Tag Archives: Fats

Overwhelmed?

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I am overwhelmed.  Who hasn’t said that?  But what does it really mean?  The definition is “to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything.”  That is certainly true when it comes to all of the health and wellness advice that we hear.

I truly believe that everyone wants to feel good and to be healthy.  There are so many reasons that we have trouble striving for, and reaching, improved health.  These reasons can be emotional, physical, political, and many others.  Add in the vastness of information at our disposal, much of which is confusing and contradictory.  How are we supposed to navigate all of this, and who has the time to do it anyway?

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Sometimes we have to make the time if we are faced with serious illness in our lives.  We need to be able to find reliable and valid information.  Please, please, please remember that what we read is not always true just because it comes from an excellent public speaker and/or a doctor.  Solid starting points are:  WebMDHealthfinder.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services.  Take advantage of their search functions.  Also, Wikipedia is always a great place to start a search, but keep in mind that the information can be posted by anyone at any time and always needs to be verified.

prioritize

So what is the most important aspects of health and wellness to concerns ourselves about?  Exercise?  Diet?  Stress control?  Should we worry about butter vs. margarine?  Alkaline vs. acidic?  Carbs vs. fat?  Organic vs. conventional?  The concerns seem endless.  And for each concern there are multiple and conflicting opinions as to what we should be doing.  Then, just when we think we have it figured out, the experts discover something new and everything we know as true is turned upside down.  Frustrating?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But it is also the nature of the proverbial beast.  As our technology and understanding evolve and increase, so do our core beliefs on what is healthy.

Certainly when our lives are effected by a specific illness we tend to concentrate on that one as the most important.  If we are predisposed to a disease, that should be of greater importance to us to learn about.  Knowledge is power… as long as we are willing to implement that knowledge.  Just how much time and energy do we need to spend researching all aspects of health and wellness in order to improve our health and quality of life?

Good_News

The good news is that for most of us, simply being mindful goes a long way toward improving our health and wellness.  Start with the basics, my personal mantra:  balance, moderation, and variety.  They all are all different, yet each ties in with the others:

download     Balance:
Work and play, good food and junk food, spending and saving, exercising and relaxing… It doesn’t matter what it is.  Too much of one and not enough of the other infringes on our health and happiness.  When we balance all aspects of our existence we can enjoy a healthier, happier life.

images (2)     Moderation:
Anything taken to the extreme can be harmful.  As I’ve mentioned before, that includes drinking too much water.  Not only do we want to balance relaxation with exercise, we also want to exercise in a safe manner and not push harder than our bodies can safely handle.  If we are not active, we need to work up to strenuous activities.  “Weekend athletes” suffer injuries due to their lack of conditioning.  If we “work hard and play hard” we are balanced, but if we are pushing ourselves too hard in each of them, we will suffer from the lack of moderation in both.

Variety of fresh vegetables at market. Siem Reap     Variety:
We all know how important it is to have variety in our diet.  Different colored fruits and vegetables each provide distinct health properties.  We need a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in order to survive and thrive.  Most of us eat wheat (white or processed whole wheat) at every meal and for snacks in between.  Many of our bodies are rejecting the wheat we are consuming at every meal (and it’s not the same wheat our grandparents ate.)  We are complex organisms.  When we consume a large variety of healthy foods we don’t have to concerns ourselves with the specifics of eating the right combination of nutrients.  When we vary our exercise routines we are working different muscle groups and different systems.  By varying our mental activities, we work different parts of our brains.

When we are mindful and aware of what we are doing to and with our bodies, we can do so with balance, moderation, and variety which will increase our health and wellness.  Will you start with being mindful and perhaps throw a little more balance, moderation, and variety in?  I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

Eat more fat!

Or more specifically, eat more omega-3 fats.  Or eat less omega-6 fats…  

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Our bodies need fat to function.  Unlike saturated fats, we need to consume both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids because our bodies do not produce these essential fats.  (I don’t know about you, but that’s good news to me.  Fat tastes awfully good!)  So how much of each should we eat ?  Although the jury is still out on the amount that is needed, as well as the exact proportion that is healthiest, one thing is known for sure:  the ratio we are currently taking in is far too heavy on the omega-6s.  According to the above graphic, we should be aiming for an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 4:1, and Americans eat closer to 30:1 (30 times the amount of omega-6s than omega-3s.)  Others suggest it should be closer to 1:1, while it is currently 15:1.  In either case, or any in between, this could explain, in part, the large amount of heart disease and many other inflammatory diseases we are experiencing en masse.  

The nice thing about ratios is that we can increase one or decrease the other.  For even better results, we can increase one while consuming less of the other.  And as in everything, it’s best to start with small changes if you are able.  We can slowly incorporate a few foods containing omega-3s, while cutting back on some of the omega-6s.  We can make these small changes in our daily choices and they will become lifestyle habits.    

Omega-3 fatty acids may have far-reaching health benefits. Studies suggest they help lower the risk of heart disease, the nation’s top killer. They may also protect against depression, dementia, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3s are found in salmon, walnuts, spinach, and more – but the health benefits can differ greatly from one source to another. (WebMD)

One of omega-3s effects is to reduce inflammation (a cause of many illnesses and diseases like heart disease), and can slow plaque buildup and reduce dangerous triglycerides in large enough quantities.  (Please seek professional counsel before taking large doses of any supplement, no matter how ‘natural.’)  It is important for brain development and brain health.  There is also evidence that it helps with mood stabilization and depression, and possibly even protects against Alzheimer’s.  It may also protect against several cancers.   

The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish, though some varieties deliver a higher dose than others. Top choices are salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, anchovies, and tuna. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings a week of fish, which is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or ¾ cup of flaked fish.  (WebMD)

Foods that contain omega-3s are:

  • fish (cold water, fattier fish like sardines and salmon have more)*
  • nuts:  walnuts (see a list of nuts and seeds with omega-3s)
  • seeds:  chia, hemp, & flax (flax must be ground – we cannot digest the hull)
  • broccoli
  • edamame
  • spinach
  • canola oil
  • supplements (almost last on the list for good reason – eat real food when you can!)
  • products fortified with omega-3s (many have minimal amounts, others ALA not DHA or EPA – choose wisely)

We also need omega-6 fatty acids.  Like omega-3, there are different types.  Overall, we already get plenty (too much, and some are inflammatory while others are anti-inflammatory.)  We need a balance of the two types to balance out the inflammatory effects.  When we can, we should be choosing the natural fats.    

Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), they help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.  (UMMC)

Omega-6s (and omega-9s) can be found in:

  • linoleic acid from plant oils (corn, soybean, sunflower…)
  • nuts 
  • seeds
  • meat
  • eggs
  • dairy products

Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids are not saturated, and are a better choice over saturated fats.  (There is not much talk about omega-9s.  You can find a bit here.)  Some saturated fats we should reduce or avoid include: 

  • high-fat cheeses
  • high-fat cuts of meat
  • whole-fat milk and cream
  • butter
  • ice cream
  • palm and coconut oils (often found in prepared foods)

Reminder:  Grain-fed beef products are much higher in saturated fat than grass-fed.  Switching to grass-fed beef (and products) it is a much healthier option when possible.  I previously blogged on the difference between grain and grass-fed beef here.  

*Please let me know if you would like me to post about mercury and fish safety.  

For some very interesting reading on essential fatty acids and the brain, check out The Human Brain.  

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/omega-fatty-acids
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909