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Your Brain On Junk Food: ‘Making Us Crazy’ — But Might Fish Help?

By Suzanne E. Jacobs
CommonHealth intern

An urban planner and a biochemist walk into a seafood restaurant.

Okay, that joke’s going nowhere, but last week an urban planner and a biochemist did walk into a classroom at MIT. In a talk titled “Junk Food and the Modern Mind,” the unusual duo explained to a room full of people how seafood’s effects on the human brain could bridge their seemingly disparate fields.

The urban planner was Lynn Todman, a visiting scholar at MIT. Todman has spent the past nine years working to improve mental health and reduce violence among residents of some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Last year, Todman held a focus group with adult men in Chicago. At one point, she recalled, one of the men said, “This food is making us crazy,” referring to the unhealthy options common in urban food deserts. Having read up on studies linking nutrition and aggression, Todman took what he said seriously.

“Now, I’ve been doing community based work for a long time, and I know that residents often understand social realities long before we do in the academy, and even though their understanding might be shaped by a series of anecdotes strung together to suggest a trend or pattern, I attribute very real meaning to what residents say about their communities and the observations about the world that they live in,” she said.

Enter Capt. Joe Hibbeln, the biochemist.

Hibbeln, who is also a psychiatrist, works at the National Institutes of Health as a nutritional neuroscientist and is one of the world’s leading experts on the role of fats in brain development.

His claim: a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids can make people happier and less aggressive. Continue reading

Report: Widespread Fish Mislabeling Raises Public Health Concerns

More landmines on the path toward feeding your family healthy, nutritious food: a new report by the conservation group Oceana finds fish in New York City restaurants and grocery stores are widely mislabeled — with some fish being sold containing harmful toxins. From The New York Times:

Some of the findings present public health concerns. Thirteen types of fish, including tilapia and tilefish, were falsely identified as red snapper. Tilefish contains such high mercury levels that the federal Food and Drug Administration advises women who are pregnant or nursing and young children not to eat it.

Ninety-four percent of fish sold as white tuna was not tuna at all but in many cases a fish known as snake mackerel, or escolar, which contains a toxin that can cause severe diarrhea if more than a few ounces of meat are ingested.

“There are a lot of flummoxed people out there who are trying to buy fish carefully and trying to shop their conscience, but they can’t if this kind of fraud is happening,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, who led the study.

With fish, what you buy isn’t always what you get, a new report finds. (Source: Oceana)

Here are the report’s key findings, from the Oceana news release:

–58 percent of the 81 retail outlets sampled sold mislabeled fish (three in five).
–Small markets had significantly higher fraud (40 percent) than national chain grocery stores
–100 percent of the 16 sushi bars tested sold mislabeled fish.
–Tilefish, on the FDA’s do-not-eat list because of its high mercury content was substituted for red
snapper and halibut in a small market.
–94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin
with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish.
–Thirteen different types of fish were sold as “red snapper,” including tilapia, white bass, goldbanded jobfish, tilefish, porgy/seabream, ocean perch and other less valuable snappers.

The report follows earlier studies that found fish mislableling in cities across the U.S. An Oceana news release says: “Everywhere seafood is tested, fraud has been found. In fact, Oceana and others recently found shocking levels of mislabeling in the Boston (48 percent), Los Angeles (55 percent) and Miami (31 percent) areas.” Continue reading