You may overlook the sardines sitting next to the cans of tuna and salmon in the grocery store, however, these small, oily fish are packed with nutrients. Besides being a good source of protein, sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. These nutrients make sardines an excellent weapon against heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Furthermore, sardines are very low in mercury, a toxin associated with nervous system defects in unborn babies and young children, so you can eat them more frequently if you are pregnant or nursing.
Sardines contain 1.8 grams of essential omega-3 fatty acids, fats that your body can’t make on its own and must get from food. Getting an adequate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats may promote heart health by reducing blood clot formation, inhibiting artery plaque growth, decreasing triglyceride production in the liver, increasing good HDL cholesterol and reducing whole-body inflammation associated with atherosclerosis. Furthermore, sardines are high in vitamin B12, which may help lower blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, an amino acid associated with coronary heart disease and stroke development.
The high levels of vitamins D and B12 make sardines a great bone-health promoter. Vitamin D helps increase calcium absorption in your bones, which is essential for maintaining your bone density and preventing osteoporosis as you get older. Furthermore, low vitamin B12 levels are associated with low bone-mineral density, according to a 2005 study of 2,576 adults in the "Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.” Along with its roles in lowering homocysteine, vitamin B12 is involved in regulating osteoblasts, cells involved in building your bones.
The nutrients in sardines may also promote healthy cell growth. Omega-3 fatty acids are a major structural component of your brain cells, and are necessary for proper cognitive function and development. Additionally, vitamin B12 works closely with folate to promote healthy nerve and red blood cell development. It is also involved in making DNA and RNA, molecules that provide the genetic information to make various proteins throughout your body. Furthermore, vitamin D’s role in regulating cell development may help reduce your risk of some cancers such as breast and colorectal, although more studies are needed.
Since sardines are small fish with a short lifespan, they don’t accumulate much methylmercury, a toxic compound produced when mercury from the environment gets into streams and oceans. Consuming too much can cause it to build up in your bloodstream over time, and can be especially harmful if you are pregnant or nursing since it interferes with the development of an unborn baby or young child’s nervous system. The low methylmercury levels of sardines mean that you can enjoy up to 12 ounces per week if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or nursing.
- Cleveland Clinic: The Power of Fish
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B12
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Disease National Resource Center: Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age
- Journal of Bone and Mineral Research: Low Plasma Vitamin B12 is Associated With Lower BMD: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study.
- NDL/FNIC Food Composition Database Home Page
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Methylmercury: What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Methylmercury:Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images