Omega 3

The other day, someone asked me if honey is a good sweetener.

My answer was, “Let me see it”.

If by “honey” you mean the stuff you buy in the supermarket that comes in the cute little plastic bear, then my answer is no. If by “honey” you mean raw, unfiltered, uncooked, unpasteurized organic honey, then the answer is a yes.

 

Not all food is created equal. Take salmon, for example. Incredible food that is on almost every nutritionists’ top food lists. One problem is that farm raised and wild salmon are not the same food. The striking color of the omega-3 fat loaded wild salmon is the result of the fact that it normally dines on krill, which provides it with a highly beneficial compound called astaxanthin, a natural carotenoid that gives salmon it’s rich red color. Farm raised salmon have never seen krill; they eat grain, which is like raising lions on chocolate chip cookies. They have almost no omega-3 fats, and their color is a result of whatever selection of dye the factory farmers decide on that day. The fact is that wild salmon and farm-raised are completely different foods. Yet we unknowingly use the same word for both.

 

Big Problem.

 

Without going too far afield, let me point out that I believe this problem in language has a lot to do with the difficulty in drawing conclusions from studies of “meat eaters” or “vegetarians.” It’s possible to be a “vegetarian” just eating twinkies and white rice, and it’s possible being a vegetarian eating nothing but vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and eggs. Similarly, “meat eaters”  can refer to people who dine exclusively on ballpark hot dogs and have never met a vegetable they didn’t hate, or it can refer to paleos who dine on pasture-fed wild game and tons of wild fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

 

See where I’m going with this?

 

I think we are trying far too hard to find the perfect diet in terms of protein, carbs, and fats. Endless diet and weight loss books are written promising a perfect formula, when really it comes down to the actual quality of the foods we eat.

Omega-3 fats

Fats come in many different forms, and they have varying effects on your health. Most people are aware that there are saturated fats, which they’ve been told to avoid, and have heard vaguely of monounsaturated fats (like those in olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (like those in vegetable oil, nuts, and fish). Here are some take home points:

 

Saturated fat is not always bad. Some forms of saturated fat, for example, the kind in coconut, are very healthy. While you don’t want to overdo it, you also don’t need to avoid it like it’s poison. It’s not.  Trans fat, however, is. This “metabolic poison” is found in cookies, crackers, cookies, baked goods, french fries, and most margarines. Regardless of what the label says, if it says “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, it’s got trans fat. Don’t eat trans fat, period. The one single exception is the trans fat CLA, or conjugated linoleum acid.  It is found naturally in dairy and meat, and not man made like the others.

 

Monounsaturated fat, found in nuts and olive oil, is good stuff and heart healthy.

 

Polyunsaturated fats come in two “flavors”: omega-6s and omega-3s.

While there are some health benefits to omega-6s, we get too many 6 and not enough 3.

There are three different omega-3 fats: One of them is found in flaxseed and is called ALA (alphalineolic acid). It’s considered an essential fatty acid because the body can’t make it, so it has to be obtained from the diet.

But the other two omega-3s, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), are found in fish like salmon (the wild variety). These two may be of even more importance then the first one. Although technically the body can make ALA, it doesn’t make sufficient amounts for the active individual. These incredibly important fats “ready made” from fish like salmon have endless benefits for the consumer.

 

So what do omega-3s do, and why do we need them in the first place? Lets start with the cell membranes. Omega-3s are incorporated into cells, making their membranes more fluid and  enabling more efficient communication between cells. This means, for example, that “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can transport in and out of the cell easier, translating to better mood. In fact, omega-3s are currently being studied for their positive effects on depression.

They’re also being studied for their impact on behavior, feeling, and thought processing. Nearly every study of behavior problems, from simple lack of concentration, to aggressive behavior in prison inmates, has shown that people with these problems have low levels of omega-3 fats in their bloodstream. This doesn’t mean that omega-3s will fix every behavior problem, but it’s certainly worth integrating into your life. On a side note, omega-3s have a significant effect on the developing brain of a human fetus. Since the baby’s brain is 60 percent fat by weight, and since most of that fat is DHA, taking fish oil or consuming low mercury fish (wild salmon) is one of the most beneficial things a pregnant woman can do for her developing baby. Fish truly is a brain food. The amount of omega-3 in a pregnant woman’s diet can help determine her child’s intelligence, fine-motor skills (such as the ability to manipulate small objects and hand-eye coordination), and also propensity to antisocial behavior.

Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Since inflammation is a critical component of virtually every degenerative from heart disease to Alzheimer’s, and since inflammation itself has been dubbed “The Silent Killer,” anti-inflammatory foods and supplements are of critical importance to our health. Omega-3s also support circulation. They transport oxygen from red blood cells to the tissues. They prevent blood cells from clumping together (blood clots can be a cause of heart attack and stroke). They act as a blood thinner, much like aspirin, only without the side effects. It’s been estimated by Andrew Stoll, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, that proper omega-3 intake could save 70,000 lives a year in the United States alone, and reduce the number of fatal arhythmias by 30 percent. Oh yeah, and they lower blood pressure and are very effective for diabetes in improving insulin and glucose metabolism.