Are omega-3s fishy business?

If you follow your local supermarket advertisements or read up on recent health trends, you’ve probably heard about the touted benefits of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids. But are omega-3s another one food wonder, a marketing scheme, or are they legitimately important for health? Well, all the current research (and common sense) indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have important health benefits and are in-fact essential for good health. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the “essential fatty acids,” along with omega-6, and omega-9, because our bodies can’t produce them but need them for many important functions.

To the detriment of our health, Omega-3 fatty acids are the least consumed essential fatty acids in the American diet. The best sources of naturally occurring Omega-3 are cold-water seafood, especially salmon, cod-liver oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. While many people enjoy salmon and other seafoods, most don’t eat them often enough to meet the body’s requirement for omega-3s. Also while walnuts and flaxseeds are plentiful in a form of omega-3s, called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), it must be converted by the body into the two useful forms of omega-3s, called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), before it can produce important health benefits. Moreover, many people’s bodies aren’t able to effectively convert ALA into its useful forms. Therefore, omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA obtained from seafood or supplements are an important consideration for optimum health.

But how do omega-3s support health? Researchers are discovering a number of rolls omega-3s play in the body. For one, they are one of the main components of the brain, which is primarily a fatty-tissue. They are also used in the body to produce anti-inflammatory effects, which can result in a strengthened immune system, help prevent stroke and heart disease, reduce the effects of arthritis, and strengthen the cardiovascular system. Omega-3s also play an important role in hormone regulation and fetal development. Finally, there is reason to believe that adequate consumption of omega-3s may prevent or lessen the effects of depression.

The amount of Omega-3s our bodies need is based on an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The ideal ratio is thought to be between 4:1 and 1:1. Most American’s consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids due to the high intake of polyunsaturated fats found in refined oils like corn and canola oil. As a result, many Americans have a ratio upwards of 16:1! Correcting this ratio requires consuming fewer refined corn and canola oils (switch to olive oil, butter, or coconut oil instead), and eating more salmon, other seafood, or taking fish oil supplements. The typically recommended amounts of omega-3s are from 1 to 5 grams per day. Personally, I take about 2.5 grams of omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA from fish oil daily. If you go the supplement route, be sure to purchase fish oil that is purified of mercury. Krill oil is another option, but tends to be far more expensive. For the brave, there is also cod-liver oil (which also contains high amounts of vitamin D). If you prefer to obtain your nutrients through whole foods alone, keep in mind that 200 grams of wild coho salmon contains a little over 2 grams of omega-3s (which means you would have to eat wild salmon daily to get a healthy amount of omega-3s). The best option for obtaining enough omega-3s through whole foods is eating a mix of salmon (and other cold-water ocean fish), grass fed meat, flax seed, and walnuts.

So yes, omega-3s are fishy business, but they are vital for good health!

Originally posted 2012-01-12 19:44:00.

Boost your brain power with healthy living

We’ve all experienced days when our thinking and memory were a bit sluggish and other days when our minds seemed to be functioning at full-throttle. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more days with clarity of mind and full-throttle thinking? While all of the brain’s workings aren’t completely understood, researchers have unlocked a few important nutrition and exercise-related factors that can help you achieve optimum brain performance, perhaps even better than what you’ve ever had! If you incorporate the following practices, you be well on your way to nurturing a healthy brain.

1) Obtain enough rest – It has been known for some time know that getting enough quality sleep is essential for proper brain function and memory solidification. It is also thought that reading or studying something right before bed-time is especially helpful for reinforcing retention of that material. To store information, the brain creates neuro-pathways, and these are reinforced during sleep.

Recent research is also pointing to the importance of resting the mind while awake. Neuroscientist at New York University found that neuro-pathways are reinforced if the brain is given a chance to be idle after acquiring new information. [1] Giving our brain a few moments of idle time during the day can be difficult in our society. With computers, TV, cell-phones, i-Pods, and the like, our brains hardly have time to rest. Try taking a few moment throughout the day to cut out all the noise. The extra time you take to rest when asleep and awake can help your mind more efficiently process all those important goals and tasks throughout your day.

2) Eat the right foods – Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are all important for optimum brain function, but it’s important to get the rights kinds. One of the most important kinds of fats for brain function, one many people are short on, is Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that is an important building block of the brain’s structure.[2] Adequate Omega-3 consumption is shown to improve the brain’s circuitry and synapse health and may improve overall brain function. The recommended dietary consumption of Omega-3s is 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day.

As far as carbohydrates, these are the brain’s required source of energy, and it’s preferred type of carbohydrate is glucose. In fact, all of the body’s cells operate most efficiently using glucose as an energy source. There are at least two important reasons why the brain operates best on glucose. For one, glucose is metabolized in the brain in a way that causes it to signal the body to feel full once it has had enough; this is not true of fructose. Secondly, in a recent study that compared the effects of fructose and glucose on the brain, it was found that glucose resulted in an increase in neurological activity for 20 minutes after consumption, while fructose consumption resulted in a depressed state of neurological activity for 20 minutes.[3] While the implications of these results are not yet known, it seems to me that increased neurological activity is what we’re looking for! Unfortunately, many people’s diets are high in added sugars which are typically fructose-based. Glucose is found in whole-food staples like potatoes, vegetables, grains, and seeds.

