As you plan anti-inflammatory dishes to include with your meals, don’t overlook the sardine, which is rich in vitamin D. Small, oily fish, including sardines, have long been known as one of the best superfoods out there. Vicinte Mera, an expert in anti-ageing medicine, includes them on his list of top foods to slow down the ageing process: “They contain many proteins as well as very high levels of vitamins D, B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential minerals including iodine, selenium, iron, calcium and potassium,” he points out. But while other oily fish such as salmon are more frequently seen on menus, the sardine is too often overlooked and under-appreciated.
This affordable fish with a high nutritional value offers many possibilities when it comes to preparing healthy and tasty meals. In fact, whenever we ask nutritionists for ideas on how to prepare healthy, low-fat meals, it isn’t long before sardines are mentioned. The pharmacist and nutritionist Paula Martín Clares explains, “they help strengthen the immune system and our bones.”
Sardines are good brain food
One of the key benefits of eating sardines is improved brain function and mood. They are high in vitamin B12 content, which helps balance the nervous system. Additionally, as Mar Mira, MD, of Mira + Cueto points out, the healthy fats contained in foods such as sardines “provide essential nutrients to the brain and have an impact on the synthesis of neurotransmitters that are essential for maintaining our mental balance and intellectual functioning.” Mira emphasises that sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids: “A deficiency of omega-3 is related to mood disorders, cognitive deficiencies and a higher incidence of depression,” she adds. In addition, vitamin D, which is also found in significant levels in sardines, is necessary to prevent brain ageing. According to an article published in Psychiatric Research Neuroimaging, a deficiency in vitamin D can have an impact on the overall volume of grey matter in the brain.
Sardines are also good for your hair, skin and nails
As Clares writes in her book La Salud de Tu Piel Está en lo que Comes (The Health of Your Skin Lies In What You Eat), and as pharmacist Teresa Climent of brand Nuggela & Sulé agrees, the oils in fish like sardines may help prevent hair loss. Similarly, beauty and wellness expert Claudia di Paolo says she chooses oily fish like sardines to prevent hair ageing thanks “to their high levels of proteins, vitamin B12 and omega-3 acids.”
The importance of vitamin D
As Óscar Lorenzo, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the Autonomous University of Madrid and member of the Health Research Institute of the Jiménez Díaz Foundation, explained to us, vitamin D is involved in more than 200 bodily functions that affect a number of different areas, including the regulation of “happy hormones.” A deficiency is also related to a lack of immune system response, increased risk of suffering from cardiovascular problems, and certain inflammatory skin conditions. And although the vitamin D deficit experienced by a significant percentage of the population is directly related to lack of sun exposure and the increased time we spend indoors—experts recommend spending at least two hours a day outside, a target that many of us fail to reach. Lorenzo also puts it down to many people’s decision to reduce their consumption of foods containing healthy fats that are also rich in the nutrient. Finally, an unhealthy gut microbiome may also be less capable of absorbing essential nutrients like vitamin D.
Are canned sardines just as good for you?
Although nutritionists almost always recommend eating fresh ingredients over tinned or frozen ones, canned sardines are an excellent option, within reason. You should look for ones that do not contain excess salt, and preferably, sardines immersed in olive oil. María Sánchez, a nutritionist with the Reto48 Fitness Centers, explains that olive oil “preserves the unsaturated fatty acid content better than other options. However, we should look at this type of product as an occasional alternative and not a regular substitute for fresh fish.” In fact, the FDA lists sardines as having 164 IU of vitamin D per 3 ounce serving—more than all forms of dairy and cheese.
This story first appeared in British Vogue.