Promoting Brain Health – Are Omega-3s in the Cart?
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Emerging research supports the beneficial role omega-3s play in building and maintaining a healthy brain. In fact, 60% of the brain’s building material is lipid and the diet-brain health connection is growing in importance. It is predicted that “brain claims” will become the next big focus for food, with EPA and DHA omega-3s becoming widespread ingredients over the next several years. Supermarket dietitians can play a significant role in communicating the different solutions available to help shoppers increase their consumption of omega-3s.
Let’s start in the seafood department. Although many consumers understand that seafood is healthy, they may be unsure of which species offer the best sources of healthy fats. They may also be confused by the environmental issues they hear about such as overfishing or the risk of possible contaminants. And what about omega-3 supplements? One look at the vast number of fish oil products in the pharmacy may cause a potential buyer to just walk away in frustration. Consider these options to help provide omega-3 guidance to your shoppers:
- Provide the facts on fish. With a growing interest in brain health, even the most reluctant shoppers may steer their shopping carts towards the seafood department to reel in the brain-boosting benefits of the omega-3s they supply. Help them overcome barriers such as cooking skills and environmental concerns. Provide facts on the best fish, and other marine sources of omega-3s and offer simple recipes throughout the year to encourage consumption. The Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP) offers a Registered Dietitian Communications Toolkit with resources to assist. Materials include tips for guiding a supermarket tour of the seafood counter, frequently asked questions, talking points for how to buy seafood, easy cooking techniques, and sample social media messages.
- Promote canned and pouch seafood solutions. While some shoppers may be hesitant about preparing fresh seafood, canned or pouch products can provide a convenient, healthful alternative. Offer easy solutions such as - 10 simple recipes with canned/pouch tuna. Check out some of these SNP Recipes & Cooking Videos.
- Highlight other sources of omega-3s around the store. Eggs, yogurt, bars and even some breads have been supplemented with omega-3s. Ensure they are truly a beneficial source of EPA and DHA, and point out these options as you talk about brain health and diet.
- Offer guidance through the pharmacy department. Many pregnant women may have been told to avoid seafood and are missing out on the benefits omega-3s provide to their unborn baby’s brain health. When they come to the pharmacy to pick up prenatal vitamins, direct them to those that have at least 200 mg of DHA, and ensure they understand the latest seafood consumption recommendations: http://www.seafoodnutrition.org/moms-babies.html
- Offer omega-3 supplement education. If individuals are not consuming an average of 8 oz. of seafood a week, omega-3 supplements are an option. Work with your pharmacist to provide basic information to help customers choose the best product with the right amount of EPA and DHA for their health. An intake of 250 - 500 mg of EPA and DHA per day are recommended for generally healthy people, with increased doses being supportive for various health conditions.
From the fish counter to the pharmacy, retail RDNs can translate the science on brain health and omega-3s into realistic solutions that reinforce your role as a trusted health advisor.