Why Sardines (Yes, Sardines) Are Basically the Perfect Protein

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In the world of fish, it’s salmon, tuna, and tilapia that top the list while sardines get short shrift. That’s a mistake.

“They are pretty much perfect,” says Lauren Antonucci, a New York City nutritionist. Sardines contain 20 grams of protein per three-ounce serving, and are one of the best sources of calcium and vitamin D, both of which are essential for bone and muscle health.

They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They might have workout benefits to boot. Researchers from Saint Louis University found that athletes who took an omega-3 supplement before and after arm curls felt less sore than those who’d had a placebo. Eating a few servings a week can be similar to taking a daily supplement, says nutritionist Lauren Slayton. And they’re safer to eat than other fish. Unlike larger varieties, like tuna, sardines contain lower levels of toxins, such as mercury.

Sardines are a great source of calcium because you eat the whole fish, bones and all.

Where to Find Them
You’ll see sardines in the canned-fish aisle, often in tins or glass jars, soaking in oil. If your fishmonger has fresh sardines, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and toss them on a grill or in a cast-iron skillet.

How to Eat Them
If using canned, top crackers with whole sardines and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Or wrap a sardine and sliced avocado in a leaf of romaine lettuce. When cooking with sardines, think of them as a flavor enhancer, like a caper, and use them as a salty addition to any dish. A few sardines are a good way to add protein to a salad, too. Or chop them and add to a pasta sauce. For an easy cocktail-hour offering, serve hunks of cheese with sardines and crusty bread.