Brain Food: What Parents Need to Know About Seafood

The right kinds of fish can help brain development, but there are many exceptions that do the opposite.

When we were kids, mom sent us off to school with a tuna sandwich everyday because fish is good for our brains. Right? Technically, yes, fish has ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), which is a building block for brain cells, and there is evidence that eating fish once a week can help to retain your hippocampus, or memory and learning center of the brain. Recent studies also indicate that there is a relationship between eating fish and staving off Alzheimer’s Disease1.

However, not all fish are equal in their delivery of health benefits, and the damage we humans have done to our oceans has had and almost ironic reverse effect our or health. Due to a century or so of heavy industry, certain fish are no longer a safe bet. Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and industrial chemicals like PCB have polluted the water system and these highly toxic substances accumulate more easily in larger fish that take longer to mature2.

These toxins can be detrimental, especially to neurological development in babies and young children. Here is a quick rule-of-thumb list of fish to avoid because they carry the highest levels of heavy metals:

  • Albacore Tuna
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Farmed Salmon

 

Alternatively, eating these fish once a week can help build and maintain a healthy brain:

  • Wild-caught Alaskan Salmon
  • Pacific Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Wild-caught Dungeness Crab
  • Oysters
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Atlantic Longfin Squid2

 

In general, smaller, fresh water fish are going to pack the most punch nutritionally, and are less at risk of contamination, but it’s always a good idea to check on fish that is sourced locally, just to be sure.

When shopping for fish for your family, always look to see where it comes from, if it is farmed or wild-caught, and if it is in season. Industrial fishing regulations vary widely between countries, and some regions over fish and threaten local populations. In service of both our families and protecting the planet, we should know which countries are putting sustainable and healthy practices to work.

Additionally “fish fraud” is fairly common. Beware of “wild” and “fresh” Alaskan salmon in the middle of winter, for example, because it is likely neither, so source your seafood from trusted outlets that vet their suppliers carefully. A more comprehensive guide to buying specific species of fish is on the Environmental Defense Fund website here: http://seafood.edf.org/buying-fish-what-you-need-know. You can also look at commercial practices by country through this organization to see which ones are reliable.

We can feel totally out-of-out-depth when it comes to the simple task of buying and preparing healthy food for our families, but that is why it is so critical that we educate ourselves about the risks and the options associated with seafood. Even if it means we have to pack a PB&J instead of tuna fish.  

 

 

References:

  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/this-is-your-brain-on-fish/375638/
  2. http://seafood.edf.org/common-questions-about-contaminants-seafood

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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