Eat Well, Think Bet­ter

Fuel for the brain

mailife - - Contents - Words and pho­tos by LANCE SEETO

With many stu­dents gear­ing up for school ex­ams, Chef Lance Seeto ex­plains that there are spe­cial foods you should be eat­ing to max­i­mize your brain’s power and health. It has long been said that the peo­ple of Lau seem to be smarter than their main­land brethren be­cause of the higher con­cen­tra­tion of past Pres­i­dents, Prime Min­is­ters, At­tor­ney Gen­er­als and busi­ness lead­ers that have hailed from the south­ern is­lands. So what has been their se­cret? They ate more brain foods, or more specif­i­cally, foods that help en­rich the brain. The an­ces­tral diet of the Pa­cific is­lands is an en­vi­able diet high in the fresh­est, omega-3 rich fish, and less of the pro­cessed and re­fined fac­tory foods eaten in the ur­ban ci­ties. If you’re cur­rently study­ing for that big exam or just want to im­prove your mem­ory or cog­ni­tive skills, the diet of Fiji’s an­cient peo­ple is ex­actly what you should be fol­low­ing to fuel your brain for max­i­mum per­for­mance and long-term health.


To un­der­stand why foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids is so im­por­tant for the brain we need to un­der­stand what the brain is made of – 60% is fat. Not just any fat like a fatty piece of pork belly or lamb chop, but spe­cial lipid fats that can be found in high con­cen­tra­tions in fish but also in many veg­eta­bles like sea­weed (lumi and nama), leafy green veg­eta­bles (moca, bele, ota, Chi­nese choy sum, spinach) , av­o­ca­dos, tofu, cau­li­flower and even wal­nuts. The elec­tri­cal wiring of the brain re­lies

on these fats to main­tain fast con­nec­tion within the brain to trans­port mes­sages and in­struc­tions, much like how a com­puter needs clear wiring to a por­ta­ble hard drive to re­trieve and save data. The health­ier the con­nec­tion, the faster the mem­ory re­call and re­ten­tion. So with the brain’s 100 bil­lion cells made up mainly of fat, it’s not hard to un­der­stand why we need to eat more of those foods to main­tain a healthy brain struc­ture.


Fiji is blessed with so many sources of omega-3 fatty acids that have long sus­tained the Pa­cific is­land an­ces­tors. Gen­er­ally, the darker and fat­tier the fish flesh, the bet­ter it is for a brain en­riched diet but any white flesh fish will also do. Smaller sar­dines, tuna (espe­cially the belly!) and Span­ish Mack­eral (walu) are high in omega 3’s, as well as im­ported salmon and her­ring (fresh, tinned or smoked). Fish eggs or caviar, is also rich in the good fats but if you can’t stand to eat fish then there are other al­ter­na­tives, al­though they are not as high in omega 3’s as fish. For meat eaters, grass-fed beef (with­out the hor­mones!) con­tain high lev­els of the fatty acid be­cause green grass is rich in it. Over­seas, you buy chick­ens that are fed a diet rich in flaxseeds, grass and nuts, so just like the cows, if their diet is rich in omega 3’s, then eat the an­i­mals to gain from their brain en­riched diet! For veg­e­tar­i­ans, one of the rich­est sources of good brain-happy fat is from seeds and nuts, espe­cially wal­nuts and tofu (bean curd) which is made

from soy beans. Fresh tofu is now widely avail­able in the larger mu­nic­i­pal mar­kets of Nadi, Lautoka and Suva thanks to Chi­nese ven­dors who make it fresh from home. At some Chi­nese shops and over­seas su­per­mar­kets in Fiji, you can find the omega-3 rich seeds and nuts in­clud­ing chia seeds, flax seeds, soy beans, Ja­panese natto, cashews and hazel­nuts. Of the leafy greens you can buy in Fiji there is a mul­ti­tude of choices (espe­cially at Suva mu­nic­i­pal mar­kets) pro­vided by the lo­cal Chi­nese mar­ket gar­den­ers, as well as plenty of nama sea grapes and lumi sea­weed, and look out for kale; a mir­a­cle green veg­etable that has taken the world by storm for health con­scious eaters. And if you don’t have time to find or cook any of the above; visit your lo­cal phar­macy to pick up some salmon or cod liver oil to sup­ple­ment your diet.


