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Sardines & Good Cholesterol

author image Michelle Kerns
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
Sardines & Good Cholesterol
A can of sardines packed in oil. Photo Credit Lilechka75/iStock/Getty Images

In 2013, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch added wild-caught Pacific sardines to its Super Green List of seafood high in nutrients, low in contaminants and fished in an environmentally responsible manner. Economical and versatile, sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart disease through their effect on your cholesterol. Try roasting, grilling or broiling fresh sardines or adding drained, canned sardines to salads or pasta dishes.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content

A 100-gram serving of canned sardines contains approximately 0.6 grams of the omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and 0.4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, another omega-3 fatty acid. The combined total would fulfill the American Heart Association's recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids for people diagnosed with coronary heart disease. This amount is about as much omega-3 fatty acids as you would obtain from consuming smelt, chum salmon or Atlantic bluefish and is more than supplied by fish like red snapper, flounder, cod or catfish.

Effect on Cholesterol

A diet rich in EPA and DHA from seafood such as sardines increases your blood's level of high-density lipoproteins, also known as HDL, or "good" cholesterol. A high concentration of HDL is linked to a lower overall blood cholesterol total and a decreased risk of heart disease. This is because HDL is responsible for transporting low-density lipoproteins -- LDL, or "bad" cholesterol -- to your liver where it is eliminated from your body. Without adequate HDL, the LDL in your blood can accumulate in your arteries and cause a stroke or heart attack.

Recommended Intake

To increase your good cholesterol and keep your bad cholesterol as low as possible, the AHA advises healthy adults to consume a 3.5-ounce serving of fish and seafood at least twice a week, with an emphasis on cold-water fish like sardines that have the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The recommendation for pregnant women and young children is to have up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, commercial sardines count as low-mercury and can be eaten freely. Do not consume locally caught fish until you've checked with local advisories.

Additional Considerations

If you are African-American, over 51 years old or suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease and have been placed on a sodium-restricted diet, choose fresh sardines over the canned variety for the maximum health benefits. A 1-ounce serving of canned sardines contains 87 milligrams of sodium, or almost 6 percent of your 1,500-milligram daily limit. In addition, avoid wild-caught Atlantic sardines in favor of Pacific or Marine Stewardship Council Certified sardines whenever possible. Wild-caught Atlantic sardines have been over-fished and are not considered a sustainable choice.

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