William Sears, M.D., has been helping parents raise healthier families for over 50 years. He trained at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (the world’s largest children’s hospital), and was chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto.

A father of eight children, together with his wife Martha he has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012.

He is the “science-made-simple-and-fun” doctor, an approach reflected in his latest book done in collaboration with Vital Choice: Salmon Says, A Fun, Finny Tale of Science. He spoke with Brad Lemley.

Tell us a bit about yourself – your medical career and family life.

I’ve been blessed with a very adventurous life! I’m 81 years young, I’ve been in medical practice and teaching for 50 years, married to Martha, who is often my co-author, for 55 years. We have eight children, including two sons who practice medicine with me at our Sears Family Pediatrics in Capistrano Beach, California, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

We’ve just worked together on your latest book, which makes it clear that salmon is your favorite food for health and enjoyment. How did you become a salmon fan?

My love of salmon began a little over 20 years ago. It took a health crisis to wake me up. After a diagnosis of colon cancer in 1997 and a successful treatment, I realized I needed a total body transformation.

Specifically, I needed to learn: What’s the healthiest food? I took a deep dive and spent years swimming, so to speak, through medical journals to answer that question. The vital importance of omega-3 fats kept coming up, again and again, and wild salmon was the richest, highest-quality source.

I found it was not just the best food for the digestive system, which was what started me on the quest. It was best for the heart, brain, immune system, skin, every organ of the body.

Dr Bill Sears with Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell
Dr. Sears, left, and Vital Choice Founder Randy Hartnell enjoy a calm afternoon on Southeast Alaska’s Frederick Sound.

Then I spent a good five years traveling the world and lecturing with some of the top omega-3 scientists including [nutrition and brain chemistry researcher] Michael Crawford. I even went out with [Vital Choice founder] Randy [Hartnell] on a fishing boat in 2009, learning how they catch the fish and protect the environment with careful practices.

I also dug into the anthropology of it. Humans got smarter when they began getting their nutrients from the sea that allowed them to grow large, complex brains.

I thought: I need to write a book! So I invited six of the top omega-3 scientists to my home for a two-day roundtable – they had collectively published over 1,800 scientific articles on omega-3s.

That led to the book I wrote with my son, James, called Omega-3 Effect: Everything You Need to Know About the Supernutrient for Living Longer, Happier, and Healthier. 

Had you eaten much seafood before?

Dr Bill Sears holding a salmon on a fishing boat
Dr. Sears with his favorite food.

Maybe once a week, but I had no idea of the nutrient content, or which sort was best – I probably usually ate tilapia at restaurants, which is a cheap fish, easy to farm, that has a poor omega-3 content. I realized through my study that not only was wild salmon a great source of omega-3, it also had the top nutrients I needed to stay young, healthy and smart. No other food on the planet has them: astaxanthin, vitamins B12, B6 and D, selenium, choline, niacin, iodine...and zero carbs!

Nutrients work in synergy, they work together to help each other. So if you can find them all in one food – rather than in two or three foods you might eat hours or days apart – you get a better result.

Let's discuss salmon as it relates to various age groups. First, let's talk about pregnant women, who are of course feeding their baby every time they eat. Why is it important for pregnant women to eat salmon?

I always emphasize the brain. Pediatric care starts in the womb, so I see women in the last three months of pregnancy. I say, congratulations, you are growing a little “fathead” now! Your baby’s brain is now growing faster than it will anytime in its life. Do you want to know how to help that process go well?

Moms perk up – yes, they want to know! The best source for the fat that’s the basis of brain growth is omega-3 fats, and the best place to get that is from a piece of Pacific wild salmon.

Salmon Says digital download book cover
Dr. Sears' newest book is full of whimsical illustrations and written for all ages to enjoy. It's available for free download.

I point out that eating it helps Mom as well. During pregnancy, the baby is literally sucking the omega-3 out Mom’s body to build its brain. If Mom isn’t replenishing that through her diet, she can end up deficient, which can lead to fatigue and postpartum depression.

And here’s something many people don’t know. When a woman is pregnant, she also grows new, extra tissue in her own brain. From the perspective of evolution, its purpose is to give her better judgment about caring for the baby’s needs. That growth in Mom’s brain is another process that needs an ample supply of omega-3 fats.

I’d like to talk with you about the many benefits of salmon for toddlers, teens, adults and senior citizens, but this article will be too long! And in any case, you cover that in the online book, which is free.

Yes, that’s right.

So, one last question: How often do you and your family eat salmon?

I shoot for 18 ounces of salmon a week for each person in the family. That is what you need to eat to get a gram a day of omega-3, which is an optimal amount.

My personal preference is for sockeye salmon, which has a more meaty texture, while my wife and family like king salmon better, which is softer and richer in fats. So generally, in the course of a week, I’ll have two fillets of king and one of sockeye.

But other kinds of seafood are rich in omega-3 and other nutrients as well, and I love it all. So along with our three nights of salmon, on one other night of the week we’ll have wild-caught shrimp, wild tuna, wild halibut and so on. I must say, I notice on my tuna-salad nights that I sleep better – that’s because albacore tuna is high in tryptophan, which helps with sleep.

I must say, I feel great, and continue to believe that the number one nutrition mistake in America is people not eating enough wild salmon. If you want to know one simple change that would yield the greatest health advantage, eating more salmon is that change.