The brain is 60% fat so the most important chemicals for our brains are fats!
Some of the fat used by the brain is ‘essential’. This means that is has to be eaten, we cannot make it unless we eat the right foods.
Oily Fish: Sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, anchovies are the best food sources for Vitamin D and Omega 3 Fat DHA. DHA is involved in brain structure, memory, eye health and repair of brain cells. It is needed for hormones like dopamine (our main reward hormone) as well as fetal brain development in pregnancy.
Low levels are associated with anxiety, depression and even dementia.
DHA is found in oily fish such as like anchovies, herring, sardines, mackerel and salmon as well as sea algae. It is found in significantly lesser amounts in white fish such as cod and pasture-raised organic meat and dairy products.
For ease consider water or olive oil based tinned sardines or mackerel.
If you are concerned about your levels of DHA or Vitamin D full blood tests are available.
Freshly Ground Flax Seeds & Flax Oil: DHA can be made from ALA an Essential Oil (Fatty Acid) found in plant food. Flax seeds are one of the best sources with ALA present in smaller amounts in pumpkin seeds, edamame beans, walnuts, rapeseed oil, chia seeds and hemp.
Unfortunately it can be difficult to get enough DHA from flax seeds because it is difficult to convert. It is thought that as little as 5% of ALA is converted into DHA.
To support getting as much DHA from flax as possible use the oil itself, adding it to salads or smoothies. Because the oil is fragile it is better to keep in a glass container in a cool storage space. Alternatively try grinding your own flax seeds and keeping them in an airtight container for a few days – these are ideal to add to breakfast cereals, smoothies and salads or sprinkle onto stir fries after the dish has been removed from heat.
If you are concerned about your levels of DHA full blood tests are available. If you don’t eat fish there are vegan DHA supplements available.
Organic &/or Free Range &/or Omega 3 Eggs: Eggs from chickens fed on flax seeds contain DHA as well as ALA. They are unlikely to be such as good source as oily fish but they also have other benefits for brain health as well as being a cheap and easy protein food. Eggs are one of the only foods containing vitamin D (in the egg yolk) as well choline, a nutrient needed to make a hormone called acetylcholine which is associated with memory, mood and fetal brain development in pregnancy.
When buying eggs go for the best quality free range eggs you can afford. If a hen is fed well and is able to roam outside the nutrients in the eggs will reflect this – remember vitamin D is absorbed from the sunlight. If you live close to health food shops that sell local eggs, check out the quality for the farm (I ring the shops and ask them) and choose the best.
You can start the day with lightly boiled or poached eggs, add them to a salad or a frittata for lunch or have a boiled egg as a filling mid afternoon snack.