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Feeling fishy: Sardines linked to lower diabetes risk

Sardines linked to lower diabetes risk.jpg
A recent study linked sardines to lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes in older individuals.

During a year-plus of lockdowns, business and school closures and quarantines, many people likely felt like sardines—packed tightly in their homes and unable to go anywhere else. As it turns out, however, consumers should have spent that time not just feeling like sardines—but eating them. According to a recent study, eating a serving or two of these tiny fish per week could help stave off diabetes in those considered prediabetic (Clin Nutr. 2021;40[5]:2587-2598).

For the study, 152 subjects age 65 or older and considered prediabetic were chosen. That cohort was then divided into two groups, each put on a type 2 diabetes prevention nutrition program; one group was supplemented with 200 g of sardines (about two cans) per week, while the other was not.

Prior to the intervention, 37% of the group assigned sardines was considered “high-risk” of becoming diabetic; 27% of the control group was considered high-risk. After one year, that control group saw a 5 percentage point decline in the number of subjects considered high-risk, down to 22% of the group. In the sardine group, that decline was a whopping 29 percentage points, from 37% of the group being high-risk to just 8%. According to the researchers, the benefits for the sardine group didn’t end there, either. In addition to the steep decline in number of subjects considered high-risk for type 2 diabetes, subjects in the sardine group had comparatively lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure, a reduction in insulin resistance and an increase in “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol as well as adiponectin, a hormone that helps break down glucose.

“Not only are sardines reasonably priced and easy to find, but they are safe and help to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes,” said lead author Diana Diaz Rizzolo, Ph.D. “This is a huge scientific discovery.”

Rizzolo also mentioned that while many of the nutrients found in sardines—calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.—can be taken via supplement, doing so doesn’t always promise the same results.

"Nutrients can play an essential role in the prevention and treatment of many different pathologies, but their effect is usually caused by the synergy that exists between them and the food that they are contained in," she said.

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Diabetes is a growing concern around the world and especially in the U.S. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), as of 2018, 34.2 million Americans (more than 10% of the population) had diabetes; of that number, about 95% have type 2 diabetes. Those numbers increase with age cohort; 26.8% of Americans over 65 years old are thought to be diabetic. Even more concerning, those numbers could continue to rise; the ADA estimates about 88 million Americans 18 and older qualify as prediabetic.

For this reason, diabetes is also one of the most studied conditions. A meta-analysis published in January noted low- and no-carb diets could be effective in managing type 2 diabetes (BMJ. 2021;372:m4743). While another recently published meta-analysis investigated dairy consumption and its link to diabetes management. In addition, low- and no-sugar alternatives are wildly popular these days, with consumers increasingly choosing natural, non-sugar sweeteners largely due to personal health considerations.

While many studies and products aimed at lowering diabetes risk involve removing or replacing an ingredient, few involve adding a new one to the diet, which makes this study unique. While many consumers are hesitant to give up the indulgence that comes with their favorite sweet treats, adding a healthy option twice a week may be more achievable.

As lockdowns and closures come to an end, consumers across the country are ready to stop feeling like sardines; now, it may be time to start eating them.

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