Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Sarah Ballantyne PhD, a.k.a. The Paleo Mom, about the relationship between gut health and mental health. I love talking with Dr. Ballantyne because she’s so great at breaking down all the complicated science around gut health… like what fosters a healthy microbiome and why we should be concerned about “intestinal permeability.” But my favorite part of our talk was all the fabulous tidbits she shared about food. Fish, for example, is especially helpful in promoting good mental health.
Fish and mental health
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish promote good mental health. Two specific polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – are known to be essential nutrients that have preventative effects on mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. For example, studies have shown that there is a link between low intake of omega-3 fatty acids and depression. Additionally, research shows that patients who receive omega-3 PUFA treatment experience reduced anxiety symptoms than those who don’t get the omega-3 fatty acid treatment. Despite these results that indicate the benefits of fish on individual mental health, many parents (myself included) are often hesitant to feed children fish for fear of high mercury levels. But guess what…
97% of fish is safe to eat regularly!
Yes, even that tuna fish that you’ve heard is high in mercury! Dr. Ballantyne summarized it so well during our conversation. She explained that any fish that has more selenium in its meat than mercury is safe to eat – 97% of fish has more selenium than mercury. She goes further to highlight that while tuna does have a lot of mercury, it has even more selenium, therefore making it safe to eat. The selenium in the fish binds with the mercury and stops it from being absorbed in our body. Want to learn more? Check out this post, The Mercury Content of Seafood, written by Dr. Ballantyne which includes a handy chart showing the selenium levels of many different fish. The only fish we should avoid are top predators like shark and swordfish (which I don’t think many of us are eating regularly) so, the bottom line is, we should be eating (and feeding our kids) fish!
Getting your child to eat fish
Now that you’re feeling relieved about adding more fish to your diet, you’re probably wondering, “How can I get my child to actually eat the fish?” Parenting.com highlights 6 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat Fish which include suggestions such as sneaking it in at snack time by mixing canned salmon with mayo or Greek yogurt and spreading it on crackers.
If you’re looking for other recipes, Dr. Ballantyne has a really cute recipe for Salmon Tourtier (French Canadian meat pie) which you can also make with canned salmon.
Let’s make sure we are nourishing both our bodies and those of our children and get more fish into our daily diet!
Sarah Ballantyne, PhD is the creator of the award-winning website thepaleomom.com, cohost of the syndicated top-rated podcast The Paleo View, and New York Times bestselling author of Paleo Principles, The Paleo Approach and The Healing Kitchen. She is our featured guest on the Parenting Today video series. Watch the full episode here as she discusses how gut health impacts mental health.