Fueling Your Heart and Mind: An Interview with A Registered Dietitian on the Importance of Omega-3s

March is National Nutrition Month, and we’ll be highlighting this month’s Feel-Good Food: omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are present in seafood and can lower your health risks, support healthy brain function, and reduce inflammation.

To learn more about omega-3s and celebrate National Nutrition Month, we sat down for an in-depth interview with Taylor Guskind, a registered dietitian at American University. Hear what she has to say about the latest seafood trends and the benefits of omega-3s.

What foods are trending right now?

Tinned seafood is trending, and for good reason. It is a simple, shelf-stable way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Seafood in itself provides omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA, which are essential, meaning the body cannot make them. So, we need to eat foods that have them!

Shellfish, like fresh mussels, aren’t the easiest to prepare, so going with the tinned version cuts down on cooking time while packing a ton of protein and micronutrients like zinc and iron. Zinc supports cell function and iron plays a role in oxygen transport through the blood.

Canned seafood allows individuals to enjoy the delicious flavors and nutrients without the price that comes with fresh seafood.

Does eating seafood regularly help support brain health?

We know that seafood provides benefits to heart health, but there is emerging evidence of potential brain-boosting benefits. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids, like in tinned seafood, is especially critical during pregnancy and early childhood for brain and eye development. These fatty acids keep our brains running efficiently by protecting cell membranes and reducing inflammation.

Some studies suggest that a deficiency in DHA is related to an increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Others have found that consuming DHA long-term is linked to decreased cognitive decline.

The verdict is still out on how omega-3 fatty acids specifically impact brain health, but due to all the benefits seafood offers, I’ll continue to add it to my plate often!

What else should you be aware of when purchasing tinned seafood?

Like anything else, moderation is key. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation for seafood intake is 8 ounces, or 2 servings each week. If pregnant, this recommendation increases to between 8-12 ounces.

When shopping for canned foods in general, I check out the amount of sodium on the Nutrition Facts Label. Like many foods, seafood naturally contains sodium, and more salt is often added during processing. We want to aim for under 2,300 mg of sodium intake per day to protect your heart and maintain normal blood pressure. When preparing a meal, I shoot for under 600 mg of sodium, but this doesn’t always work out perfectly, which is okay!

Most fish contain mercury, which can be toxic at high levels. Anchovies, Atlantic mackerel, cod, herring, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and trout are a few examples of low-mercury options. Luckily, many of these are conveniently sold tinned.

Increase meal variety by experimenting with different types of tinned fish at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I recommend sardines for a nice dose of calcium. One serving provides about 1/3 of your daily needs; throw them in a pasta or omelet! Snack boards are one of my favorite meals when I can’t decide what I’m in the mood for. I like to switch out some of the processed meat for tinned mussels to keep the protein up while also increasing omega-3s.

What do you like to pair with tinned seafood?

As of late, a smoked tinned trout dip has been on my weekly rotation. I pair this with fresh veggies like crunchy cucumber and bell pepper on whole-grain crackers. Choosing whole grains provides plenty of B vitamins and fiber that provide energy and feelings of satiety. This allows me to stay focused longer without a grumbling stomach.