We need to talk about….Mental Health, Brain Fats & Seafood
Many years ago, I attended a Child Health Conference where I heard the eminent Professor Crawford predict a mental health crisis based on significant changes to our eating habits and agricultural practices. His prediction, which sadly has come true, was based on the fundamental point that the human brain is predominantly made up of fats and these influence it’s structure and function.
According to The Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, the most limiting fat for the brain is
docosahexaenoic acid or DHA (1). It’s a long-chained omega 3 fat and is the key component of our brain as well as photoreceptor cells in our eyes. The richest dietary sources of DHA are oily fish, white fish, and seafood. It can also be made in the body from the essential fatty acid, ALA, with dietary sources including green, leafy foods such as watercress, spinach, rocket and fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and coriander. It’s important to remember that fish, seafood, and leafy greens are also super rich sources of iodine, potassium, zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, and
antioxidants, which are crucial for brain development.
The problem is that despite living on this beautiful island of ours, many people in the UK simply don’t consume these foods. Many UK diets are low in DHA, ALA, and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats but contain high amounts of hydrogenated, trans and pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats. This fundamental shift in dietary fats is thought to be a major factor in our collective mental health decline.
So, we should eat more fish?
The problem is that fishing has already become industrialised to meet current demands and has a huge negative environmental impact. Fishing methods are often very destructive; trawling drag nets across the seabed, devastating the delicate ocean floor ecosystem and culling other marine life such as turtles, sharks and dolphins.
Greenpeace state that 90% of predatory species like cod and tuna have already been caught, with numbers dropping faster than they can reproduce (2).
So, eating more fish isn’t the answer, but marine agriculture or aquaculture might just be one of the solutions……
Regenerative Ocean Farming
Aquaculture (as opposed to intensive fish farming which is an ecological disaster) aims to enhance the whole ecosystem to benefit a range of wildlife as well as providing highly nutritious food for humans.
Healthy marine habitats are a food source for many organisms, a place of refuge for juvenile fish and vulnerable species, like seahorses, and even absorbs wave action so reducing coastal erosion. Marine pastures absorb carbon dioxide 20 x faster than land-based plants so could be a crucial part of the fight against global warming. The problem is that in the UK alone we have lost 92% of our seagrass, primarily through pollution and anchor damage from large cruise ships.
But organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Trusts of Yorkshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and Cumbria have had great success restoring and protecting seagrass habitats around our coastline.
Seaweed farming could also be a big part of the solution with small businesses like Cornish Seaweed, Islander Rathlin Kelp and Câr-y-Môr leading the charge. Ropes of fast-growing kelp are grown alongside lantern lines that nurture oysters, scallops, and mussels. These kelp forests provide ideal habitat for a range of fish species which can then be caught using sustainable methods, providing a high welfare alternative to fish farms. Sustainably farmed seaweed could also be used as an alternative to cereal and soy-based supplementary feed for livestock, during those months when land-based pasture isn’t available. The added bonus being that it would significantly boost the nutritive value
of their meat and milk.
Aquaculture requires zero input; no fresh water, no fertilisers, no artificial feed, which combined with its carbon capture and habitat creation is a win-win situation. Or it would be if our seas and oceans weren’t polluted and full of plastic…..
Marine-based farming might help take the pressure off land-based food provision but currently the polluting of our waterways is the biggest obstacle to its success. Fundamentally, whether we harvest food from the land or the water, we need to ensure that our soils are fertile, our waters are clean, biodiversity proliferates and we consume resources in a sustainable and equitable way.
We are part of a global ecosystem so let’s put our fatty brains together and keep coming up with solutions.