Apart from the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits of feed­ing our brain the foods it needs to main­tain struc­ture and co­he­sion, the omega-3 rich an­ces­tral diet of the iTaukei (minus all the rub­bish foods high in sugar, un­nat­u­ral fats and ar­ti­fi­cial chem­i­cals) also helps to sta­bi­lize blood sugar lev­els, re­duces mus­cle and joint pain, helps bal­ance choles­terol, boosts im­mu­nity and has been shown to dra­mat­i­cally im­prove skin health. If you are not eat­ing many of the foods listed above then you are putting your body – and brain – un­der much strain and duress. Apart from starv­ing the bil­lion of cells in your brain of the fatty acids they need and pre­vent­ing them from do­ing their job, you are essen­tially open­ing the door to many dis­eases and dis­or­ders as the hu­man body can­not man­u­fac­ture omega-3; you need to eat them! Cur­rently, there isn’t a set stan­dard rec­om­men­da­tion for how many omega-3s we need each day, but sug­ges­tions range from 500 to 1,000 mil­ligrams daily. So how easy is it to get these rec­om­mended amounts? To give you an idea, there are more than 500 mil­ligrams of to­tal omega-3s in one can of tuna fish and a whop­ping 7000 mil­ligrams in one cup of cooked mack­erel.


Now that we know that a large part of the brain is made up of omega-3 fats, there are very in­ter­est­ing in­ter­na­tional stud­ies that sug­gest that omega-3 fats are also es­sen­tial for healthy brain de­vel­op­ment both in the womb and in early child­hood. About 75% of brain cells are in place be­fore birth and the other 25% are in place by the age of 1 year, mak­ing omega-3 fats an es­sen­tial nu­tri­ent both for preg­nant moth­ers and young chil­dren. Omega-3 fats were found to be so im­por­tant for early brain de­vel­op­ment that they are now au­to­mat­i­cally added to baby milk for­mula over­seas and some coun­tries rec­om­mend that preg­nant women eat two serv­ings of fish ev­ery week. Eat­ing fish while preg­nant may have ben­e­fits that go beyond early brain de­vel­op­ment. These stud­ies have found that the chil­dren of moth­ers who eat fish while preg­nant had bet­ter so­cial and ver­bal skills at age eight com­pared to the chil­dren of moth­ers who never ate fish. But the ben­e­fits of eat­ing fish go beyond the early years. Re­searchers have found that many brain-re­lated con­di­tions may be pre­vented or even treated by good in­takes of omega-3 fats, in­clud­ing prob­lems like de­men­tia, Alzheimer’s dis­ease and de­pres­sion. It is not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand that if we keep our brain cells healthy and well fed, and we re­move ex­cess sugar and ar­ti­fi­cial chem­i­cals, we may just avoid many of the brain dis­eases as we age. So if you’re study­ing hard for that school exam and feel­ing a bit slug­gish or feel­ing like your brain isn’t func­tion­ing as best as it could; con­sider what you are eat­ing and make the change in diet to in­clude the good fatty foods. Who knows; a good and a reg­u­lar in­take of omega-3 rich foods might not just snap your brain into ac­tion; you could be on the path to be­come Fiji’s next Pres­i­dent or su­per smart ge­nius.


This is not your usual gar­lic-and-oil sauté as the de­li­cious lime pickle from FRIEND’s brings a spicy and pun­gent kick. If you can’t find kale at the mar­kets, sub­sti­tute for moca, spinach or water­cress or any dark leafy green veg­etable.

Serves 4

3 ta­ble­spoons ghee or un­salted but­ter 1 small onion, thinly sliced into rings 2 bunches kale (or other green veg­etable), stems re­moved, leaves torn into 2” pieces 2 ta­ble­spoons FRIEND brand lime pickle, chopped Sea salt and freshly ground black pep­per

Heat ghee in a large fry­pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stir­ring of­ten, un­til be­gin­ning to brown, about 4 min­utes. Work­ing in batches, add green veg­eta­bles, toss­ing and let­ting it cook down slightly be­fore adding an­other hand­ful or two, and adding a splash of wa­ter if pan looks dry. Add lime pickle and cook, toss­ing of­ten, un­til green veg­etable is wilted and ten­der, 5–8 min­utes; sea­son with salt and pep­per.


The Fi­jian ika vakalolo is an ob­vi­ously way to eat more mack­erel (walu), but if you want a change this recipe will change your mind about the fishi­ness of this strong fish. And if noth­ing else, you’ll love the crispy pota­toes. If you can’t find fresh oregano, sub­sti­tute with thyme, basil or dill.

