FISH AS BRAIN FOOD, AND A DAIRY SURPRISE
Fish is good brain food – no news there, right? Wrong. In fact, choosing the right fish to prepare is all-important. Our series on the best ways to nourish our brain continues with some scientific tips on which fish to buy and which to avoid, with a surprise or two about the most popular. Then, the latest science on cheese and why it can actually be a healthy diet food.
Nutrition is a big part of living happier, healthier and longer so now we’d like to answer a question from one of our listeners on the topic of brain food and specifically fish:
“Hi, this is Pam from Sacramento and I’m hoping you can help me. I’ve always heard that fish is very healthy for us but recently I’ve also heard a lot about pollution in the ocean and how it’s contaminating so many fish. So what seafood is safe for us these days?”
Pam is right, for a long time fish has been highly recommended as a health food and especially as a brain food. So as part our Brain Food series we talked with Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, a renowned nutritional expert, about fish. It’s still one of his top recommendations, with a couple of important caveats.
“The reason fish has been promoted for decades as a great food, it has the essential omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which like the saturated fats from coconut oil are absolutely essential for normal brain function. Brain cells are very complicated and they need a whole variety of fats, both saturated and unsaturated.
“The Omega 3 fatty acids are what we call unsaturated fatty acids. The saturated fats from coconut oil are a different category all together but the brain needs them all. And DHA particularly is necessary for brain development in utero, in little embryos. Also, when we are young babies our brain grows very quickly the first few years of life and it really needs DHA and to some extent EPA.”
Dr. Gonzalez says it’s important for mothers and fathers to give their children fish to make sure they’re getting enough EPA and DHA. Shopping for fish these days is unfortunately much more complicated than it used to be because of all the toxic chemicals in the ocean.
“One of the problems with fish of course is the mercury issue. Fish live in the ocean and we are dumping millions of tons of junk into the ocean and it accumulates, and there is a lot of mercury in the ocean, and particularly the bigger predatory fishes like tuna and swordfish which used to be my favorite are loaded with mercury. Mercury is a brain toxin that can lead to multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative brain diseases.”
To avoid mercury Dr. Gonzalez told us to think “wild” and “small” when we’re at the fish counter.
“So with fish you have to be careful. You always want wild fish as a start, and you want the smaller fishes like the salmon, not the big huge fishes like the tuna, as delicious as those things are. They accumulate mercury.
“The bigger the fish are, the higher on the food chain, the more they accumulate mercury. So it has to be clean fish, you don't want the huge fishes like swordfish and tuna. Wild salmon’s great, it’s loaded with the essential omega 3’s the EPA and DHA which are necessary for normal brain function.”
Wild salmon is also good for cardiovascular health. So we have a tip for you on how best to cook the wild salmon that Dr. Gonzalez recommends. It’s from noted chef Rebecca Katz. She’s the author of “One Bite At A Time” which used salmon as a frequent ingredient.
She has a great recipe for ginger lime glazed salmon that we have for you on our website and she also has a cooking tip we found very valuable to make sure we don’t overcook our salmon:
“Put it in the oven at 400 degrees for four to five minutes. This is not the time to go zoom out, walk your dog, come back, this isn’t like braising this is like a fast roasted salmon so pay attention. It’s always safe to check just like a minute before you think it’s going to be done and you want it to be nice and red, reddish pink in the middle. And that’s your cue that your salmon is ready to be taken out of the oven; it’s done.”
So advice from a pro: check your salmon a minute before you think it’s going to be done and look for reddish pink in the middle to avoid overcooking. And if you’d like to see Rebecca make that ginger glazed salmon we have a video report for you here on the KFBK website.
And now we’d like to answer an email from one of our viewers about something they heard recently here on Healing Quest. Maxxine writes:
“I heard your comments about healthy fats a few weeks ago and how cheese could actually be a diet food. Really? How could that be?”
Maxxine heard correctly. The right kind of cheese is one of those healthy fats we’ve been talking about. Our source for this is Sally Fallon Morell, the founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation whose mission is to improve the American diet by helping us make healthier nutrition choices. Here’s what she had to say about cheese as part of a healthy diet:
“Cheese has gotten something of a bad rap because it's very rich in butter fat and those are saturated fats and those are the types of fats that are supposed to be bad for us. In point of fact, the fats in cheese are extremely healthy.”
In fact, one of the foundation’s primary goals is to educate Americans about the benefits of healthy fats in our diet. After decades of “no fat, low fat” hype the tide may be turning and Sally Fallon Morell says that’s good news for cheese lovers even if they’re trying to lose weight:
“Cheese is absolutely wonderful food for dieters because it is so satiating; you can eat an ounce of cheese and it serves as a meal and so you can have a very low calorie diet eating lots of cheese.”
She says the health benefits are especially good with cheese made from raw milk from grass-fed pasture-raised cows.
“The finer cheeses and the traditional cheeses were made with raw milk, you get much more complex flavors, much broader range of flavors with raw milk, and the milk, and the cheese is going to end up a lot more nutritious for you because the minerals and vitamins are a lot more available when the milk is raw.”
Sally literally has “hands on experience” on this topic because in addition to her work with the foundation she’s been making cheese at her farm in eastern Maryland since 2009. When we visited here there she told us her cheeses are make from raw milk, which means milk that has not been pasteurized or heated to 160 degrees or more. She says the healthy fats in raw cheese keep our brain and skin healthy, along with healthy digestion and blood sugar levels.
“This is one of the reasons raw cheese makes such a great snack, because the fats modulate the blood sugar. You don't get these swings of blood sugar that you might get from eating a cookie or even eating a piece of fruit, the cheese with its fat keeps blood sugar levels stable.
“And that fat if the cheese comes from milk of grass fed cows is an absolute powerhouse of critical vitamins, vitamins A, D and K. They are the vitamins that we need to make sex hormones, to make stress hormones. Just a complete food, you could actually live on cheese and nothing else.”
Sally told us even cheese that’s been pasteurized, which is most of what’s in the supermarket these days, can still have a lot of nutritional value. But for maximum benefit she recommends cheese made from raw milk, with one caveat.
“You do have to be careful in buying cheese, however because a lot of cheese is labeled raw, the milk has actually been heated to just under the pasteurization point to about 150 degrees so you need to be very careful. And in our shopping guide for the Weston A. Price Foundation we actually contact every cheese maker, cheese manufacturer to make sure that cheese is truly made from raw milk and that means the milk has not been heated past say 105 degrees.”
Here’s the link for that shopping guide, which also has information on many other categories of healthy foods.
Enjoy this video and you'll be on your way to preparing healthy nourishment from your kitchen!
“Cooking Wild Salmon”