Feasting on fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel may be just the thing to lift your spirits, according to a study presented at the American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting in Hungary. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are plentiful in oily fish, may affect the areas of the brain that deal with emotion.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in the US asked 55 healthy adults to calculate how much omega-3 they ate every day. They then used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to check the amount of grey matter in the volunteers' brains. Grey matter is the area in the brain where information is processed.
The team found that people who ate higher amounts of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids had more grey matter in the areas of the brain linked to mood and emotion.
The team concluded that omega-3 fatty acids might enhance the area of the brain associated with emotion. However further studies need to be carried out before it is proven that eating oily fish can cause structural changes in the brain.
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are already widely recognised. Many previous studies suggest that regularly eating oily fish or taking fish oil supplements (rich in omega-3) cuts the risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3s may even help to keep your brain sharp.
There are three types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and are considered part of the healthiest fat group.
There are several types of omega-3s and it is the long-chain ones that are found in oily fish. It is important that we eat foods containing omega-3s because our bodies are unable to make them.
The FSA (Food Standards Agency) recommends eating one portion of oily fish a week. Other sources of omega-3 include walnuts, soya and leafy green vegetables.