I recently had the privilege to sit down with Dr. Behzad, a nutritional scientist with a PhD in Human Nutrition from Cornell University.
He might not realize it, but Dr. Bezhad’s research has done a lot for the next generation already.
His research with Dr. Tom Brenna has changed the game for infant nutrition. Infant formula companies started including DHA omega-3s in their products after their research showed the lasting impacts omega-3s had on baby’s brain development.
Here are the main takeaways from my interview with Dr. Bezhad on how you can improve your baby’s brain development during and after pregnancy by incorporating the right type of omega-3s.
Improve brain development
Infants whose mothers who had higher levels of DHA omega-3s during pregnancy demonstrated more advanced brain development and better eyesight. In fact, advanced brain development could be seen in children up to 7 years after birth.
Decrease preterm birth
Women who consumed higher levels of omega-3s were more likely to carry their infants to full term. This decreases the chance of pregnancy-related complications for the mother and has better developmental outcomes for the baby.
What should I eat?
Both of these findings came from a meta-study that included 20,000 women. The study found that the omega-3s which had these benefits are called DHA omega-3s. These omega-3s are found in fish, not nuts and seeds. Nuts are still a very healthy food, but the omega-3s found in fish have a different effect to their plant-based counterparts.
Hundreds of studies from fish-eating populations in Japan, Scandinavia and Alaska, show that populations who consume higher omega-3s have better pregnancy-related health outcomes.
How much DHA omega-3s do I need?
Most experts recommend about 200 mg of DHA a day. Studies from various populations have shown that up to 1,000 mg a day is still safe and could provide more benefit.
What are the best sources?
Salmon is a low-mercury fish that is high in DHA omega-3s. Alternatively, trout, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, are other good pregnancy-safe options.
A 6oz portion of salmon has more than 1000 mg of DHA. That means eating salmon twice a week as the recommended DHA levels you need for the entire week. Farmed and wild salmon generally have the same values.
What if I can’t eat fish?
If you can’t stomach seafood or you eat a vegan diet, you can still get DHA sourced from algae.
Supplements sourced from algae oil are a great alternative.
Look for a supplement with 200-300 mg of DHA a day.
The role of omega-3s for brain development doesn’t just end at the birth.
If a mother breastfeeds, she can still impact brain development by consuming DHA omega-3s that will be passed on through her breastmilk. If a mother formula feeds, she can find an infant formula that contains DHA (fortunately, almost all sold in the US and around the world now contain DHA).
Baby’s brain goes through a growth spurt that begins during the 3rd trimester and ends around age 2.
After that, we literally make almost no new neurons in our brain, and we know that neurons love DHA.
For that reason, the Bella Mama Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy looks at how we can get enough DHA omega-3s in your 3rd trimester. We also focus on other foods that boost brain development during this crucial time and I have easy-to-cook recipes for you to try that use the best foods to eat during your 3rd trimester.
If you would like to learn more from Dr. Behzad, or ask him questions, you can connect with him on Instagram @deardoctorb