Super Food: the case for sardines

We’ve all heard the term “super foods” being thrown around a lot lately – it seems there’s a new one every week. Something exotic, often expensive and difficult to find, but that without incorporating into your daily diet, you will most certainly die of a rare disease by your early 20’s. If you’re older than that, then you are actually already dead for lack of pomegranate seeds.

But today I want to make a case for a super food that’s a little less pedantic: the humble, lowly sardine.

Sardine Superfood

Sardine Superfood

The sardine is a super food for many reasons, but for me the primary reason is its accessibility and cost. A good tin of sardines is available at nearly every grocery store for less than $3. Sardines, which are actually not a type of fish, but rather a way of curing and packing fish, are often brisling – a small, Norwegian fish. These fish are packed full of Omega-3’s, which I’ve talked about before, but to review, Omega-3’s reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation being a major source of illness from high blood pressure to heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and more.  Omega-3’s are not something our bodies naturally produce – they must be consumed through diet. Yes, you can take a supplement, but remember supplements are meant to do just that – supplement a healthy diet, not replace it. In fact many vitamins and nutrients are not naturally absorbed by our bodies in pill or liquid form, such a calcium, which can only be absorbed if we are taking in the proper amount of Vitamin D through diet and outdoor exercise. I could go on here, but the point is – eat to be healthy, supplement if you must, but understand that food is always the best medicine when taken correctly.

In addition to being chock full of those Omegas, sardines are full of calcium – they are actually one of the highest non-dairy calcium foods around (because of their soft, edible bones, but don’t let that scare you away – I promise you do not notice the bones.) Sardines contain loads of protein, vitamin D and are sustainable (they’re not over-fished) and for those concerned about their fish intake – sardines have a lowest amount of mercury of just about any fish you can buy because they are at the bottom of the food chain. The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury level.

So here’s a great introductory recipe to sardines – Jeremy and I made this for breakfast on Sunday and it kept us full for HOURS. We didn’t eat again until 3pm that afternoon. And just one more note – sardines equal anchovies. Anchovies are smelly, oily and fishy. This doesn’t keep me from loving them, but if it keeps you from loving them, do not be scared of sardines – they are nothing alike except that they both come in a tin. Sardines are actually much more mild, like tuna.

Fisherman’s Breakfast

Fishermen's Breakfast

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 small red potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tin of sardines
  • 4 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • toast or bread

fisherman breakfast ingredients

Method:

  1. Preheat Oven to 500 degrees. Place an ovenproof dish into the oven for 5 minutes to pre-heat.
  2. Combine the diced potatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper in a small bowl, then from the an open tin of sardines, pour a teaspoon or so of the oil the sardines are packed in into the bowl. Mix to combine.
  3. Remove the dish from the oven, carefully, spray with nonstick cooking spray or oil and spread the potato shallot mixture into the bottom of the dish. Top the mixture with the sardines from the tin. Place back into the oven for 6 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from oven and gently crack and pour all four eggs on top of the mixture. Season with more salt and pepper. Put back in the oven for 6-7 minutes until the white are set, but yolks are still a bit jiggly.
  5. Remove dish from oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes to let the eggs set. Serve with bread or toast and extra pepper.serve with crusty bread or toast
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Salmon: not just a horrible beach-house color

I try my hardest to eat salmon every week. Not because it’s my favorite fish, or because I think the Alaskan fishing industry needs my patronage (even though they do – do you hear me, Alaska? You NEED me!), but because it is super super super good for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so we are all always looking for ways to prevent it. Recently, the link between omega-3 fatty acids and Alzheimer’s prevention has become clear. According to the Rush University Medical Center, people who eat fish one or more times a week are approximately 60 percent less likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely eat fish. The important thing about fish here being the omega-3’s, which salmon has a particularly high amount of. And omega-3’s in fish are of a particular kind called DHA and EPA, which appear to have the strongest health benefits. So what is it exactly that omega-3’s in fish oil are doing that are so beneficial besides making you smell like fish all the time? What, you don’t think of that as a benefit? Trust me, if you ever want to get out of a conversation, or need to rid yourself of a “close talker,” or are trying to attract stray cats, or just generally need the public to leave you alone, fish oil is a HUGE benefit. But in addition to that, these fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of those things that can lead to myriad diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, dementia (Alzheimer’s), arthritis and much more. Another interesting potential benefit of omega-3’s? They may help fight depression. Although the studies are mixed, it is clear that in countries with higher levels of omega-3 in the typical diet have lower levels of depression. Eat fish; be happy.

