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Surprising side effects of eating sardines to your health

These tiny fish have loads of flavor and are a versatile, but how healthy are they? Here are some ways eating sardines could affect your health.

You either love them or hate them—but there’s no denying that sardines pack a lot of flavor and nutrition in each tiny fish. These small silver fish come canned in water, oil, mustard sauce, hot sauce, and several other flavorings. Sardines are packed whole, unlike canned tuna or salmon, as each fish is less than 25 centimeters and can be eaten skin, bones, and all.

Don’t let their appearance fool you—if you enjoy other “fishy” fish like salmon or herring, you’ll probably love sardines’ taste. They’re a fantastic spread on crackers, piled on toast, tossed in a salad, or stuffed into peppers. And these are just a few of the many ways to enjoy them!

Sardines also bring a lot of nutrition to the table at a low price point. One can (3.75 ounces) of sardines has 22 grams of protein and can be found for as low as $1.50 or less a can.

These tiny fish have loads of flavor and are a versatile, budget-friendly add to your grocery cart, but how healthy are they? Here are some ways eating sardines could affect your health.

1. Sardine Nutrition Facts

Sardines are a small, oily fish that’s packed with nutrition. If you’re wary of the health benefits of canned foods, you can rest assured that sardines have a lot to offer. In addition to being high in quality protein and healthy fats, sardines are a great source of iron and calcium. Because of their low mercury levels, sardines don’t have the same toxicities you might expect with other types of seafood.

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 5 small sardines with bones (12g) canned in oil (drained).

Calories: 125
Fat: 7g
Sodium: 184mg
Carbohydrates: 0g
Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 14.8g

Carbs: Sardines do not contain any carbohydrates, fiber, or sugar.

Fats: The oils in sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly referred to as “healthy fats.” A serving of 5 small sardines canned in oil has 7 grams of total fat. It is important to note that when sardines are canned in oil (as opposed to water), they are higher in fat even when drained.

Protein: A serving of canned sardines has nearly 15 grams of complete protein, including all of the essential amino acids. Sardines are a healthy way to boost your protein intake.

Vitamins and Minerals: Sardines are high in iron and calcium, with just 5 sardines with bones (the bones are edible) providing 1.75mg iron and 229mg calcium. Sardines are also a good source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

2. Surprising side effects of eating sardines

They can improve your bone health

Sardines naturally have two key nutrients to help keep your bones strong as you age. Since the bones in sardines are so small and soft, they’re left in the fish, which is great news for your own bones. “Sardines with the bones are a great source of non-dairy calcium, which is essential for bone health,” says Anya Rosen, MS, RD, LD, INFCP, CPT, a virtual functional medicine practitioner based in New York City.

One can of sardines has 27% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium—more than a cup of milk! Like us, most of the calcium in sardines is stored in their bones.

But, calcium isn’t the only way sardines help keep your bones strong and healthy—they’re also a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body needs to absorb calcium. If you’re low in vitamin D, the calcium you eat can’t do its job protecting your bone strength and integrity.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, swordfish, and sardines are excellent natural sources of vitamin D. One can of sardines has 22% of your DV.

They may protect your heart

Sardines are a convenient way to sneak in your omega-3 fatty acids, as each can has 1 gram of the heart-protecting unsaturated fat. “A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids has many potential benefits, including lower cholesterol, lower levels of inflammation, and lower risk of developing heart disease,” says Bethany Keith MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, registered dietitian at Sizzling Nutrition.

In a 2021 JAMA Internal Medicine review, researchers analyzed data from almost 200,000 adults (with and without heart disease). They found that eating at least 2 servings (175 grams) of oily fish per week significantly lowered the risk of major heart disease in healthy adults and mortality in those who already had heart disease.

They could cause a gout flare-up

“A high intake of sardines might contribute to flare-ups among gout sufferers, and some varieties of canned sardines can have a high sodium content,” says Emma Laing, PhD, RDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Gout is a particularly painful form of arthritis. Flare-ups can be felt as shooting pain, burning, and tenderness in joints like the big toe, ankle, or knee. One cause of a gout flare-up is eating a diet high in purines—a natural substance that breaks down into uric acid in the body. Gout attacks occur when uric acid crystals build up in the joints, causing intense inflammation and pain.

Sardines, anchovies, mussels, trout, and red meat are all high in purines. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat sardines, but you may need to be cautious of how much you eat and the rest of your diet as well. If you have gout, talk to your doctor or dietitian as you may need to limit your intake of sardines or adjust your overall eating pattern to fit them in, suggests Laing.

They’ll give you an energy boost

Along with calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein, sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12. One can of sardines has 343% of your DV for vitamin B12.

Deficiency in this water-soluble vitamin is most often seen in older adults, those with pernicious anemia (a disease that prevents the stomach from absorbing B12), people with various stomach diseases, and vegetarians or vegans. Not enough vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and low energy.

While the vitamin B12 in sardines won’t give you an instant energy boost like caffeine will, including them and other B12 sources and high-quality proteins in your diet will help you feel more energized on a regular basis.

May contain anti-cancer properties

A cancer research report published by Dr. Powel Brown and Dr. Corey Speers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has shown that the intake of calcium and vitamin D might be very helpful in preventing certain types of cancers like breast cancer. Sardines are one of the best sources of calcium and vitamin D. However, more research and clinical trials are required.

May help with insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is one of the major factors to look for in diabetes. In cases where there is insulin resistance, the insulin produced in the body is utilized less efficiently. This, in turn, means that there is more glucose in the blood than there usually should be. According to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, sardine protein consumption may have a beneficial effect on fructose-induced metabolic syndrome on variables such as hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and oxidative and inflammatory status.

Potential Risks of Eating Sardines

Like fruits and vegetables, sardines and other oily fish run the risk of damaging your health if they contain pollutants such as mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticide residues. High amounts of mercury, in particular, can damage nerves in adults and cause serious issues with the development of young children.

Consider the following before eating sardines:

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury is one of the most damaging pollutants commonly found in fish, including sardines. But several studies have concluded that the low level of mercury found in sardines is of low risk to consumers, including pregnant women who were previously advised to avoid fish during pregnancy because of possible contaminants.

The benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in sardines outweigh the potential negative impact of trace pollutants, according to researchers.

Allergic Reactions

Sardines may cause allergic reactions in some people. Research shows that some organic compounds known as vasoactive amines such as tyramine, serotonin, tryptamine, phenylethylamine, and histamine are found in them. These can cause allergic reactions such as the constriction of the intestinal muscles, increased heart rate, headache, asthma, bronchitis, constriction of blood vessels, and hypertension. In most cases, very high ingestion of the above-mentioned compounds may result in these symptoms.

High Purine Content

Sardines may contain a high amount of purines. Purines are basic structures that form DNA and RNA. These purines break up into uric acid. High levels of uric acid concentrations are known to put a great deal of pressure on kidneys as they have to flush out excess amounts of uric acid. Purines should also be avoided in case of gout attacks.

Source: Eatthis/verywellfit!

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