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BUILDING STRONG BONES

Convenient and versatile, canned sardines are a nutrition powerhouse full of calcium and omega-3s

When was the last time you ate sardines? If your answer is "ages ago" or "never," you may want to give this humble fish-in-a-can another try.

Sardines are a fabulous source of nondairy calcium (when canned with their bones); a 3 1/4-oz serving provides one-third of the Daily Value for calcium-more than an 8-ounce glass of milk! They're also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Primarily found in deep cold-water fish such as sardines and salmon, omega-3s are thought to play a big role in fighting heart attack deaths.

Sardines contain a good dose of iron, which is the key to the manufacture of red blood cells, and vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones and skin. All this said, how do you learn to like sardines if you're not already a fan? Try this imaginative Caesar salad.
Snazzy Sardine-Caesar Salad

2 garlic cloves, peeled and flattened
1/3 c canned fat-free vegetable or chicken broth
3 Tbsp low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese, divided into 4 Tbsp
1/2 tsp grated lemon peel
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 can (3 3/4 ounces) brisling sardines in water, drained
8 c torn romaine lettuce
2 c halved cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 c low-fat herb or Caesar-flavored packaged croutons

1. Combine the garlic and broth in a small dish. Cover with plastic, and microwave for 45 to 60 seconds or until the garlic is tender when pierced with a knife. Cool. Blend together the garlic mixture, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, the lemon peel, lemon juice, and salt in a miniprocessor or with a hand blender until smooth.
2. Trim the sardines and cut in half crosswise. Right before serving, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Scatter with croutons, sardines, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan.

Makes 4 (2-cup) servings

Per serving: 179 cal, 12 g pro, 15 g carb, 8 g fat, 2 g sat. Fat, 48 mg chol, 3 g fiber, 496 mg sodium, 133 mg calcium
Chef's Tips

Sardine is a generic term that applies to a number of different kinds of small fish. Most American sardines are actually herring.

Brisling sardines are a species of small fish found in Norway and the waters of the North Sea. When fully mature, they measure 3 to 4 1/2 inches. The sardine of preference, Norwegian brislings are harvested during the summer months and are usually the most delicate of sardines with the mildest flavor.

* Selection. Canned sardines come packed in olive oil, soybean oil, and water and have a variety of sauce flavorings, including salsa, tomato, hot pepper, and mustard. There are also boneless, skinless canned sardines (not as good a source of calcium).
* Storage. Sardines should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

Flavor Fix

Make a Sardine Puttanesca Pasta Sauce by adding mashed sardines to jarred sauce, along with chopped kalamata olives, chopped fresh basil, and jarred roasted garlic.

Quick Hits

Sardine Spiral Sandwiches: Stir together 4 ounces (oz) fat-free soft cream cheese, 1/4 cup well-drained, diced roasted red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, 2 teaspoons drained horseradish, and 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar. Spread on 4 whole wheat tortillas. Drain 2 cans (about 4 oz each) sardines with hot pepper in water. Divide in four and arrange in a row down one side of a tortilla. Roll up and cut diagonally into 1" pieces. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 218 cal, 19 g pro, 21 g carb, 8 g fat, 2 g sat. fat, 89 mg chol, 3 g fiber, 546 mg sodium

Sardine/Potato Patties: Combine 2 cans (about 4 oz each) no-salt-added sardines in a large bowl. Stir in 2 cups packaged preshredded potatoes, 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 thinly sliced scallions, and 2 eggs. Preheat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop mixture into four 1-cup mounds and flatten to 4-inch diameter patties (3/4" thick). Cook, covered, for 12 to 14 minutes, turning halfway and adding an additional 1 teaspoon oil, or until patties are golden brown and tender.
Per 1-patty serving: 211 cal, 15 g pro, 14 g carb, 10 g fat, 3 g sat. fat, 191 mg chol, 0 g fiber, 183 mg sodium

PHOTO (COLOR): This salad just might make you a sardine lover.

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Adapted by RD

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