Do These Foods Make You Smarter?

One of the reasons nutrition experts recommend eating fish twice a week is that they are a good source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fat that has heart-healthy benefits. (For vegans, there are plant-source (microalgae-based) DHA supplements available.) Now preliminary studies suggest that DHA may help boost brain power too. It makes sense: DHA comprises much of the cell membranes in our brains. And food producers are taking the concept and running with it–they’re adding DHA to foods like yogurt, soy milk and eggs, then marketing them with “smart” slogans. But do these products really maximize mental performance?

Supporting evidence: Some research links higher intakes of DHA with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the cognitive decline that precedes it. In a 2003 study in the Archives of Neurology, people aged 65-plus who ate at least one (DHA-rich) fish meal per week had a 60 percent reduced risk for Alzheimer’s. And growing evidence suggests DHA supplementation during pregnancy and early infancy may result in superior cognitive performance of the child. This past June, a randomized clinical trial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that 9-month-old babies of mothers who’d eaten DHA-fortified cereal bars (about 200 mg of DHA daily) during the last trimester of their pregnancies demonstrated better problem-solving skills than those whose mothers consumed “placebo” cereal bars.

Cons: Currently, there is no research to show that eating DHA-rich foods improves mental function in healthy adults. “It remains to be seen whether initiating DHA later in life has an important effect on the brain,” says Joseph Quinn, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Oregon Health & Science University.

Eating Well’s verdict: Eating inherently healthful foods like yogurt that have been fortified with DHA, along with foods like salmon and tuna, is a good way to increase intake of DHA, says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food & Mood (Henry Holt & Co.). And research does indicate that boosting DHA intake to about 200 mg per day–about three times what the average American gets now–may have some mental benefits. That said, don’t expect these fortified foods to help you land a spot on Jeopardy!

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Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne5 years ago

Great information; thanks for sharing!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

thanks for sharing.

John C.
John Crowley8 years ago

To me, it makes common sense that the sooner you start eating healthier the better your chances are of staying healthy.

I roll my eyes when I hear young people say I am only going to smoke for a few years and I will quit long before I can get cancer.

According to many sources you want to stay away from most farmed raised fish and fish that comes from heavy industrialized areas. Some farms feed the fish "engineered" junk to fatten them fast and some salmon farms dye the fish to maintain a pink color. You need to know the source.

Some suggestions from the Environmental defense fund are:

Alaska wild salmon
Sardines (U.S.)
Halibut (Pacific)
Tilapia (US)

some of your worst choices are:

Atlantic cod
Salmon (Farmed)
Tilapia (Asian)
Swordfish (US)
Lobster (American)
Tuna, bluefin
Go to for the details

Lisa B.
Lisa B9 years ago

For vegans who can't find omega 3 in anything other from fish......... flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts!

Jennifer S.
Jennifer S9 years ago

I'm a vegeatrain, borderline vegan and I have never seen any supplemts with Omega 3 for vegans that don't use fish oil. If anyone knows where to find some let me know.
Jenn Santos

Bobbie Masse
Bobbie Masse9 years ago

Dunno whether it makes you smarter - but it's surely good for your heart!

Carol Ann A.
Carol Ann A9 years ago

Just a word of caution for pregnant women: choose a mercury-free fish oil supplement. These are made with fish lower on the food chain. And if you choose to eat fish limit servings to two times a week for most fish. Some fish are off limits totally. Here's a link that is helpful:

I've read the studies on pregnant women and fish oil and the research indeed shows that DHA does promote brain development; however, mercury can cause birth defects.

I'm using a high-quality fish oil supplement daily and eating 6 oz of low-mercury fish twice a week -- with at least one those serving being of wild-caught sockeye salmon -- which is particularly healthy.