Our bodies do not naturally produce omega-3’s – we must consume them through our diets. And while you can do this through a supplement, why wouldn’t you just do it through delicious food? Enter: salmon. Enter: my long speech about the right kind of salmon to buy at the fish counter. If you would like to skip this wild vs. farmed fish debate, skip to the last sentence of this paragraph. At just about any fish counter of any grocery store you will see 2-3 different varieties of Salmon. Some will say “wild caught” some will say “farmed” some will even say “organic”, but here are a few differences: farmed fish are raised in feedlots and at feedlots fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Additionally, farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color. And regarding the all-important omega3’s? FDA statistics on the nutritional content (protein and fat-ratios) of farm versus wild salmon show that the fat content of farmed salmon is excessively high–30-35% by weight, wild salmon have a 20% higher protein content and a 20% lower fat content than farm-raised salmon, farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats than wild fish. IE – the opposite of what omega-3’s do for you. In studies by the FDA wild fish were not only much lower in overall fat content, but also were found to have 33% more omega-3 fatty acids than their farm-raised counterparts. Omega-3s accounted for 29% of the fats in wild coho versus 19% of the fats in cultivated coho. Bottom line: buy wild-caught fish.

I’m so sorry. Here are some pictures of food.


This was one of those recipes that came to me during this thing that happens in my mind where whatever fresh produce I picked up at the farmers market that week inserts itself into some recipe I’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. In this case, it was a tomato pasta recipe from Martha Stewart. But because I had zucchini and squash on hand and because I needed my weekly salmon, I mixed it up a little. I pan sauteed two small tomatoes, a small squash and small zucchini in olive oil with a teaspoon of minced garlic and some Italian seasoning. In the meantime, I rubbed the salmon down with lemon infused olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic. I heated some oil in a pan and laid several slices of lemon down into the oil, then placed the salmon on top, covered with a lid and let cook over medium-high heat while the pasta was boiling (about 8 minutes, or until it can be flaked with a fork). I have started using this Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti – it is much more palatable to me than whole wheat pasta and still better for you than regular pasta, but you can use any kind you’d like. (Disclaimer: I did not get paid to promote Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti, but I totally would if they offered. That goes for you too, Pacific Salmon Fishers of America, Sunkist lemon farms, and the people who make the ridiculously expensive lemon infused olive oil I use. )

I saved about a half a cup of the pasta water and made a sauce from the vegetables with some additional olive oil, Parmesan cheese, some freshly chopped basil from my garden, and a bit of the starchy pasta water, then mixed the pasta into it and topped with the salmon, a sprinkle of cheese and basil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

feed your brain!

And before you go off thinking I’m Martha Stewart, or Barefoot Contessa or something (although I think we can all agree that Jeffrey would just ADORE this meal), let me quickly correct you. I’m more like Julia Child’s slow second cousin. If Julia was forever dropping chickens or spilling this or that in some hilariously charming way, all the while making the most delicious French food you’ve ever seen, I am the slow second cousin who is nearly cutting off a finger or giving herself third degree burns while she tries to make toast. Case in point:

I need adult supervision.

I don’t know how well it comes through in that picture – but my middle finger has a pretty significant burn/blister right under the knuckle. This is because, as it turns out, metal skillets that have just come out of 400 degree ovens are HOT! This is my primary mistake in the kitchen – forgetting that things are hot and grabbing them with my bare hands. Also, over-salting things. So, Food Network, if you are looking for a new cooking show that appeals to those S&M loving, 50 Shades of Grey reading freaks, I am your girl. Get in line behind Ronzini and those stinky fishermen.