Also known as pilchards in some places, sardines are small oily fish that belong to the herring (Clupeidae) family. Their exact origin is unknown, but it’s believed that they existed in large numbers in the Mediterranean Sea. They are also abundantly found in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The sardine fish has a distinct appearance that sets it apart from other types of fish. Its body is flat and covered with large, reflective silver scales (although these scales are not found on their head). In the center of their belly is a set of specialized scales that are jagged and point backwards. These are called scutes. It also has one short dorsal fin.
Generally smaller than other fish, they range in length from 6 to 12 inches, and are soft-boned. They live in dense schools and migrate along the coast. Their primary diet is plankton, which filter from seawater through their gills. They have either no or very little teeth.
Today, sardines in a can – packed in brine, oil and different sauces – are a well-loved kitchen staple. There was even a time that sardines became the single largest component of fish harvesting worldwide. Currently, countries such as France, Spain, Norway and Portugal are the primary producers of this fish.
Aside from their low mercury levels, sardines are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients including omega-3 fats, Selenium, Niacin,
Vitamins B2, B12 and D, Calcium, Choline, and Protein. All these nutrients are vital in helping ward off many diseases and maintaining overall health. In fact, adding sardines to your meals can help you reap these benefits and more:
- May reduce your risk of heart disease – According to studies, the omega-3s in sardines can help break down bad LDL cholesterol, which can then maintain optimal heart health.
- Helps prevent blood clots – Omega-3s break down arterial plaque and help control blood pressure levels.
- Maintain eye health – Consuming oily fish like sardines has been found to reduce the risk of age- related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that commonly occurs in people ages 50 and older.
- Can give the immune system a boost and fight free radicals – Studies found that fish oil made from sardines helped improve immune system health by increasing the number of immune cells. The selenium in sardines can help neutralize free radicals and protect organs from damage.