There are fats that heal and fats that harm. Let's run through them. Trans fats commit atrocious crimes in your arteries and liver. Think of them as the Grim Reaper of fats. You'll find them hiding in 80 per cent of processed foods, unless you live in Denmark where they are banned. It is widely thought that saturated fat from animal sources is not so sympathetic either.
Oh dear! So what's left to eat? Unrefined, extra-virgin oils extracted from olives, avocados, nuts, seeds and wheatgerm are all our friends. And, by the way, are spectacularly tasty. So, too, are oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring and anchovies. The fats in oily fish have been shown to raise our 'good' HDL cholesterol levels and nourish proper liver function with their altruistic antioxidants.
From the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the American Heart Association, sardines enjoy thunderous attention for their nutritional cargo. Their ammo of omega-3 fat acts as an anti-coagulant, helping to naturally thin the blood.
Why should you care? Thinner blood means better circulation, more nutrients and oxygen delivered around the body, and substantially less risk of broken capillaries or clots. Numerous epidemiological studies report that consuming a mere half gram of omega-3 fats a day can significantly decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and overall cholesterol levels.
These same omega-3 fats enable our bodies to manufacture lots of good prostaglandins. Prostaglandins basically referee inflammation in the body, so by feasting on foods rich in omega 3, we're helping to deactivate these pesky inflammatory markers. Good news for those suffering from arthritis, bronchitis, and, in fact, anything itis-related.
Sardines are nature's best source of CoQ10, the body's favourite antioxidant and catalyst to energy production. There's top-class protein, calcium-loving vitamin D and energy-sparking B vitamins in there, too. Think of sardines as the NCT of the dinner plate. They service your system, fill your tank up and recharge your batteries.
Try to look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel when shopping for the tinned variety. Ninety per cent of our seas are overfished, meaning the future of our scaly friends is in serious peril. Unwittingly, you and I have caused this. The MSC promotes recovery of species and seas that are almost depleted by preventing over-fishing and by monitoring quotas. The future of these species relies upon judicious shoppers like you and me to ask whether fish is local or MSC-approved.
How to Grill Sardines
If you've never grilled sardines from fresh, you're in for a colossal treat. And inauguration. Here's a step-by-step guide to get you going.
1) Find a friendly fishmonger near you.
2) Ask him nicely to gut the fish for you. It helps if you bring home-made cookies.
3) Give the fish a lick with olive oil, and throw it on the barbecue or underneath a very hot grill.
4) As soon as the sides of the fish start turning up, turn the fish over and cook for another few minutes.
5) Serve immediately with a fresh, zippy salad of watercress, lemon and cucumber.
That's it. Seriously, that's it. Sardines are much easier and safer to barbecue than chicken.
If you have access to the web, you'll find many of my previous columns on www.independent.ie, and the recipes for moon-dried tomatoes or Irish chermoula, both of which go swimmingly well with sardines, as does a bowl of Wexford spuds and garlicky olive oil.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine