Eat fish. Simple isn’t it. Yet how may of us are
a) aware of the benefits to our brains of including fish regularly in our diet and
b) how many of us actually put it into practice even though we know it’s good for us?
So what is it about fish that is so good for the brain?
Fish Oil, lovely fish oil, full of Omega-3.
And it’s not just a case of any old fish. The recommended fish to have are the fish that are carnivorous ie they eat other fish, that don’t live too long (because they can accumulate too much mercury which is toxic!) and they tend to be cold water fish.
So, having ascertained that, it’s simple. Just pop down to your nearest fish market or supermarket and ask for the best carnivorous, short lived, cold water fish bursting with Omega-3 they have fresh today.
The fish that are particularly recommended include:
Salmon, Sardines, Herring, Tuna. Mackerel and Anchovies.
So what are these Omega-3s? Well, they are polyunsaturated fatty acids and they are essential as an essential component for all cell membranes for the whole body. The key fatty acid for our brain is DHA (or Docosahexaenoic acid for short).
The body can produce its own DHA but not in adequate quantities, hence we need to include it in our diet.
The structure of the cell membrane around each cell determines what can pass in or out of the cell. If we lack sufficient Omega-3 building blocks to maintain the normal structure and integrity of the cell membrane then the cell concerned may not function as well. If this is a brain cell then obviously our brain will not be functioning to its best level.
As we get older our ability to produce our own DHA also declines, again making supplementation through our diet increasingly important.
Can’t stand fish? Well, we can also derive ALA (alphalinoleic acid) another source of Omega-3s from plant sources including kiwifruit, walnuts, avocado, tofu and flaxseed.
Having sufficient Omega-3 will keep our brain and eyes healthy, help in stabilising mood, and lower our risk of developing depression and dementia.
Omega-3 assists our ability
to problem solve
to improve communication between brain cells and
to protect us from oxidative damage.
Pass the tin of tuna now please.
And yes, there is more in terms of benefits for our general health. Not only are the Omega-3s good for our brains, they help our blood fats by reducing our triglyceride levels, improve the elasticity of our blood vessels and help to lower blood pressure. They help to keep the blood thin and prevent clots and have been demonstrated to be important in maintaining a normal heart rhythm.
So how much do we need?
Two to three meals of fish per week is the current recommendation.
This can be fish that is tinned or fresh, baked or grilled or prepared in any way you like.
I was brought up on "fish fingers" as a child, which can be a great way to introduce kids to fish if they are not keen on fish on it’s own.
And we always had fish on Fridays.
Fish and chips as a take away meal will add another serve each week. Many of the better “chippies” now offer grilled fish as an alternative to the deep fried, battered and crumbed varieties plus side salads as an alternative to the greasy hot chips. Though being rather partial to the occasional “hot chip” I can rationalise having them knowing the rest of the meal is good for me.
Tinned tuna, salmon and sardines are an easy way to include a serving in a roll or sandwich for lunch.
How much Omega-3 is in a regular serving of fish?
Canned sardines 2000mg per 100g Atlantic salmon 1000-2000mg per 100g Swordfish >1000mg per 100g Whitebait 700mg per 100g Canned tuna >600mg per 100g Mackerel 400mg per 100g Mullet 400mg per 100g Sardine 300mg per 100g Tuna 300mg per 100g Snapper 220mg per 100g Whiting 100mg per 100g Barramundi 100mg per 100g
Mussels 400mg per 100g Oyster 350mg per 100g Squid/octopus 300mg per 100g Prawns 150mg per 100g Lobster/Crayfish 100mg per 100g
(Source: Associate Professor Peter McLennan, Smart Food Centre and Graduate School of Medicine, University of Wollongong)
And the fish skin apparently contains three times the amount of Omega -3 of the flesh.
Eating the fish skin may be good for you, but I have to admit I’m not so keen! It has to be really crispy to entice me to eat it.
The other thing that can be done of course is to take fish oil capsules taking two 1000mg capsules per day.
And for those of you put off by “fish burp” from some capsules, keeping them cold in the fridge seems to help and there are some “burp free” varieties on the market.
Some clever marketers have also manufactured fish oil capsules for kids (enticing them with the thought that these will make them smarter and perform better at school) by making the capsules in the shape of little fish. Great idea if it will persuade the kids to take them, especially if they are fish haters and refuse to eat fish in their diet.
So what is the one thing we can do to keep our memory razor sharp?
Eat fish, preferably three times a week.