Do sardines in a can scare you?

They shouldn't. Keri Glassman explains how and why to eat this small yet mighty fish.

Yep, sardines. Stay with me on this one. For the season of joy and gift giving I am giving you the gift of good health wrapped in the shiny, silvery flesh of this salt water fish. You have probably seen sardines pureed or chopped up in some sort of cracker topping amongst a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a dinner party. Chances are you turned your nose up at it and took the cracker instead. Bad move. Although they may not be the most popular thing to eat, sardines play an impressive role in disease prevention. Oh, and they are absolutely delicious.

Although inferior in size to fish like tuna and salmon, sardines deliver the same heart healthy, bone strengthening, muscle building nutrients. They are one of my favorite sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically Nordic bristle sardines, which are fished from the cold, clean northern fjords. Since Omega-3s break down in heat, the farther north they come from, the more Omega-3s they contain. As tiny as sardines may be, they are still the most concentrated source of DHA and EPA, two types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Both work all kinds of health miracles from promoting heart health to fighting cancer to even battling stress and depression. Just one 3.25 ounce can of sardines contains over 50 percent of the daily value for these crucial fatty acids.

Hearing that fish are rich in healthy fats is not groundbreaking news, but here is something that will impress: Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin D, the essential vitamin that maximizes calcium, which as you know, builds strong bones. This is good news for the winter time as the bitter temps keep us from soaking up the vitamin D filled rays of sunshine. Besides being bone healthy, vitamin D may actually prevent the development of certain cancers as well. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to add sardines to your plate, they are also loaded with muscle-building, immune system-strengthening and incredibly satiating protein. Sardines actually have one up over the rest of the sea — since they rank lowest on the food chain, they don’t pose the same mercury risk as do the larger ocean fish.

There is no better time than just before the New Year to try a new food — even one that may scare you. Who knows, you may even start carrying a can of sardines for a protein-filled snack at work. Kick off a year of good health with this recipe. If this doesn’t get you hooked on sardines, you will at least have a crowd pleasing, nutritious dish for your holiday celebration.

Sardine Stuffed Artichokes
Serves 4

Stuffing Ingredients:
1 c. whole wheat bread cups
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 c. feta cheese
2/3 c. Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
4 sardine filets, from a can, roughly chopped
2/3 c. sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ c. minced fresh basil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Artichokes Ingredients:
4 large artichokes, (2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds total)
4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
2 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp. lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. To prepare stuffing: Combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, feta, olives, sardines, tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and oil in a medium bowl.

3. To prepare artichokes: Cut off the top 1 inch of leaves from an artichoke. Remove the outer layer of small, tough leaves from the stem end. Snip all remaining spiky tips from the outer leaves. Cut off the stem to make a flat bottom. (Discard the stem.) Starting at the outer layers and progressing inward, pull the leaves apart to loosen. Pull open the leaves at the center until you see the spiky, lighter leaves around the heart. Pull out those lighter leaves to expose the fuzzy choke. Scoop out the choke with a melon baller or grapefruit spoon and discard. Repeat this step with the remaining artichokes.

4. Spoon ½ cup stuffing into the center of an artichoke. Stuff an additional ½ cup stuffing between the outer leaves, toward the base, using a small spoon. Repeat with the remaining artichokes and stuffing. Divide any remaining stuffing among the artichokes.

5. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and lemon juice; bring to a simmer. Carefully stand the artichokes upright in the pan. Drizzle each artichoke with 1 teaspoon oil.

6. Cover, transfer the pot to the oven and bake until tender when pierced down through the center with a knife, about 50 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the stuffing is slightly browned, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the braising liquid and serve. Use the braising liquid for dipping if desired.

Nationally recognized nutrition expert and author Keri Glassman (@KeriGlassman) is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City.