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Nutritionist's study identifies benefits
of fish in mother's diet
September 14, 1998
An old wives' tale had it that fish was "brain food." A new study by a UConn professor has found that the old wives were right, at least in part. By adding cold water marine fish to their diet, pregnant women and nursing mothers will be giving their babies important fats that facilitate the growth of brain and nerve cells in the developing fetus and nursing infants.
This is the conclusion of a recently completed study by Carol Lammi-Keefe, professor and department head of nutritional sciences. In her study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lammi-Keefe found that neither developing fetuses nor nursing infants can produce sufficient amounts of an important fatty acid, docosahexanoic (DHA), on their own. The babies rely almost exclusively on their mothers to provide them with this fatty acid, either in the womb or through breast milk.
"DHA is vital for the development of brain cells and nerve cells," says Lammi-Keefe. "If the mother is not getting enough of this fatty acid in her diet, then her baby may not be getting the amounts it needs to maximize this tissue development."
Lammi-Keefe says the best source of DHA is cold water marine fish, such as salmon, herring, tuna, swordfish, mackerel, sardines and trout. When they are ingested by the mother, they are passed on to the fetus or nursing baby.
"The women probably don't need to eat foods rich in these fatty acids every day," she says, "but it is important to include them in their diets."
Lammi-Keefe adds that formulas sold to substitute for breast milk in the United States do not have these fatty acids added to them.
She presented her findings last spring to the U.S. House of Representatives at an event sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.