sardines with the bones and skin offer more minerals and nervous system tissue. However, they are a little higher in mercury. The mercury in a sardine concentrates in the nerves, particularly in the spinal column. You can open the sardines and remove the spine, which reduces the mercury content.
3. Children. Children under the age of about six usually do not need extra omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. They may have some sardines, however, if they like.
From age six to eight, most children need about ½ a can of sardines per week to provide extra omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
From age nine to 12, most children need about 1 can of sardines a week.
From age 13-15, most children need about 2 cans of sardines per week.
From age 14 and up, most teens can eat 3 cans per week.
This is better than taking omega-3 and vitamin D pills because sardines offer so many other benefits.
The answer is that most sardines in the can are quite fresh because they cooked quickly when caught. Fish tend to spoil quickly. So a can of sardines is actually far better than buying pretty-looking fish that have traveled sometimes thousands of miles before cooking.
The nutrients are still present in the canned ones. Be sure the sardines you buy have not passed their expiration date. The fresher the better.
Sardine cans are all coated on the inside so the sardines do not come into contact with the aluminum or steel can.
Perfectly fresh sardines are impossible to find in America. Some Oriental markets sell dried sardines, and these are okay, but not as good, in fact.
Another advantage of sardines in the can is they are cooked properly. Small fish are not easy to cook correctly because they are easy to overcook.
For those who want to watch their weight, sardines are also superb. They will fill you up, and keep you full for hours.
Sardines taste a little fishy. The smoked ones and those in oil are less so. It is wise to learn to ignore the taste because this is one food that is extremely healthful. See below for toppings you can add to disguise the taste.
Sardines make an excellent, high-protein, meal. You can eat a can of them all alone. This is called a mono meal.
Otherwise, combine them only with cooked vegetables - with only these two kinds of foods at the meal. Combining them with tortillas, bread, corn chips, or other grain at the meal is not nearly as good a food combination and will impair digestion.
Sardines have a slightly fishy taste. Make sure they are as fresh as possible by looking at the expiration date on the can. Here are ways to make them that taste better if you donŐt like their flavor:
1. Spice them up with sea salt, garlic powder, a little cayenne powder, ginger, oregano, thyme, rosemary or dill.
2. Put some of your favorite mustard on them. Most mustard is a decent product, provided it is not loaded with sugar and too much vinegar.
3. Mash them with a fork, add mayonnaise and some chopped celery and/or onions to make sardine salad. This is a little yin, but if it will help you eat sardines, it is not too bad. Many people cannot taste the difference between this and tuna salad.
4. You could add mashed sardines to your favorite dip such as a bean dip. This is also more yin, but is okay now and then.
5. Mix them with cooked vegetables such as cooked onions, which add sweetness and a strong flavor.