Fish has long been recommended by health and nutrition professionals for its heart-healthy properties, being low in calories, high in protein and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Now a new study suggests that fish may be a valuable brain food as well, particularly for the aging brain. (1)
“Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition,” says senior investigator Dr. James T. Becker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania. (2)
The research, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined the diets of 260 cognitively healthy older adults over a nine-year period. Participants provided information about their eating habits including the amount of fish they ate and how it was prepared. They were also given high-resolution MRI brain scans.
Those who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week showed an average of 4.3 per cent greater grey matter volumes in the area of the brain responsible for memory and 14 per cent greater volumes in the cognition area. This comes as no surprise.
My Nutrition Plan outlines the value of regular fish consumption for both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Diets high in good fat support brain function. The essential fatty acids DHA and EPA are anti-inflammatory and also provide fluidity in the cell membranes, which enhances communication — or synapses — between neurons. This is critical for better brain function, as well as mood and memory.
As the above study states, lower red blood cell levels of DHA and EPA in late middle age have been linked with smaller brain volumes and vascular-related cognitive impairment in older adults. Thus, “fish consumption may reduce dementia risk by reducing vascular risk factors and cellular inflammation.”
However, researchers in this study did not find a correlation between brain differences and blood levels of omega-3s, something they had expected. This led them to infer that a general set of lifestyle factors, including fish consumption in conjunction with “maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity, is the key to continuing brain health”. According to Dr. Becker:
“A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”
This also makes absolute sense. My Advanced Nutrition Plan — often compared with “The Mediterranean Diet” — is designed to help sustain a healthy weight as well as a healthy body. And exercise is a cornerstone for maintaining optimal physical and mental health.
When it comes to diet, many factors come into play but there’s no doubt that including fish on a regular basis can go a long way to preserving brain function as well as other health benefits. As noted in my Nutrition Plan, cold-water varieties are the ideal fish to consume — preferably wild Pacific or Alaskan — such as salmon, mackerel and halibut as well as smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, preserved in olive oil.
There are myriad ways to dress up fish for the broiler or baking dish. Add your favourite herbs, sprinkle with lemon juice, fermented soy sauce or tamari. One of our favourite recipes is Baked Wild Halibut Steaks, cooked with herbs and tomatoes and topped with feta cheese. Another tasty choice is Coconut Crusted Fish.
So include visits to the seafood counters in your food shopping excursions and give your brain a boost.