The truth about fish

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am

This week Hayley Foster, 14

Hayley asks:

'Is it true that Omega-3 fats makes you smarter?'

Wynnie says:

Over the past 20 years, a growing number of studies have shown the effect of low levels of Omega-3 fats on memory loss, depression, dementia, schizophrenia, eye disorders, cancer, arthritis and heart disease.

Omega-3 fats are essential for our health, but they can't be manufactured by the body. This means they have to be obtained from food. There are three main Omega-3 fats: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Our brain is made up of 60 per cent fat - most of this is found in the membranes of our nerve cells and in the protective covering that surrounds these cells. Having enough of the right kinds of fats allows our brain cells to work properly.

Essential fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be particularly important for acquisition of knowledge.

Some research has shown that breastfeeding increases a child's intelligence, and this has been attributed to the presence of DHA in breast milk. Standard infant formulas only contain trace amounts of DHA.

While there hasn't been a great deal of scientific research looking at how much DHA is needed during childhood or adolescence, findings that low levels are linked to memory loss and deterioration of mental functions in later life suggest it is prudent to add Omega-3 fats in our daily diet.

The American Heart Association recommends that we eat a variety of oily fish (e.g. salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel) at least twice a week. It also suggests including foods rich in ALA, e.g. flaxseeds, walnuts, rapeseed and soybean oils.

These aren't the only sources of Omega-3 fats.

Look at the box to see how you can increase your Omega-3 intake.

Hayley's food and exercise diary

Breakfast: Waffle with either yogurt or cottage cheese, home-made stewed fruit, juice

Morning snack: Home-made banana cake, fruit in jelly, yogurt, juice

Lunch: Roast chicken with sun-dried tomatoes on a wholemeal roll, juice

Afternoon snack: Frozen juice and homemade apple pie

Dinner: Salmon quiche, pocket pizza, different types of pasta, roast chicken with vegetables or home-made hamburgers

Exercise: Two PE lessons and one yoga lesson a week, surfing on weekends

Eat more Omega-3 fats

Have Omega-3-fortified scrambled or boiled eggs and toast for breakfast

Use rapeseed or soya bean oil for cooking

Try canned or smoked salmon as a filling for sandwiches

Replace butter or margarine with fortified spreads such as Flora Omega-3 Plus

Snack on walnuts instead of biscuits or crisps

Sprinkle flaxseeds on your breakfast cereals

Add tofu to soups or eat it steamed - it's a delicious alternative to meat