Fish Can Actually Help You Stay Focused

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

Fish and fish oils are sources of various omega-3 fatty acids, which play crucial roles in maintaining the health of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. While there are some plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids (such as flax), it is the omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish that play an integral part in the functioning of the nervous system. Specifically, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has been identified as an important fatty acid for the normal functioning of the nervous system (which affects memory, learning, cognitive performance, etc.). Structurally, the brain is more than 60% fat, with DHA being the most abundant type of fatty acid found. In a 2006 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, based on the data from the Framingham Heart Study, researchers at Tufts University indicated that consuming 2.7 servings of fish per week was associated with a 50% reduction in dementia risk.

The beauty of eating fish is that it is also a source of protein, which will help stabilize blood sugar levels and help prevent you from “crashing” when your blood sugar dips too low. If that’s not enough to get you going, many fish are also excellent sources of other nutrients. For example, halibut is a great source of selenium, a crucial element in detoxifying enzymes in the body. Salmon, another popular fish, delivers Vitamin D in addition to the omega 3s. Some studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are better absorbed by the body when they are consumed by eating fish rather than taking a fish oil supplement. So, rather than rushing out to buy a pill, get some fish recipes to try and get busy in the kitchen!

The benefits of consuming fish outweigh any negative attention it has received with regards to safety or sustainability. If you have concerns about contamination or sustainability of your fish choices, there are alternatives that are both safe and ocean-friendly.

Fish Ideas

Various types of fish contain different levels of DHA. See the table below, comparing the DHA levels in a 3 oz serving of each fish:

Fish DHA Level

  • Sardines (2.5 pieces, canned, in tomato sauce)* 822 mg
  • Sablefish (sometimes called black cod or Alaskan black cod)* 782 mg
  • Canned white tuna in water, drained* 535 mg
  • Salmon, Pacific* 498 mg
  • Halibut, Pacific* 318 mg
  • Sole 219 mg
  • Cod, Atlantic 131 mg
  • Tilapia, US farmed* 111 mg

*indicates an “Eco-Best” (Green) according to the Environmental Defense Fund

Get two to three servings of fish per week. If you are already a fish or sushi lover, you may be eating enough. But if you are not, start by adding one serving a week and work your way up to two. Choose baked or broiled fish instead of deep-fried fish. Fried, battered fish (particularly the commercially prepared kind) is often made with pollock or cod, two fish that do not have a high DHA load, and there is some concern that frying actually damages the omega-3 fatty acids so that they are no longer in a beneficial form. And of course, who knows what kind of trans fats may be lurking in the batter!

Here are some of our favorite ways to prepare fish:

  • Oily fish such as salmon or sablefish stand up well to strong marinades or rubs. Use a curry powder rub to season a fillet, then broil or grill and serve on a bed of salad with tangy vinaigrette.
  • For a Chinese-inspired twist, steam a white-fleshed fish such as barramundi (sustainably farmed in the US) and serve with a sauce made with soy sauce, a dash of oil, sliced green onions, sliced fresh ginger, and chopped cilantro.


brain food, dha, fish, omega-3


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