‘I’m an RD, and This Is the One Food I Always Recommend for Boosting Brain Health’

Photo: Stocksy/Susan Brooks-Dammann
No matter how much you usually enjoy it, grocery shopping in the midst of a massive spike in food cost inflation can feel like a bit of a drag to say the least. (IYKYK: The monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource for those of us looking to make the most of our weekly grocery budgets, as it shows which foods are most and least affected by inflation.)

For instance, the omnivores in the room likely know all too well that meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and seafood are some of the foods most affected by inflation right now, but there is an important caveat. Canned and tinned seafood is one of the categories least affected by inflation, and these products offer some seriously impressive health benefits. While chicken and steak have seen more than a 16 percent increase in price year over year, canned seafood has increased by less than five percent, according to the April 2022 CPI report.

“I always keep tinned seafood on hand—and recommend it to clients in search of brain-friendly foods ideas—because it’s cost-effective, nutrient-dense, and long-lasting,” says Kaely McDevitt, MS, RD, LD. “Since it’s already cooked and doesn’t require refrigeration, tinned seafood makes for a very easy protein source that you can grab and go out the door.”

While we love the convenience factor, McDevitt says that tinned seafood like salmon, oysters, sardines, clams, and tuna are “nutrient powerhouses.” Canned sardines and salmon in particular, offer a serious omega-3 boost, with sardines offering 1.19 grams per serving and salmon 0.91 grams. The Adequate Intake (AI) for omega-3 fats is 1.1 grams per day for women and 1.6 for men, making tinned seafood incredible sources of this ever-important nutrient for supporting brain functioning, fighting inflammation, and boosting our skin health.

“In addition to the omega-3s, which are brain-boosting and packed with anti-inflammatory benefits, tinned seafood is also an excellent source of important minerals like zinc, copper, iodine, and selenium,” McDevitt says. “Tinned seafood products are also rich in energy-boosting B vitamins."

Like omega-3s, B vitamins are extremely important for improving brain health, as they act as chemical messengers for the body and help the brain communicate with other neurons in the body. And unlike some other top sources of omega-3s such as walnuts and flaxseed, tinned seafood is a super source of protein. According to McDevitt, protein is an essential nutrient for achieving optimal brain health as it creates the building blocks for neurotransmitters—and low protein intake can be associated with reduced fatigue, brain fog, weakness, muscle loss, and so much more. "Plus, minerals like zinc are critical for immune health and iodine and selenium are beneficial for healthy, happy hormones," McDevitt says.

How to shop for tinned seafood

Like most packaged products at your local supermarket, not all tinned seafood is created equal. McDevitt says it’s important to consider a few things before finding the right brand for you. “First, check the ingredient list and make sure you only see the seafood itself, plus salt or minimal, easily recognizable seasonings,” she says. “If the seafood is packed in oil, look for olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

McDevitt also notes that it can also be helpful to do your research on a brand’s sourcing and fishing practices, as well as if they test for mercury content (this is especially important for tuna). She suggests checking out Seafood Watch to learn more about sustainable seafood options.

One of McDevitt’s favorite brands is Wild Planet, a sustainably sourced seafood brand that offers tinned tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, anchovies, and yellowtail as well as beef and chicken. Unlike many other canned seafood brands, Wild Planet’s products are low in mercury, free of additives, and follow rigid sustainability measures to preserve our oceans and promote biodiversity.

So, what's the best way to enjoy tinned seafood, you ask? While McDevitt loves a three-ingredient salmon salad, she says that variety is key and it’s important to incorporate a variety of seafood into your diet. She’ll often mix in a tin of sardines to a batch of tuna salad and she also enjoyed tinned, smoked oysters on toasted sourdough. One of her favorite recipes is salmon cakes, which requires a can of salmon, an egg, breadcrumbs, and some seasoning to make a delicious lunch or dinner that comes together in minutes. There are so many tasty ways to zhush up canned seafood out there that you’re sure to find just the recipe even if you are a bit hesitant to test the waters.

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