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Are Sardines Good For You? A Dietitian Weighs In.

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November 26, 2022
opened cans of sardines
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When you think of sardines, what comes to mind? Typically, you might associate them with being small oily fish that you avoid eating at all costs, and they get a bad rep for their salty and fishy taste. While this seems to be the norm, what if we told you that canned sardines are making their way into the homes of many, and there’s a good reason for it?

You read that right, this little fish in a can provides some health benefits you may be unaware of. To learn more about it, we asked for a dietitian’s insight on why sardines are good for you, and why you should add them to your next grocery store shopping list.

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5 health benefits of eating canned sardines

1. Sardines help prevent cardiac events and promote cardiac function.

Your heart will be thanking canned sardines because of their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

“There is so much research on the benefits of Marine-based long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, DHA, and EPA on cardiovascular health,” says Kiran Campbell, RD. “A review of current research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce overall cardiovascular mortality, including the risk of myocardial infarction and major cardiac events.”

2. Sardines may support bone health.

Adequate protein, calcium, and vitamin D-rich foods help promote bone health, all nutrients that you can find in a can of sardines.

“Buying sardines with bones is a great idea, especially for women prone to osteoporosis or those in need of added calcium and vitamin D in their diet,” says Campbell. “In fact, a serving of sardines has more protein, calcium, and vitamin D than one cup of vitamin D-added whole milk.”

According to Campbell, a 2018 study in The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology shows that drug therapy in the elderly population may be a first-line defense against bone fractures, but it may not always be feasible. With that being said, she believes that eating canned sardines may be beneficial to help with strengthening bones.

3. Canned sardines may help promote cognitive function and mental health.

Give yourself a brain boost with canned sardines thanks to their jam-packed vitamin D content.

Vitamin D may have some impact on major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, particularly for seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” says Campbell.

And while there are plenty of food sources such as fatty fish that contain vitamins and minerals to boost overall brain health, like vitamin D, Campbell believes that canned sardines are “a wonderful, cost-effective solution for those at risk for depression and possibly other mental disorders.”

4. Canned sardines may help pregnant and nursing mothers.

If you’re a woman who craves all different foods when you’re expecting, there’s no judgment if you’re in the mood for sardines. In fact, they may actually be beneficial for your pregnancy and early nursing stages!

“Canned sardines provide essential nutrients to children both before birth (in utero) and after birth (via breast milk),” explains Campbell.

A 2019 review in The BMC Nutrition Journal reported that consuming omega-3 fatty acids (which was what are found in sardines) reduced the risk of preterm birth by 11% and early preterm birth by 42%. Furthermore, Campbell states that the DHA and EPA found in sardines can help increase amounts of DHA and EPA in a pregnant or nursing woman’s breastmilk.

“It is known that EPA and DHA levels are lower in the brain, liver, and blood cells of preterm and low birth weight babies compared to those born at full-term,” she explains. “Therefore, by supplementing with oily fish, such as sardines, mothers can ensure these nutrients are being given after birth to help provide brain and central nervous system-building nutrients to this delicate population.”

5. Canned sardines may act as supportive therapy and protect against the coronavirus disease.

Feel an illness coming on or just a bit under the weather? Nothing that some canned sardines can’t fix.

Research shows that the DHA and EPA along with other micronutrients found in oily fish may have a beneficial impact on our body’s inflammatory response to viral infections, specifically COVID-19 infection,” shares Campbell.

The same research demonstrated that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, and EPA helps reduce triglyceride levels, which in turn lowers the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines your body produces – a protein that is made by specific immune and non-immune cells and has an effect on the immune system. This suggests using EPA and DHA as both a supportive therapy and prevention strategy against the SARS-Cov-2 infection.

Related: 9 Incredibly Delicious Ways to Eat Canned Sardines

How to find the best canned sardine brands

With the popularity of sardines skyrocketing, it’s important to decipher which ones are the best brands. Campbell has some tips for helping you choose the healthiest ones on store shelves:

1. Check the amount of sodium.

According to Campbell, canned food items generally may have sodium chloride (salt) added during the canning process as a preservation method, which is an ingredient you don’t want in your sardines.

“It is the health-promoting nutrients you want from the actual food item, not the added salt,” she says.

2. See how they’re packaged.

Campbell advises that some canned sardines come packed in water, oil, tomato sauce, or other added spices and ingredients. Her suggestion is to go with plain sardines packed in water, with no other ingredients, to eliminate added sodium and fat.

3. See if they’re BPA-free.

BPA is an industrial chemical that can be found in the plastic of certain packaging. Being exposed to BPA may lead to negative health effects on the brain as well as the prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children.

“If buying imported canned sardines, be mindful of possible lead or BPA-lined cans,” says Campbell.

Read next: Is Chickpea Pasta *Actually* Healthy? The Answer May Surprise You

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