BARCELONA — Eating just two cans of sardines a week can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study. In fact, scientists say consuming the oily fish is actually more effective than simply taking the same nutrients they provide in pill form.
Of course, the health benefits of eating oily fish are well known. That’s because they contain high quantities of nutrients such as taurine, omega 3, calcium and vitamin D. Their high level of unsaturated fat also helps balance cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.
Now, researchers at the Open University of Catalonia in Spain say sardines in particular offer another excellent — and inexpensive — health benefit. “Not only are sardines reasonably priced and easy to find, but they are safe and help to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes,” says study co-author Diana Rizzolo, a professor and researcher in the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences, in a statement. “This is a huge scientific discovery. It is easy to recommend this food during medical check-ups, and it is widely accepted by the population.”
The study followed 152 patients who had been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels were between 100 and 124 milligrams per deciliter. All participants were then put on a diet, which aimed to reduce the risk of them developing the disease. But some were also given two cans of sardines in olive oil, amounting to 200 grams (or seven ounces), every week.
They were advised to eat the small fish whole, without removing the bones, as these are particularly rich in calcium and vitamin D.
The number of people at high risk of diabetes who were not given sardines every week fell from 27 percent to 22 percent over the course of a year. But high-risk patients who followed the fishy diet plummeted, from 37 per-cent to an incredible eight percent over the same time frame, the researchers found.
Eating the oily fish also had other health benefits, including boosting insulin resistance, and increasing good cholesterol and hormones, which help break down glucose and reduce blood pressure.
“As we get older, restrictive diets in terms of calories or food groups can help to prevent the onset of diabetes,” says Rizzolo. “However, the cost-benefit ratio is not always positive, as we found in other studies. However, the results lead us to believe that we could obtain an equally significant preventive effect in the younger population. While nutrient rich sardines sardines can help protect against diabetes, taking them in isolation might not have the same effect.
“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,” he continues. “Sardines will therefore have a protective element because they are rich in the aforementioned nutrients, whereas nutrients taken in isolation in the form of supplements won’t work to the same extent.”
The effects of eating sardines on gut bacteria are what the researchers are looking at next.
“Since it affects the regulation of many biological process, we need to understand if they have played a part in this protective effect against diabetes 2,” says Rizzolo.
They will also be investigating the role certain genes play in developing Type 2 diabetes and other diseases.
The findings were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.