What makes sardines the sea’s superfood? Canned sardines have more omega-3 fatty acids than most fish. And because they’re a small fish that’s low on the food chain, they contain less mercury than many other fish. They’re also inexpensive and are a sustainable source of protein. So why do Americans eat only minnow-size amounts?

Sardines are an oily fish, and oily fish can taste a little…well, fishy. You might prefer sardines that are lightly smoked or sardines nestled in mustard or tomato sauce. Or try the delicious recipes here!

Here, more on the health benefits of sardines…

Great for omega-3s: A recent report from the USDA concluded that 80% to 90% of Americans eat less than eight ounces of fish a week, the minimum recommended amount. This means that you’re probably not getting enough omega-3s, beneficial fats that have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease and that may protect against cancer, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and other serious conditions.

All cold-water fish provide omega-3s, but sardines are among the best. A four-ounce serving of sardines has about 1.1 to 1.6 grams. That’s right up there with salmon (1.2 to 2.4 g depending on the salmon) and much higher than cod (0.2 g) or the most common types of tuna (0.3 g).

Your body needs these important types of fats. A study published in Neurology found that people who ate fish three or more times a week were about 26% less likely to have silent infarcts, damaged brain areas that can lead to dementia and stroke. Omega-3s have been found to reduce heart irregularities (­arrhythmias) that can be deadly and even may provide some blood pressure control help. Some experts speculate that the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s could help prevent some cancers…and eating more fish can help people eat less red meat or processed meat, important for decreasing the risk for colorectal cancer.

Other health benefits: Sardines are high in protein, vitamin D and ­selenium—and sardines with bones give an extra shot of calcium. A three-ounce serving of bones-in sardines has as much calcium as a glass of milk.

Less mercury: Some people avoid seafood altogether because they’re worried about mercury, a contaminant found in virtually all fish, including farmed fish.

Good news: Sardines are among the lowest-mercury fish in the sea. They do contain trace amounts, but that might be offset by their high selenium content. The research isn’t conclusive, but it’s possible that a high-selenium diet could reduce the risks of mercury, ­either by “binding up” the mineral or by reducing its oxidative effects.

The health benefits of sardines and other fish more than outweigh the potential downsides of mercury—so much so that the EPA’s and FDA’s recently revised guidelines encourage pregnant women and young children (who are particularly susceptible to mercury) to eat eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish a week.

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