Unfortunately, a June 2022 study shows that most Americans don’t get enough of two very important omega-3s—DHA and EPA—so take this as a gentle nudge encouraging you to be all the more *mindful* of your intake from this point forward.
To simplify your new and improved meal plan, Uma Naidoo, MD—a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutritional biologist, and author of the national and international bestseller, This Is Your Brain on Food—shares her list of the top omega-3 foods worth keeping in your rotation. But first: a quick recap of what omega-3s are and why they’re so beneficial for your cognition and mental health.
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- Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist
Why omega-3s are necessary for your mind and mood
Since our bodies don’t produce omega-3s fatty acids, they’re essential nutrients that we have to obtain through diet to reap their protective benefits. “Lacking omega-3s in one’s diet has shown to have detrimental effects upon cognitive function. In fact, studies demonstrate that people with dementia tend to have low levels of omega-3s,” Dr. Naidoo says. (While it’s ideal to get nutrients in through a food-first approach, she continues to say that omega-3 supplementation “may help protect the healthy brain and delay cognitive decline in mild dementia.”)
Dr. Naidoo also adds that low levels of omega-3s are also associated with chronic inflammation, which can exacerbate symptoms of depression—not to mention contribute to a host of greater health issues.
The top 7 brain foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, according to a nutritional psychiatrist
Be sure to stock up and chow down on these healthy foods rich in omega-3s—some of which you can pair up to protect your mind and mood even further.
Dr. Naidoo kicks things off by praising avocados, which are rich in ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods like seeds and seed oils. “They’re also rich in fiber and key minerals, and are a versatile fruit to add into one’s daily diet,” she adds. While Dr. Naidoo prefers to dollop guacamole on a hearty tortilla stew, you can always slice up your avocado and enjoy it with eggs, on toast, in a sandwich or salad, atop tacos, as a dip… the options here are pretty limitless.
2. Chia seeds
“Chia seeds are my go-to for preparing on-the-go meals that have an extra brain boost,” Dr. Naidoo tells us. While they’re rich in omega-3s, they also offer around four grams of fiber and two grams of protein per tablespoon. She advises getting in your fix of these small but mighty nutritional powerhouses by making chia pudding with your favorite milk and letting it sit in the fridge overnight to enjoy in time for breakfast. Bonus points—in the form of even greater brain-boosting benefits—go to those who top their chia pudding with antioxidant-rich fresh berries.
Have a luxurious palate and never pass up the chance to enjoy a spoonful (or two) of caviar? You’re in luck, as Dr. Naidoo calls out its robust content of omega-3 fatty acids. “Simply topping a dish with a sprinkle of caviar can glean its benefits,” she shares.
4. Extra virgin olive oil
Compared to other oils, EVOO is as good as it gets in terms of quality, flavor, and fatty acid content. You can cook with it, drizzle it onto your dishes, or mix it into its own fresh condiment. Dr. Naidoo’s personal rec: homemade salad dressing. “Simply whisking together fresh lemon juice, EVOO, salt, and pepper makes for a dressing that takes any salad to the next level,” she says. Heed her advice and look for a cold-pressed EVOO that’s processed as little as possible to max out the health benefits.
5. Wild sock-eye salmon
One of the best and easiest ways to get enough omega-3s in your diet—namely the brain-boosting heavy hitters DHA and EPA—is to include fatty fish in your meal rotation. Dr. Naidoo’s vote goes to wild sock-eye salmon, which she says packs around 1,744 milligrams of omega-3s in a six-ounce serving. “Most professional organizations recommend at least 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3s daily for adults, yet this can come from a serving of fatty fish once or twice per week,” she shares.
Along with caviar, salmon, and other fatty fish, oysters “are powerful, versatile sources of omega-3s,” Dr. Naidoo continues. Oysters are also good sources of zinc and copper—the right amounts of which can positively influence cognitive function.
Last but not least, Dr. Naidoo suggests keeping walnuts in your pantry, which are rich in omega-3s and are wonderful for mental health in particular. “According to a UCLA study, noshing on a handful of walnuts daily cuts your risk of depressive symptoms by 26 percent,” she shares. (This finding was most significant in female participants, as well as compared to participants who ate different kinds of nuts or none at all.) With that said, Dr. Naidoo suggests sprinkling walnuts on your dish of choice—perhaps a salad or even that chia pudding above—foa mood-boosting, crunchy topping.
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