By Erica Favela
You’ve probably heard by now that salmon is good -- no, great -- for you. But do you know why? In addition to being an excellent source of lean protein, salmon and other types of fish offer some very beneficial fats known as Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat, and two of the most important types of Omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA). Omega-3s play important roles in the brain, including enhancing memory and performance, and they’re also critical to retinol (eye) health. Omega-3s can also help combat inflammation, and many studies find they play an important role in reducing the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, autoimmune disorders and more.
As if that wasn’t enough, DHA also plays an important role in fetal cognitive development, in addition to protecting moms-to-be against postpartum depression.
During the last month in the womb, the fetus will draw upon a mother’s stores of DHA. This nutrient will be used for a myriad of things, including the development of the baby’s nervous system, the brain and neurons, and eyes. Studies have found that infants’ cognitive and motor development are closely linked to DHA concentration in the umbilical cord blood at the time of birth, which highlights the importance of this nutrient in the prenatal stage.
In addition to the health of the baby, getting sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA may helpful for preventing postpartum depression. Maternal stores of DHA can be reduced as much as 50% during pregnancy. Breastfeeding will continue to draw on Omega-3s, so for some women, pre-pregnancy levels of DHA can take up to 6 months to restore.
A good goal to strive for is about three servings of 4 oz. of fish per week. Excellent sources of Omega-3s include sardines, salmon, mackerel and anchovies. Ideally, incorporating these types of fish into the diet before getting pregnant would be ideal. For extra support, talk to your healthcare provider about a high quality fish oil supplement.
I’ll admit that opening a can of tiny, whole fish can be intimidating (and the smell doesn’t help). BUT, I got over it, and it’s worth it, because these little guys are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
You read that right - more protein than steak! One tin provides nearly 25 grams of protein! AND the ratio of omega6:3 is an ideal ratio of 1:2 (1:1 would be good, or 1:3 would be best). Most of us get plenty of Omega-6 fats (found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils) but not nearly enough of the anti-inflammatory good-for-almost-everything Omega-3s.
I always buy my sardines from Wild Planet. This brand is recognized as one of the best for sustainability by multiple environmental organizations. Also, you don't have to worry about mercury toxicity (as you might with other fish) because these small friends don't even live long enough to accumulate build up. Another win!
2 cans sardines (Wild Planet)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp red onion, minced
5-6 Kalamata or green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp dijon mustard
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (omit if already packed in olive oil)
pepper, to taste
fresh rosemary or fresh basil, for garnish