EATING FISH and seafoods during pregnancy is crucial for a baby’s brain development, according to a scientist who will speak in Dublin today.
Prof Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition in London, says fish and seafoods provided omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for a healthy brain.
“The brain is made up of essential fats you can’t make, so you have got to get them in your food,’’ says Professor Crawford, who will address an Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute meeting in Dublin today.
During pregnancy, omega-3 fats concentrate in developing baby’s brain, and recent research provides “compelling” evidence of their importance during human brain development, according to Professor Crawford, whose Dublin talk is sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
He cites a Bristol-based study which says that, “The amount of fish and seafoods that the mother was eating during pregnancy was directly related to cognitive development of the child, particularly verbal IQ at eight years of age.
“The converse was also true – the mothers who ate the least fish and seafood had the children who at seven to eight years of age had the highest incidence of behavioural pathology”.
He advised pregnant women to eat “anything from the sea and rivers” to boost their omega-3 intake, and recommended eating foods rich in the fatty acids rather than taking supplements. “Fish and seafood is not just fish oil, it contains other nutrients, particularly trace elements like manganese and selenium that are so important for brain development,” he says, although he notes that sustainability of fish stocks is a difficulty. And while oily fish, such as salmon, get the publicity, white fish also contain valuable amounts of the brain-boosting fats, he says.
“It’s misleading because there has been a lot of emphasis on oily fish , yet white fish such as cod is also a very good source, but people don’t talk about it.”
In particular, marine foods can provide DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that has not changed its structure in 600 million years of brain and visual system development, according to Professor Crawford. “The brain evolved in the sea and it uses marine nutrients,” he says. “It justifies our grandmothers’ ideas that fish is good for the brain.”
Current advice for pregnant and breastfeeding women from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is to eat a variety of fish but avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin, and limit consumption of tuna due to concerns over potential mercury contamination. Meanwhile, the BIM recommends that pregnant women avoid raw, cured and undercooked seafoods.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times