Traditionally fish has been described as “brain food” – a claim that was dismissed as an ‘old wives tale’ for many years but recent research into the links between fish and brain function suggest that this old wives’ tale may have more than a small grain of truth behind it.
We know that a large part of the brain is made up of omega-3 fats, making them vital for healthy brain function. In fact 60% of the fats in the brain are omega-3 with DHA, a type of omega-3 fat found in fish, being the main type. Omega-3 fats are essential for healthy brain development both in the womb and in early childhood. About 75% of brain cells are in place before birth and the other 25% are in place by the age of 1 year – making omega-3 fats an essential nutrient both for pregnant mothers and young children. Omega-3 fats were found to be so important for early brain development that they are now automatically added to baby milk formula and it is recommended that pregnant women eat two servings of fish every week – including at least one oil-rich fish.
Eating fish while pregnant may have benefits that go beyond early brain development. Studies have found that the children of mothers who eat fish while pregnant have better social and verbal skills at age eight compared to the children of mothers who never ate fish. Several studies have shown long-term benefits to children whose mothers ate fish while pregnant – results which back up the current recommendations for eating fish regularly. But the benefits of eating fish go beyond the early years. Researchers have found that many brain-related conditions may be prevented or even treated by good intakes of omega-3 fats, including problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression as well as dyslexia and ADHD in children.