Gill South: Let them eat fish

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Gill South gets the lowdown on the benefits of omega-3 from a leading nutrition expert.

Fish should make it onto the menu twice a week says Dr Alex Richardson. Photo / Thinkstock
Fish should make it onto the menu twice a week says Dr Alex Richardson. Photo / Thinkstock

This week I had an enlightening chat with Dr Alex Richardson, one of the world's leading authorities on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

This senior research fellow at Oxford University, and founder-director of the educational website, Food and Behaviour Research, was great fun. She was like the Kate Adie of the medical research world with a lovely gravelly voice and a hearty laugh.

Alex was over here to speak at Massey University's Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health symposium, looking at the findings of two of the university's clinical trials supported by nutritional oils company, Efamol. They showed that taking DHA-rich omega-3, can help people's health in a number of ways from reducing post-natal depression to improving your memory and the speed of your recall. As one who has trouble getting the name of my children and husband straight at times, this can only be a good thing. And as for remembering where I put the car keys, forget it.

A clear head would be a treat. At the moment I feel like I'm operating in a perpetual fog as I plough through yet another cold and continue with the usual work rate.

Alex explains the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, the fact that they are polyunsaturated fatty acids which come from wild deep sea fish. They are rich in EPA and DHA. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is good for a healthy heart and flexible joints and promotes natural anti-inflammatory responses. DHA (docosahexanoic acid) affects the mood, mind and memory. It helps healthy brain and nervous system development in children and infants, and also supports the maintenance of healthy cognitive function; things like eye function and night vision, as well as learning and memory.

That old wives tale that fish is good brain food is absolutely right, says Alex, though she doesn't know how people knew that back then.

Why are many of us lacking in omega-3? Because we have moved into the cities and eat less fresh fish and seafood, says Alex. Ideally my family should eat two good portions of fish a week, fish like salmon or tuna, mackerel, sardines or pilchards are good. I should make sure this fish is a main meal size and one of the meals should be oily fish, says Alex.

We can also get omega-3 by eating a LOT of green leafy veges, walnuts and some vege oils like flaxseed oil. These essential fatty acids are then converted in the body into long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

I tell the expert that I have a smidgen of mercury in my blood so I'm not sure about eating tuna regularly.

She snorts with derision at the the thought of such silly poppycock. My amalgam fillings are more likely to blame, she says. She wouldn't recommend it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day but once a week is perfectly fine.

If you can't have two servings of fish a week or your levels of omega 3 are low, Alex advises people to use supplements that have been used in research studies, supplements that have been rigorously used for a decent period of time.

I'm quite happy to eat more fish. I'm going to embrace this omega-3 lark - I'm planning blackened salmon for dinner, a Peter Gordon recipe, and I think we're going to get into kedgeree on Sunday nights, one of my favourite meals. Yum.

Next week:

I'm off to a Hot Hula Fitness dance class in Grey Lynn. I'm to bring my sarong, lei and coconut shell bra, apparently. I'm not kidding.

- NZ Herald

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