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I'm A Nutritional Psychiatrist & This Is My No. 1 Food For Brain Health

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February 3, 2022
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As the field of nutritional psychiatry expands, we are learning more and more about just how integral food can be to brain health. Just ask nutritional psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D. There are certain nutrients throughout history and psychiatry we've just known are important in terms of mental health," he says on the mindbodygreen podcast.

One of his favorite selects? The nutritional power of the oft-overlooked anchovy. According to Ramsey, this tiny fish boasts some pretty impressive cognitive benefits. And yet, "A lot of people don't have a good anchovy game," he says. Here's why you may want to level up.

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How anchovies support brain health.

According to Ramsey, the reason for their high (yet underrated!) nutritional value lies in its long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: "One anchovy has 87 milligrams of long-chain omega-3 fats," says Ramsey. (And 1,150 milligrams1 in one 2-ounce can!) "Those are the really important omega-3 fats in terms of the data around brain health. They're very fragile fats, they're very long fats, and they make up DHA2."*

Now, DHA is indispensable for brain health, and it's important to include alternative sources in your diet to bolster the very limited amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that the body can generate on its own3 (assuming you're consuming the plant-based omega-3 ALA daily).*

The specific brain-healthy benefits of marine omega-3s are well documented: DHA is a special omega-3 that has been shown to help preserve brain cells4 and support cognitive functioning, and one study found that adults placed on a DHA supplement for six months had elevated memory function compared to those that were given a placebo.*

There are a variety of reasons why this nutrient has so many brain-health benefits, but as neurologist and New York Times bestselling author David Perlmutter, M.D., once told mbg, "Why DHA is so powerfully important for the brain likely stems from the fact that it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.*"

Of course, you can get DHA from a variety of cold-water fish, but there's a reason anchovies typically reign supreme: Not only are they jam-packed with omega-3s (as Ramsey said, a single anchovy has 87 milligrams), but due to their smaller stature, they're also less likely to contain mercury and other pollutants that accumulate with each feeding. Bonus points if they're housed in good-quality olive oil: In that case, you'll have even more healthy fats (hello, omega-9s) to fill your plate.

If you're not a fan of anchovies in your diet (and let's face it, the ingredient can be divisive) or want to complement your anchovy intake, you can reap the benefits of a quality omega-3 supplement, like mbg's omega-3 potency+. The supplement is made with 100% sustainably sourced, wild-caught, cold-water Peruvian anchoveta from the South Pacific—the pure anchovy oil has even been third-party ORIVO certified for authenticity. This cutting-edge evidence-based transparency fingerprinting technology verifies the fish oil species and origin. The formula also contains antioxidants from vitamin E and rosemary extract to naturally support the freshness and shelf life of the fish oil. And because no one likes a fishy aftertaste (much less fish burps), omega-3 potency+ also contains organic lemon oil for a more, uh, pleasant taste and aroma.

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The takeaway.

According to Ramsey, increasing your anchovy game may bolster, among other things, the brain-supporting capabilities of your diet. If you're looking for some creative ways to incorporate anchovies into delicious meals (other than a classic Caesar salad), check out these recipes for pasta puttanesca and anchovy and Brussels sprouts pizza!

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.