The #1 food you should eat (and probably don't)

My dad's family is from Norway and for as long as I can remember we've been eating fish balls, fish puddings, pickled fish, fish in a tube and fish in a can. Most people thought it was a little weird.

But these days, I'm feeling less like an outcast when I bust open a can of fish, especially sardines. I know a lot of you have strong feelings about sardines, but want to know why I love them?

Sardines (Pacific, wild-caught) are one of the healthiest foods we can consume, according to the health and environmental experts we interviewed for "Sea Change" in our latest issue of EatingWell magazine. These days so many of us are trying to get more omega-3 fats in our diet, because they benefit your heart and your brain. Click here for delicious recipes to help you eat more of these super-healthy omega-3 fats. These nutritional powerhouses are one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, with a whopping 1,950 mg/per 3 oz. (that's more per serving than salmon, tuna or just about any other food) and they're packed with vitamin D. And because sardines are small and low on the food chain, they don't harbor lots of toxins like bigger fish can. Find out why leading scientist Carl Safina thinks eating smaller fish can benefit your health and our oceans. Plus, they're also one of the most sustainable fish around. Quick to reproduce, Pacific sardines have rebounded from both overfishing and a natural collapse in the 1940's, so much so that they are one of Seafood Watch's "Super Green" sustainable choices. (Click here to find out which 6 super-healthy fish and shellfish you should eat and which 6 to avoid.)

If you're trying sardines for the first time, or you just really want to learn to like them, here are a few tips and a few recipes to stoke your sardine love:

  • For the uninitiated, a good place to start is with a boneless, skinless variety. They come packed in water or olive oil. They're mild, and can be used in recipes in place of canned tuna fish.
  • If you're lucky enough to have fresh sardines available in your supermarket, try them in place of the canned sardines. Lightly dredge them in salt-and-pepper-seasoned flour and sauté them in a little olive oil.
  • Sardines also come smoked, and come packed in sauces like tomato and mustard-give one of these a try. Smear them on a cracker or piece of toast for a snack or light lunch.
  • For veteran sardine eaters, the sky's the limit! Sardines with bones and skin are delicious, too, and they look awesome on top of a salad or platter. P.S. The bones and skin are both edible. Those tiny bones deliver calcium too!

For more healthy and delicious tips check out:
The secret to baking healthier cupcakes

4 must-serve Mexican dips with a healthy twist

Could you quit meat once a week?

Now try sardines in these delicious recipes:

Greek Salad With Sardines The fresh, tangy elements of a Greek salad-tomato, cucumber, feta, olives and lemony vinaigrette-pair well with rich-tasting sardines. Look for sardines with skin and bones (which are edible) as they have more than four times the amount of calcium as skinless, boneless sardines.

Spring Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette A bold, layered salad that showcases sardines and asparagus, this beautiful dish adds variety to your weekday dining. If you prefer tuna to sardines or have fish from the night before, go ahead and use that instead.

Sardines on Crackers
A protein-packed and portable snack.

Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 5 minutes | Total: 5 minutes

4 whole-grain Scandinavian-style cracker, such as
8-12 canned sardines, preferably packed in olive oil
4 lemon wedges

Top each cracker with 2 to 3 sardines each. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Per cracker: 64 calories; 2 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 20 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber; 94 mg sodium; 102 mg potassium.

Tomato Toast with Sardines & Mint (pictured above)
Canned sardines make an elegant, yet inexpensive appetizer when served with fresh mint, tomato and onion on toast.

Makes: 12 toasts
Active time: 15 minutes | Total: 30 minutes | To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate the sardine mixture (Step 2) for up to 2 days.

1 4-ounce can boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil, preferably smoked
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 slices multigrain bread or 12 slices baguette, preferably whole-grain
1/2 medium ripe tomato
1 tablespoon very thinly sliced yellow onion

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Flake sardines with a fork into a mixing bowl. (The pieces should not be mashed, but should be no bigger than a dime.) Add mint, oil and salt; toss gently to combine.
3. If using whole slices of bread, cut off the crusts and cut each into four triangles. Place the triangles or baguette slices on a baking sheet and bake until crispy and golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. As soon as you remove them from the oven, rub each slice with the cut side of the tomato. As you progress, the tomato will break down until only the skin remains; discard any remaining tomato.
4. Top each toast with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the sardine mixture. Top the sardine mixture with a couple of onion slices and serve immediately.

Per toast: 41 calories; 2 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 5 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber; 113 mg sodium; 63 mg potassium.

By Hilary Meyer

EatingWell assistant editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

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