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3 great reasons to add sardines to your diet

3 great reasons to add sardines to your diet

With their salty, distinctive taste, sardines are not to everybody’s liking. Although some aficionados crave their smoky taste - pairing them with crackers or even snacking on them straight from the tin - others find their oily texture and fishy flavor disagreeable.  But, wait, keep reading for some surprising news about sardines.


You see, the health benefits of these tiny fish are simply enormous.  According to the American Heart Association, one or two weekly servings of sardines or other cold-water fatty fish can reduce your odds of heart disease - currently the leading cause of death in the United States. Sardines also offer other solid health benefits while providing valuable disease-fighting nutrients. If you’re not (currently) a fan of sardines, maybe it’s time to give them another chance.

The “good” fats in sardines can help prevent deadly cardiac events

With an impressive 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids in every 3-ounce serving, sardines have one of the highest concentrations of these beneficial fats of any fish.

Highly anti-inflammatory, omega-3s can help reduce the chronic inflammation that leads to degenerative disease.  In addition, studies support their ability to support stable mood and even relieve symptoms of depression. Omega-3s also help to enhance immune function and may help increase the body’s ability to ward off colds and flu.

But their most important contribution could very well be to heart health.

In a 2018 advisory, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that omega-3s decrease the risk of abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to sudden death - as well as decreasing levels of triglycerides (fats) and harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood. Omega-3s can also help lower blood pressure and prevent the growth of fatty deposits that can block arteries.

Other medical authorities agree.

Dr. Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the prestigious Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, reports that omega-3s can help prevent stroke, heart failure, sudden cardiac death and congestive heart failure – quite a list!

Sardines are a great source of vitamin D

According to the Cleveland Clinic, fully 42 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, with that percentage rising for people over 65. The consequences of deficiency can be dire, as this essential disease-fighting nutrient is believed to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, respiratory diseases, heart disease, breast cancer and depression. While vitamin D doesn’t exist naturally in many foods, it can be found in good supply in sardines, with a 3-ounce tin containing 240 IU - about 40 percent of the recommended daily amount.

By the way, the vitamin D in sardines is in the form of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), considered more beneficial than the vitamin D2 - which should be avoided - found in plant-based foods (ergocalciferol).

Sardines are also rich in vitamin B3 - or niacin - needed for nervous system function, and vitamin B12, which is essential for the health of red blood cells and the production of DNA. 

And, sardines pack a wallop when it comes to high-quality protein, with an impressive 22.7 grams per 3-ounce container.   Yet the caloric cost of all this great nutrition is only 191 calories, making sardines an ideal choice if you are watching your weight. 

Strengthen bones with sardines' essential minerals

Sardines are extraordinarily high in minerals - such as magnesium - needed for strong bones. In fact, many health experts suggest that people with higher intakes of magnesium have higher bone mineral density - along with lower risk of fractures and osteoporosis. This is particularly important for older women, as females 65 and above account for 74 percent of all fractures.

Sardines also offer up plenty of calcium – especially if you avoid sardine fillets and choose a brand with the bones in. (Don’t worry - the skeletal bones are so soft you may not even realize you are eating them).  And, sardines are rich in vitamin D, which helps support calcium absorption and bone mineralization.

Generous levels of potassium and phosphorus in sardines round out the “dream team” roster of minerals needed for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth.

Make sardines part of your healthy diet

You can “tone down” the fishy taste of sardines by sprinkling them with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper. Hearty spices, such as basil or oregano, may also be used. Some sardine proponents find that these tiny fish pair well with mustard. Sardines may also be added to salads and even spaghetti sauces.

Look for sardines canned in water or olive oil rather than those in soybean oil, for obvious reasons.  Nobody wants to be exposed to genetically-manipulated soybean products.

If you are worried that the AHA’s recommendations involving fish may lead to unsafe mercury exposure, the organization says: don’t be.  Unlike larger predators such as sharks, sardines dine on plankton and are the least likely to contain mercury. 

Another point in sardines’ favor is that they are wild-caught and sustainable – as well as nutritious, convenient and affordable.  And - as some sardine lovers insist – quite tasty.

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