23 August 1998

Your Mother Was Right, Fish is Brain Food

By adding cold water marine fish to their diet, pregnant women and nursing mothers will be giving their babies important fats that facilitate the growth of brain and nerve cells in the developing fetus and nursing infants. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by Carol Lammi-Keefe, a professor of nutritional sciences.

In her study, which was funded in part by the United States Department of Agriculture, Lammi-Keefe found that neither developing fetuses nor nursing infants can produce sufficient amounts of an important fatty acid, DHA (docahexanoic), on their own. The babies rely almost exclusively on their mothers to provide them with this fatty acid, either in the womb or through breast milk.

"DHA is vital for the development of brain cells and nerve cells," says Lammi-Keefe. "If the mother is not getting enough of this fatty acid in her diet, then her baby may not be getting the amounts it needs to maximize this tissue development."

Lammi-Keefe says that the best source of DHA is cold water marine fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, swordfish, mackerel, sardines and trout. When DHA is ingested by the mother through these fish, it is passed on to the fetus or nursing baby.

"The women probably don't need to eat foods rich in these fatty acids every day," she says. "But it is important to include it in their diets."