The word "sardine" conjures up images of whole little fish with the head, eyes, fins and tails intact, packed tightly together in a tin can -- hardly an appetizing picture. Despite the strong flavor and reputation as the seafood version of spam, sardines are a healthy addition to your diet. A group that originated in California, known as the Sardinistas, promotes eating sardines because sardine fishing is environmentally friendly and the fish contains low levels of mercury but high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A 3-ounce serving of sardines contains 9.75 grams of fat with only 1.3 grams of that fat classified as saturated. Doctors refer to saturated fat as the bad fat because it contributes to increasing low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol. The majority of fat in sardines is unsaturated, classified as the good fat. Sardines serve as a good source of a specific type of unsaturated fat, known as omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, helps increase your high-density lipoprotein, referred to as HDL or good cholesterol, while decreasing your blood triglyceride levels, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Linus Pauling Institute specifies sardines as one of the best sources of these heart-healthy fatty acids, with 0.45 gram of EPA and 0.74 gram of DHA in each 3-ounce serving.
Sardines serve as a good source of many essential vitamins, including A, E and D. A 3-ounce serving of sardines contains approximately 1.74 milligrams of vitamin E and 93 international units of vitamin A. Vitamin A supports healthy eyes, while vitamin E protects your cells from damage, making it important in maintaining a healthy heart. Both vitamins keep your immune system strong. Because vitamins A and E are classified as fat-soluble, the fat in the sardines promotes more efficient absorption of these nutrients. Sardines are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, providing 165 international units per 3-ounce serving. Vitamin D works with calcium to make your teeth and bones strong.
In addition to vitamins, sardines provide many of the essential minerals. A 3-ounce serving contains 324 milligrams of calcium, which not only makes your bones strong but also supports muscle contraction, nerve transmission, hormone secretion and a healthy cardiovascular system. Sardines contain 417 milligrams of phosphorus, another mineral important for building strong bones and teeth. The 339 milligrams of potassium in each serving supports rhythmic heart function, promotes muscle contraction and helps counteract the effects of too much sodium. Your body needs iron to produce the proteins involved in oxygen transport, and sardines contain 2.49 milligrams of iron per serving.
Low in Mercury
The American Heart Association recommends adults consume a 3.5-ounce serving of fatty fish, like sardines, at least twice a week to promote a healthy heart and decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease. Although several types of fish qualify as a fatty fish, including tuna, salmon and mackerel, sardines pose a low risk of ingesting environmental pollutants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, also called PCBs. Sardines contain a low level of mercury because they consume a vegetarian diet and live a shorter life span than the larger fatty fish. The low mercury level makes sardines safer to eat for everyone, including pregnant women and children, in addition to being more cost-effective for those on a budget.
Stephanie Chandler is a freelance writer whose master's degree in biomedical science and over 15 years experience in the scientific and pharmaceutical professions provide her with the knowledge to contribute to health topics. Chandler has been writing for corporations and small businesses since 1991. In addition to writing scientific papers and procedures, her articles are published on Overstock.com and other websites.