Finally, the brain relies on protein for proper memory function. It uses a special type of protein to mark neurological pathways for short and long term memory. It can’t make these markers, however, if you don’t have enough protein in your diet! Be sure to get all the amino-acids your body needs by eating high-quality protein sources like, meat, dairy, and quinoa.

3.) Exercise – It turns out that the old adage, “dumb jock,” simply isn’t true. Physical exercise is an important, perhaps even vital, part of optimum mental/brain health. Studies have found that regular exercise from 20-40 minutes in duration can improve brain activity from 80-120%. Exercise also improves brain plasticity and neurogenesis. In other words, exercise helps the brain learn and operate better. Finally, statistical studies have draw a firm correlation between exercise and decreased levels of depression. So, there’s really no excuse for not getting outside to play and exercise.[4][5] Not only will it help improve your attitude, taking the time to exercise/play, will actually help you work more efficiently.

Conveniently, if you’re living a creation-based lifestyle you’re already doing these things! Obtaining rest is so much easier when we trust in the Lord and know that he is taking care of us. It can be so easy to be moved by circumstances and think that we have to do everything in our strength, never giving ourselves an opportunity to rest. Yet, I can’t help but think of how Jesus slept peacefully while a storm was threatening to capsize his boat. What a great example of trusting in the Father’s care! Also, if we look to the Creator and realize he created good things for his children, it’s easy to see that eating the foods he made for us (vs the processed foods made by man) will lead to good health. Furthermore, he created a beautiful creation for us to get out and enjoy, to move in, to run in, to play in. Mental, physical, and spiritual health are inextricably linked in various ways So it’s not surprising that exercise and rest (which can be an important spiritual discipline) promote good mental health and optimum brain function!


Originally posted 2011-10-05 17:24:00.

How 'bout sardines?

Let’s face it, I’m adventurous. The fact that I love sardines may indicate this. However, this tiny fish (and its cousin the anchovy) is a powerhouse of nutrition. Adding sardines to your diet will provide health benefits that far outlast the odor sardines might leave in your kitchen.

Who knows how long sardines have been among us. Frankly, that fact is not really important. What we do know is that “sardine” is actually a broad term for small, oily-fish that are in the herring family. During the 1400s, these fish received their name after the Italian island Sardinia, where many schools once lived. They are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet and are eaten in abundance in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Norway. They can be found fresh but they are widely available canned.  In fact, sardines are among one of the first foods to be canned.

While it is always best to find sardines fresh, doing so is not always possible. The nice thing about canned sardines, however, is they are cheap and have a long shelf life. Sardines in general are very low in heavy metals, like mercury. Their affordability and low toxicity make sardines a perfect REAL food protein to take along when backpacking, hiking, or on road trips. Look for sardines, whether fresh or canned, that are “Wild-caught.” This means they were not raised on a fish farm, where conditions are dirty and the fish do not eat their natural diet. “Wild-caught” sardines are pulled directly from the water.

Also, try to find sardines that are packed in water (sometimes referred to as “spring water”). Although olive oil is good for you, the canning processes can be harsh, so the oil may be rancid by the time you open it. Further, you don’t always know the beginning quality of the oil. Stay completely away from sardines packed in marinades with high fructose corn syrup, MSG, or other nasties. And, of course, steer clear of sardines packed in any industrial oils, such as soy and canola. Finally, try and find sardines that have the bones in. The bones are very, very soft. So soft, in fact, that they can be mixed into the meat with a fork. The bones lend a highly digestible form of vital calcium.

Nutrition Highlights
Sardines are very nutrient dense, meaning they have a high nutrient to calorie ratio. Sardines are a great source of vitamin B12, selenium (an anti-cancer mineral), protein, omega-3’s, vitamin D, and Calcium. The vitamin D in sardines is the animal form (D3), so it’s easily absorbed by the body.

For 3.75 oz-wt (92 grams) in oil (% of DV provided when available)

  • Calories 10% DV 
  • Vitamin B12 137%
  • Selenium 69% DV
  • Phosphorus 45% DV
  • Vitamin D 63% DV
  • Calcium 35% DV
  • Vitamin B3 24% DV
  • Choline 78.2 mg
  • Omega-3 fats – 1362 mg
  • Protein – 22.7 g

Health Benefits of Sardines
Sardines contain a high quality protein that is excellent for rebuilding the muscles after a workout or to maintain normal cellular health.

The omega-3’s contained in sardines are essential fatty acids that help the body fight inflammation and build healthy cells.  The combination of these essential fats with the minerals zinc and calcium, along with vitamin B12, promote a healthy nervous system and optimal muscle function.

Since sardines are high in calcium and vitamin d3, eating sardines can also  help make your bones and teeth stronger!

The Take Away
Sardines are a powerhouse of nutrition. Try to find them packed in water, because if they’re packed in oil, you don’t know whether or not the oil is rancid. When possible, choose wild-caught sardines with the bone-in. Take advantage of the the fact that, for now, sardines are a cheap, take-anywhere super food.

Easy Recipe
Spicy Balsamic Sardines on Rice Cakes (2 servings)
Ingredients: 1 can of sardines packed in water and drained, 2 T of balsamic vinegar, 1 T of garlic infused EVOO, GMO-free rice cakes, red pepper flakes to taste, cayenne pepper to taste
Instructions: Thoroughly mix all ingredients together and eat on rice cakes

Recommended Products
Wild Sardines from Wild Planet

References: USDA Nutrition Database

Originally posted 2013-08-27 09:00:16.