Rule 3 Develop and Maintain Nutritional Balance, part 2
In the first year of life, a baby's brain is under heavy construction. It nearly triples in size, from about 3/4 of a pound to more than 2 pounds. A key building block in this construction project is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies create small amounts of DHA on their own, but we also consume this fatty acid by eating seaweed and many species of oily, cold water fish. Dietary intake of DHA by pregnant women and nursing mothers helps insure that babies get enough of this essential nutrient to build a healthy brain. DHA, found in cell membranes, becomes concentrated in the fetal brain during the last trimester of pregnancy. During those months, an explosion of neuron growth takes place in the brain. DHA also aids in the development of synapses, the connections between neurons. The essential fatty acid is vital to vision development, and is found in large concentrations in the eyes' photoreceptors. Our need for dietary DHA continues throughout life, as it helps with proper brain functioning, neurogenesis and vision. There is also evidence that DHA helps ward off heart disease. So bring on the salmon!
What is the best source of dietary DHA? Salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines, shellfish, and herring are all high in DHA. So are swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish, but nutritionists warn that high mercury levels have been found in these species, so they should be eaten less frequently. Vegetarians can gain the benefits of DHA from seaweed- and algae-based foods, but the omega-3 fatty acids are more concentrated in fish. Nursing mothers who increase their intake of cold water fish raise the DHA levels in their breast milk
. In places where large amounts of fish and seaweed are consumed—Japan, Australia, parts of China—levels of DHA in breast milk
are much higher than those in the United States. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per week. It's lean protein, with many beneficial nutrients. And your mother was right: It is brain food.
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