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Fortifying Food for Your Brain

Fortifying Food for Your Brain

Kim Ode | Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Just knowing how to pronounce docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, should be a pretty good indicator of brain health, right? (Need some help? It’s DOH-koh-sah-HEXXA-eh-NOH-ik.) It’s enough to say “DHA,” and good thing, since we’ll probably be hearing more about this tongue twister as research emerges about the link between diet and dementia.

When nutritionist Elizabeth Somer’s mother developed Alzheimer’s disease years ago, Somer began looking for anything that might give her an edge against a similar fate. Omega-3 fat has been touted as brain food, but she learned it’s not just one fat, but three: ALA, EPA and DHA.

ALA may help your heart, and EPA and DHA help your head, with DHA accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain and up to 93 percent of the omega-3 fats in the retina. One study indicates that those with a diet high in DHA may decrease their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 70 percent.

So, in the language of the grocery store aisle, what does this mean?

It means shopping for salmon and canned light tuna, said Somer, a registered dietitian who’s a frequent guest expert on the “Today” show, “The View” and in various health-oriented magazines. She was in the Twin Cities recently to talk about nutritional trends at a forum for food industry professionals sponsored by Carmichael Lynch Spong.

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There’s a growing array of foods fortified with DHA, from soy milks to flour tortillas, which points to another trend on the nutrition front. “Seventy-eight percent of shoppers buy some fortified foods,” Somer said, whether something as mainstream as Total cereal or more gourmet, such as Fujisan-brand sushi. This plays into the trend of do-it-yourself alternative health care – something that began when yogurt was considered hippie food. Now, she said, yogurt is at the forefront of products that may improve the gastrointestinal health.