Glorious truth: Why sardines are better than tuna

Are you a person who turns your nose up at sardines, but still eats strong-smelling fish, sold in a can?

Are you a person who eats that fish, even though that fish isn’t all that safe and healthy to eat?

Be honest now. Are you a sardine-denying tuna fish eater (SDTFE)?

If so, it’s probably time to reexamine your assumptions. Because there is really no rational reason for you to choose tuna over sardines, and so many reasons to choose sardines instead.

Take a fresh look at your sardine-avoidant beliefs

Why do you eat tuna fish? And why don’t you eat sardines? The reality is, you may not know. Tuna was just part of the culture. You probably started eating it before you had a choice of what to eat.

Tuna became an accepted part of the American diet in the early 1900s and its place as a household staple was cemented over the decades that followed. Initially skeptical, the public was won over by the suggestion that this unfamiliar and not particularly appetizing fish at least looked like a more familiar food–chicken. Our acceptance of tuna as the default choice of canned fish is little more than the product of clever marketing from 100 years ago, which aimed only to create customer confusion.

Like so many other public attitudes that took shape in other centuries, this blind acceptance of tuna could probably use a fresh look for the new millenium.

Do you really know what’s fishy?

Let’s start with the first major prejudice that SDTFE’s hold against sardines: the suspicion–usually not verified–that they smell really fishy. But have you ever noticed that tuna is a fish? And like other fish, it smells like fish? Tuna packed in water doesn’t hide this fact at all. In fact, there is a reason that so many offices have rules (written or unwritten) about bringing tuna lunches or, the horror, microwaving tuna.

Sardines don’t differ much from tuna in this respect, as long as you buy them packed in olive oil. In fact, the upper tiers of quality boneless and skinless sardines often smell less fishy than your ordinary can of tuna packed in water, and look about the same. So get this first preconception about sardines–that they smell worse than tuna–out of your mind, unless you are also willing to give up tuna because of the scent.

Time for the tuna vs. sardine taste-test

Then there is the flavor. While many SDTFE’s seem to believe that sardines have an overpowering, fishy flavor, this is not correct. All too often, they are thinking of anchovies, a completely different can of fish! Anchovies are smaller, oilier, and extremely pungent in their flavor–so much so that they are often pulverized into a seasoning (e.g., caesar salad dressing) and not eaten whole. As explained elsewhere on this site, sardines are not anchovies. Confusing sardines and anchovies is like confusing ketchup and Tabasco sauce!

Boneless and skinless sardines are very mild in flavor with a mellow fish aroma, nothing pungent and certainly nothing that you would not already be used to experiencing with a can of tuna. The reality is that for many SDTFE’s, tuna is a predictable, known quantity when it comes to flavor and texture–but only because it’s familiar. Sardines with the skin and bones will have a stronger fish smell, but guess what? Tuna skin and bones do too! But you don’t need to buy sardines or tuna with the bones or skin (let alone heads, tails, etc., if that is your concern). When you make an apples-to-apples comparison of boneless and skinless sardines to boneless and skinless tuna, sardines outperform tuna on flavor and texture in virtually every way.

The flavor of sardines is mellower, less astringent and blends with a wide variety of other toppings and accompaniments–from simple mayonnaise to pasta sauce to sushi to Kansas City barbecue. Pretend all you want, but whenever you add tuna to anything it just stands out on the front porch of the dish yelling, “TUNA!!!”

Then the texture is softer and much closer to the experience of eating fresh fish than what canned tuna provides. Tuna is dry and chewy. Tuna tries to be flaky but it’s not–it just comes apart in awkward jerky-like chips. Compare the supposed flakiness of tuna to any fresh fish and you’ll see what I mean. Tuna is only flaky because some marketing executive doesn’t know what else to say about it. Sardines don’t need to be flaky because they are delicate and tender.

Finally, many brands of good sardines have an enjoyable smoky finish that tuna does not. It’s not a domineering smoke but it adds a flavor finish that a lot of people will like, which tuna lacks.

Sardines are better for your body than tuna

Nutritionally, sardines are on par with or superior to tuna in many key areas. They have virtually the same amount of protein. Just like tuna, you can plug them in for a daily sandwich that supports your workouts, your muscle-building, your fish-driven workouts of power.

Sardines are also higher than tuna in Vitamin E and calcium. The importance of Vitamin E to a healthy mind and body are renowned. According to the Mayo Clinic, Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and antioxidants could play a role in protecting the body against dread ailments like cancer and heart disease. Vitamin E plays a role in the health of vision, reproduction, blood, brain and skin.

We all knew calcium helps keep our teeth and bones strong but it also plays a role in muscle strength and even the health of the heart.

Saridines also deliver a stronger payload of omega-3 fatty acids than tuna–one of those “good fats” that the body cannot make on its own but still needs in order to function and survive. It’s almost as though nature set us up on a date with sardines. Sardines and people need each other. And people need sardines more than people need tuna, due to this omega-3 fatty acid conundrum and the sad but fundamental inferiority of tuna fish in the omega-3 arena.

Last but not least, the mercury levels of tuna are way higher than sardines–and mercury is bad for your brain. Bad for your body. Bad for us. Bad for the whole universe. Because sardines exist near the bottom of the food chain, they aren’t absorbing all the polluting mercury that tuna does from tuna’s habit of eating all the lesser lifeforms. Just to compare the hard numbers, even light canned tuna has approximately 0.128 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, whereas sardines have only 0.013 ppm–that’s 90% less. 90 percent! And many varieties of tuna, including common and popular varieties like albacore, have much more mercury–upwards of .300 and .600 ppm. Yuck. Get that mercury out of your body somehow, or better yet never put it there. Eat sardines instead.

Eating sardines is better for the planet than tuna

Eating sardines is generally considered to be better for the planet than eating tuna because sardines are typically found in larger quantities and are lower on the food chain than tuna. This means that they require less energy to produce and have a smaller environmental impact. Additionally, sardines are often caught using sustainable fishing methods, while tuna is often caught using methods that can deplete fish populations and damage marine habitats. Stop depleting fish populations and damaging marine habitats, you fish population depleting marine habatat damagers.

Additional reasons why eating sardines may be better for the planet than eating tuna include:

  • Sardines are typically smaller and have shorter lifespans than tuna, which means that they reproduce more quickly and are less vulnerable to overfishing. They take self-perpetuation seriously.
  • Sardines are often caught using methods such as purse seine nets and traps, which are considered to be more selective and less damaging to marine habitats than methods such as longlining, which is commonly used to catch tuna.
  • Sardines are also caught and processed closer to the shore than tuna, which can result in less energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint.

In conclusion, your tuna-based loyalties are mislaid. Rejoice that you have found the Sardine Path.

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