The Humble Sardine
Super foods don’t have to be rare, exotic and expensive. Sardines are a fabulous (and forgotten) little super food jam packed with protein, calcium and essential fatty acids. I actually genuinely love eating them and can't understand why everyone doesn't!
Unfortunately, because our typical Western diet is geared towards higher omega-6 consumption (because a lot of plant-based, seed oils are abundant in omega-6), we need to make an extra effort to increase omega-3's, and consuming fish is one of the best ways to do that!
Essential Fatty Acids – why are they essential?
Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids (EFA) because they cannot be synthesised by humans.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important structural components of cell membranes, serve as precursers to bioactive lipid mediators, and provide a source of energy. Long-chain omega-3 PUFA in particular exert anti-inflammatory effects and it is recommended that we increase the presence of them in the diet.
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesised from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended that we obtain EPA and DHA from additional sources.
Enter the Sardine.
Sardines contain both omega-6 and omega-3 essential fats but have almost 4 times more omega-3 than 6 and that's what we want! The little can in the picture above provides almost 2 grams of omega-3 (and nearly 20 grams of protein!). That's equivalent to 2 capsules of a high quality, concentrated fish oil extract!
Some Fishy Fast Facts:
- 60% of your brain is fat - mostly DHA - which your cells need to communicate.
- Studies have shown that those with treatment-resistant depression responded well to EPA supplementation; whilst a recent meta-analysis showed that fish oil EPA used as a adjunct to anti-depressant medications improved treatment outcomes.
- Omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a critical part of mother’s milk, helps the foetus’s neurological development. Studies show women who have higher levels of omega 3 fats, specifically DHA, have lower rates of postpartum depression.
- Omega-3 deficiencies also affect children. Young kids with dyslexia, dyspraxia (difficulty writing), learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are often omega-3 deficient.
- A recent and the most comprehensive review on omega-3 fats looked at 19 studies from 16 countries (including 45,637 participants) and found that those with the highest levels of omega 3 fats in their blood had lower risks of heart attacks.
Omega-3 is Crucial for Health.
Omega-3 plays critical roles in our functioning because it affects every cell in our body. Here are some of the key areas where omega-3’s are vital for health:
- Cognitive and visual development
- Brain health
- Mental health
- Immune and inflammatory function
- Hormone regulation
- Heart disease and cancer prevention
Simply Good Food
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you throw a few sardines into your trolley next time you’re doing your grocery shop. We need to remember that super foods are often a lot more attainable and cheaper than we think, and don’t necessarily have to come in the form of fancy schmancy acai, kale, coconut, muesli bowls.
Along with sardines, some other fish that are just as good are: mackerel, salmon and anchovies. For plant-based omega-3, flaxseeds and walnuts are the best.
Lastly, as we saw in some of the studies, different areas of health and disease respond better to either EPA or DHA, however, in my view, it’s best to consume fish or fish oil supplements which contain both, at the natural ratios, because that’s how nature intended.
References and further reading