According to Ramsey, the reason for anchovies’ high (yet underrated!) nutrition value lies in its long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: “One anchovy has 87 milligrams of long-chain omega-3 fats,” says Ramsey. (And 1,150 milligrams in one 2-ounce can!) “Those are the really important omega-3 fats in terms of the data around brain health. They’re very fragile fats, they’re very long fats, and they make up DHA.”
Now, DHA is indispensable for brain health, and it’s important to include alternative sources in your diet to bolster the more limited amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that the body can generate on its own. The specific brain-healthy benefits are well documented: This omega-3 has been shown to help repair brain cells and support cognitive functioning, and one study found that adults placed on a DHA supplement for six months had elevated memory function compared to those that were given a placebo.
Research has also found that patients with Alzheimer’s have lower amounts of DHA in the brain, and higher blood DHA levels may be associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Another study in the journal Neurology even found that higher levels of DHA were associated with a bigger brain!
Much more research is necessary in terms of why this nutrient has so many brain benefits, but as neurologist and New York Times bestselling author David Perlmutter, M.D., once told us, “Why DHA is so powerfully important for the brain likely stems from the fact that it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.”
Of course, you can get DHAs from a variety of cold-water fish, but there’s a reason anchovies typically reign supreme: Not only are they jam-packed with omega-3s (as Ramsey said, a single anchovy has 87 milligrams), but due to their smaller stature, they’re also less likely to contain mercury and other pollutants that accumulate with each feeding. Bonus points if they’re housed in good-quality olive oil: In that case, you’ll have even more healthy fats to fill your plate.