Fish on the Brain

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salmon omega 3s brain healthOne fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

Consuming fish helps us get two very important omega-3 fatty acids: EPA & DHA. Another form that is also important is ALA, found in plant-based foods such as flax seed, pumpkin seeds, hemp seed, purslane, and canola oil, just to name a few.

Why do we want omega-3 fatty acids?

According to WebMd, hundreds of studies suggest that omega-3s may provide some benefits to a wide range of diseases: cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Also, studies have shown that adults aged 65-94 who eat fish once a week were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. And those who ate fish of any kind were two to three times less likely to perform poorly on cognitive tests.

Eating fish has indisputable health benefits, but often people are not 100 percent sure about how much fish to eat to get the benefits.

How much fish is enough?

The American Heart Association recommends an intake of .3 to .5 grams of EPA & DHA (combined) for healthy adults (recommendations increase for disease management). They also recommend .8 to 1.1 grams of ALA/day.

But, memorizing these numbers will do us no good if we can’t translate that into food quantities. For fish eaters, 1 oz of fish per day (or two 3.5 oz servings/week), would help us reach this goal of .3 to .5 grams of EPA and DHA. For a good source of ALA, I prefer flax seed, due to it’s ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Eating only a half-tablespoon of ground flax seed/day would help someone reach that goal of .8 to 1.1 grams of ALA.

The tough part is getting enough EPA & DHA if you do not eat fish. ALA can be converted to EPA & DHA, but the conversion ratio is pretty low. For non-fish eaters a place to start would be trying to work in 3 tablespoons of ground flax seed per day. It’s also important to reduce dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids. High levels of omega-6 interfere with this conversion process.

Do you eat fish and/or any plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids? If so, what ways do you prepare these foods to make sure you eat them often enough?

You can read more about our award-winning nutrition & eating behaviors program here.

Photo by Andrea Pokrzywinski

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