Four months after the birth of my first daughter, Charlee, I was diagnosed with postpartum…
Mmmm, sardines. Isn’t your mouth watering already? Kidding.
Chances are, you aren’t too keen on these little fish. For most people, they can be quite a turn-off because they taste…fishy. In fact, sardines are so unpopular in the United States that the nation’s last sardine cannery, located in Maine, closed in 2010.
But what if they were a sort of Swiss army knife for your postpartum life? And what if you could whip them into a delicious meal and be none the wiser? Well, they are and you can.
Inside these tiny silvery fish lies a wealth of nutrition promoting brain, bone, heart, and skin health. And that’s not all! There are a plethora of other nutritional health benefits for your new mother-self. Sardines are an incredible, nutritionally dense food and a great source of DHA, Calcium, Selenium, Protein, and Vitamin B-12.
Ready to get on board the Good Ship Sardine? It’s a salty trip to a healthy life!
Sardines are one of the best sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid
(EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are fundamental to both your own and your
baby’s brain health.
This is such an important time to prioritize DHA in your diet. During the last three months of pregnancy, your baby accumulates an average of 67 mg/day of DHA through the placenta. Their source of DHA then becomes breast milk. Breast milk DHA levels depend on maternal intake and the high demands for DHA from your baby can deplete your own stores to below pre-pregnancy levels if your dietary intake of DHA is insufficient.
Which leads to “mom brain.”
Research shows that DHA is actively depleted from the maternal brain, the body’s largest source of DHA, when dietary needs aren’t properly met in pregnancy and during lactation. This means that the DHA your brain needs to function properly is stolen by the baby for their brain development leaving you with less DHA and less mental capacity. Super cool, right? Mom brain is really real and you can read more about it here.
Knowing that omega-3s aid in balancing your mood and ward off depression risk as well thanks to their anti-inflammatory compounds, replenishing your reserve of Omega-3s should definitely be a top priority.
No need to worry! Sardines to the rescue: one 3.75 ounce can provide close to 500 mg of DHA and 400mg of EPA – just enough to meet your recommended daily requirement of 1000mg/day of total DHA/EPA.
While you can buy tinned sardines that are skinless and boneless, you would be missing out on the high dose of calcium contained in their soft, edible bones. A 3.75 ounce serving of sardines provides you with just over 350 mg of calcium. That’s the equivalent of how much is being transferred daily to your baby in the final weeks of pregnancy to build your baby’s calcium stores.
If you are breastfeeding, some of the calcium in your bones will be broken down and reabsorbed to enrich your breast milk. While this ensures your baby gets sufficient calcium levels no matter your intake, you still need to get your calcium to ensure the integrity of your own bone strength. This will help reduce your risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis while also supporting your muscle and heart health.
Sardines contain a high amount of selenium, which is necessary for your thyroid and overall immune system to function optimally. The risk of thyroid disorders increases significantly for postpartum mothers, occurring in almost 25% of women. Most of the selenium is in the silvery skin of the sardine so don’t be afraid to eat this part. Curious what the most common hormone imbalance postpartum is? Check out this article on adrenal fatigue.
Although small, these fish pack a powerful protein punch. In one 3.75 ounce can, you will find around 20g of protein (that’s a lot — the equivalent of the same serving size of chicken breast). That means that 25% of their calories are made up of important amino acids that aid in healing tissues that have been stretched, torn, or cut.
Plus, their high-protein content helps stabilize blood sugar levels which goes a long way in keeping you full and energized when eating three regular meals isn’t always possible.
Additionally, they are also a great source of B12, also known as the energy vitamin, which helps keep both your own and your baby’s immune system healthy and brain functioning optimally.
Whoa. As if those aren’t enough reasons to eat sardines, they are also a better choice for our planet’s health. Due to their small size and being at the bottom of the food chain, sardines are lower in heavy metals like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls. This makes them one of the safe and sustainable fish you can eat.
So many foods are called ‘superfoods’, but sardines really are one. In the US they are widely available canned which makes them a budget-friendly and convenient option. If you are not quite ready to eat these fascinating fishes straight from the can, there are plenty of sneaky ways to still enjoy sardines and temper that strong flavor.
To get started working Sardines into your diet, use them as you might use other canned fish as a starting point (ex: substitute sardines for the traditional tuna in the classic Nicoise Salad), or consider the quick recipes below that can be prepared and eaten one-handed.
These recipes were chosen with the beginner Sardine connoisseur in mind.
Cilantro-Lime Sardine Salad
1 can wild-caught sardines* in extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of an avocado
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley, finely chopped (optional)
1 stalk celery and/or cucumber chopped (optional)
Salad greens (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine the sardines, avocado, mustard and lime juice.
- Mash together thoroughly with a fork and season to taste with pepper and a pinch of salt.
- You can add chopped celery and/or cucumber for more crunch as well as herbs like cilantro or parsley for added flavor.
Sardines with Chopped Tomatoes & Garlic
1 can wild-caught sardines* in extra virgin olive oil
1 medium tomato
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon chives or scallions (optional)
1 cucumber (optional)
- Wash the tomato and remove the stem.
- Chop and transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Mince the garlic and chives or scallions.
- Flake the sardines and add to the mixing bowl with the tomato.
- Stir to combine.
- Add flavor and nutrition by sprinkling seaweed flakes on top and serving alongside cucumber spears.
Let us know what you think here! Bon Appetite!