When I was a kid, I remember eating lunch on Friday afternoons with my Grandfather. He always called Friday, “fish Friday”. He and I would share a can of sardines spread over fresh rye bread. “It’s nature’s brain food” he would say. “I’ll make you smarter.” What my Grandfather, who was only educated through 8th grade, knew back then is just beginning to be understood by scientists today. Fish is good for the brain.
More specifically, it’s the Omega-3 fatty acid in the fish and the fish oil that is so important. New research in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, links eating fish rich in Omega-3 to a dramatic reduction in development of dementia. The study assessed the diets of 15,000 people aged 65 or older from the countries of China, India, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and the Dominical Republic. They found that those who ate Omega-3 rich fish nearly daily had a 20 percent decrease in risk of dementia than those who only at fish a couple of times a week. Additionally, those who ate fish a couple of times a week, were 20 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who never at fish.
The researchers, from King’s College London, conclude that the more fish you eat the less likely you are to develop dementia. They also add that the reverse is true for meat eaters, especially red meat eaters, as numerous studies have shown that red meat is harmful to the brain. This new research supports past observational studies in the West that came to the same conclusion. Researchers say that since this new data is from cultures with wide differences in environment and lifestyles and that it supports the conclusions of the western studies, the underlying common denominator is the fish as the source of the change in dementia risk.
So what are the fish that are the best sources of Omega-3 oil? They are salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Tuna, while being a fatty fish, has less Omega-3 fatty acid than the others by comparison. But what about heavy metals like mercury as well as PCB’s and dioxin that are found in fish high in the food chain like salmon and tuna? That’s where eating the smaller fish like herring, anchovies and sardines can give you the Omega-3’s but reduce your risk of eating the toxins that are found in the bigger fish.
“Ugh” you might be saying, “not sardines from a can!” Well the much maligned sardine is beginning to make a comeback. By the 1950’s the sardine was heavily overfished. Since then populations have made a comeback and not a moment too soon as we are reaching some critical sustainability pivots for America’s three favorite fish: salmon, tuna and shrimp. So maybe it’s time to give the sardine and the other small fish another look. It might just make you smarter.
Here’s to you GrandPop!