Think fish for better brain health 

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Think fish for better brain health 

If you can’t remember when the last time you had fish for dinner was, maybe it’s your brain reminding you to serve some up soon.  Research suggests eating fish appears to be associated with boosting memory and cognitive skills long-term.

Fish and brain health

Eating more fish on a regular basis is always a good practice, especially for brain health. Likely you are familiar with a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s are known for heart health but they also are excellent for maintaining a healthy brain. One of the omega-3 fatty acids is called docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, is essential for good brain functioning. DHA is required to keep the brain functioning normally and efficiently. Your brain and nervous system tissues are partly made up of fat, and research shows that they have a special preference for DHA in particular.

To make sure you are obtaining sufficient DHA in your diet, be sure to always put fish on your shopping list. Studies have found a link to DHA deficiencies to more serious mental problems than occasional forgetfulness. In fact, low levels of DHA have been associated with a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later years.  The longer you have included fish in your weekly meal plans, the better you are likely to have improved memory, improved learning ability and reduced rates of cognitive decline.

Besides eating more fish, there are other sources of DHA-rich foods such as fish oil, algae supplements or other DHA-fortified food in your diet.

How much fish to eat

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume at least 8 ounces of seafood per week. This works out to be two 4-ounce servings of fish.  The best fish to be consuming are oily or fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring and farmed trout as each are good sources of DHA. When cooking these fish, think grilling or broiling – the extra fat from deep frying is counterproductive when there’s lean protein on the menu. Other top choices of fish high in DHA include Alaska salmon and sardines. Meanwhile, shark and swordfish are choices to avoid due to high mercury levels.

Regular fish consumption also boosts heart health

Besides being good sources of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish are actually a lean source of protein. When you choose to eat at least a couple of servings of fish weekly instead of a greasy burger, you will be choosing a protein source that is low in unhealthy saturated fat and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This benefits not only your brain but also your heart as omega-3s have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk.

What about people who are vegans?

If you are a vegan and do not eat any animal/fish sources of protein, you may be wondering what’s the best way to obtain DHA?  One way is to consume algae, which is a primary source of DHA and is used to make vegetarian DHA supplements. Ground flax seed, walnuts and chia seeds are other vegetarian sources of another omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, which the body converts into DHA.  However, your body may only convert about 5 percent of ALA to DHA. If your main intake of omega-3s comes from vegetable sources or non-oily fish, consider speaking to your doctor or registered dietitian about supplementation.