Serves 4

500 grams pota­toes (or any root crop veg­etable) Sea salt 1 cup plain Fiji-made Greek yo­gurt 1 tea­spoon fresh lemon juice 1 tea­spoon white wine vine­gar (or plain white vine­gar) Freshly ground black pep­per 4 cloves gar­lic peeled, crushed 5 ta­ble­spoons ex­tra vir­gin olive or co­conut oil, di­vided 4 pieces skin-on mack­erel fil­lets (walu) 2 ta­ble­spoons fresh oregano leaves (or basil, thyme or dill) 1 tea­spoon finely grated lemon zest Place pota­toes in a large pot, add wa­ter to cover, and sea­son with salt. Bring to a boil, re­duce heat, and sim­mer un­til ten­der, 10–12 min­utes. Drain; let cool slightly. Mean­while, pre­heat a BBQ or oven grill to roast the pota­toes. Whisk yo­gurt, lemon juice, and vine­gar in a small bowl; sea­son with sea salt and pep­per. Set yo­gurt sauce aside. Pre­pare the pota­toes by plac­ing them on a bak­ing tray, squash­ing them with a small plate or cup un­til they flat­ten. Sprin­kle the pota­toes with gar­lic and driz­zle with 4 ta­ble­spoon of oil, and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Roast pota­toes un­til golden brown, 10–12 min­utes. Rub skin side of mack­erel with re­main­ing 1 ta­ble­spoon olive oil; sea­son with salt and pep­per. In a medium-hot fry­pan, cook the fish skin, side up, un­til fish is cooked thru, then turnover and cook un­til skin is crisp, an­other 2-3 min­utes. Spoon yo­gurt sauce onto each plate and top with pota­toes and fish; sprin­kle with fresh herbs, lemon zest and a pinch sea salt.


Tofu (made from soy beans) can be quite bland but pop into the Chi­nese shop to buy a bot­tle of the malty Chi­nese black vine­gar called Chinkiang to give this dish a zing. It is like an Asian bal­samic vine­gar and de­li­cious in stir fry and sal­ads.

Serves 4

cup Chinkiang black vine­gar or Ital­ian bal­samic vine­gar 2 large blocks fresh tofu (or packet silken tofu), drained, each sliced cross­wise into 4 pieces 3 ta­ble­spoon brown sugar 2 ta­ble­spoon veg­etable oil 1 small knob gin­ger, peeled, cut into thin match­sticks 2 gar­lic cloves, thinly sliced cup light soy sauce Fresh co­rian­der leaves, gar­nish Place tofu on a bak­ing sheet lined with sev­eral lay­ers of pa­per tow­els; place sev­eral lay­ers of tow­els on top and press gen­tly to re­move ex­cess nliq­uid. Place tofu in a shal­low bak­ing dish. Bring vine­gar, soy sauce, and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stir­ring to dis­solve sugar. Pour over tofu and turn to coat. Let stand at least 1 hour to mar­i­nate. Heat oil in a large non­stick fry­pan over medi­umhigh. Add gin­ger and gar­lic and cook, stir­ring of­ten, un­til be­gin­ning to brown, about 1 minute. Drain tofu, re­serv­ing marinade; pat tofu dry. Add tofu to fry­pan and cook un­til golden on all sides, 5–7 min­utes (re­move gin­ger and gar­lic if they are in dan­ger of burn­ing). Add re­served marinade to fry­pan and cook un­til marinade is re­duced and glazes tofu, about 2 min­utes longer. Trans­fer tofu to a plat­ter, spoon pan juices over, and sprin­kle with co­rian­der.

LANCE SEETO is an award-win­ning in­ter­na­tional food writer, au­thor, tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and ex­ec­u­tive chef based on Mana Is­land Fiji. Fol­low his culi­nary ad­ven­tures in Fiji at www.lance­ Tuna belly (left) is rich in good brain fats com­pared to tuna loin

Be­long­ing to the sea­weed fam­ily, nama sea grapes are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids

Grass fed beef is an al­ter­na­tive source of brain fat Mack­erel in­clud­ing walu, is one of the rich­est sources of omega 3

Flaxseeds are also known as lin­seed and avail­able at some Chi­nese shops

After mack­erel, salmon is the sec­ond best choice as a brain food

Sauteed kale with lime pick­les

Walu mack­erel with smashed po­tato, yo­ghurt and herbs

Gin­ger gar­lic tofu in black vine­gar Don’t for­get that you can cut out and keep these recipes!

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