What’s All This About Omega-3?

Last week, I talked about the one vitamin I take on a daily basis (that would be D, for those of you who missed last week’s post). Today, there’s another supplement that I’d like to clear the air about. That supplement is omega-3 (often found in fish oil supplements also). I don’t take omega-3 supplements, but I do take flax oil on occasion and I always use flaxseed on my salads. Why do I do this? Because flaxseed is one source of omega-3 fatty acids, and it happens to be among the best plant-based sources.

I don’t have a problem with anyone taking omega-3 capsules or getting their omega-3s directly from eating fish. Personally, I think the plant-based approach is a better way to go, but I realize that’s up for debate. Instead of touting the benefits of one over the other, I thought my time would be better spent explaining some things about omegas that you may not know.

You probably know that omega-3s can help reduce cholesterol and even make your brain function a little better. But, is that because this is some magic pill? Do you find it strange that omegas are all the rage these days? Seems kind of trendy, right?

I guess you could say it is a trend. But, as long as we continue to eat the way we do, it’s a trend that’s here to stay (if that makes any sense). You see, there’s more than one type of omega fatty acid. Another of note in this situation is omega-6.

Omega-6 is often painted as the bad guy, but that’s kind of unfair. Our bodies need this fatty acid too, but we don’t need nearly as much as we get from the standard American diet. And, that’s the reason we so desperately need to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids these days. Our diet has changed throughout the years to include more foods that are rich in 6s and poor in 3s. Foods that are rich in omega-6 include meat, dairy and vegetable oils. Foods that are rich in omega-3s are fish, walnuts and flaxseed.

Experts believe that an ideal diet would give us 1 omega-3 for every 4 omega-6s consumed. The standard American diet is closer to 1 omega-3 for every 25 omega-6. Yikes – that’s outta whack, isn’t it?

When the ratio becomes unbalanced, the omega-6 fatty acids begin to cause inflammation within our bodies. Although omega-6s aren’t the enemy, inflammation certainly is. At the root of all illness and disease, you’ll find inflammation. You’ll even find it at the root of heart disease.

Does it make a little more sense now why you need to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids? The more omega-6s you consume, the more omega3s you should be consuming. So, I encourage you to take a closer look at your diet. Is it heavily weighted with meat, dairy and processed foods? If so, you might need to take stock in a fish oil company.

Seriously, though; the best way to tackle this problem is to find a supplement that works for you – and – adjust your diet to contain fewer omega-6 fatty acids.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Last week, I finally arrived back at home from my lengthy trip to Florida. During my time there, I visited with my grandfather and my in-laws. It was really nice to spend quality time with them, but it was more than lovely to be away from the cold New York winter. One reason I enjoy getting some sunshine is because I get to take a few less pills. I’m talking about vitamin D. When I don’t get any sun, I usually take about 6 thousand IU. I reduce that amount based on how much sunshine I get in a given day.

You might be wondering why I take so much. It’s because I found out that I was pretty severely deficient, and I don’t want that to happen again. I have some other medical issues that may have contributed to my deficiency, but it’s mostly from lack of sunlight. I know this because most of this country is deficient in vitamin D, whether they know it or not.

I was glad the topic of vitamins came up during one of my conversations with my grandfather because I wanted to know if he was supplementing with vitamin D. He wasn’t. You might think that’s okay because he’s in Florida, but it’s really not. You see, as we get older, our bodies become less efficient at producing vitamins from sunshine – and, he’s only in Florida for half of the year.

Well, it turns out that a few weeks earlier, his doctor told him he was deficient in D and needed to supplement. I don’t know whether he disregarded the advice or just forgot, but after our conversation, he went out and got some vitamin D – and he’s been taking it religiously ever since.

Vitamin D is involved in so many bodily processes, so having enough is really crucial to overall health. It’ll keep your immune system stronger in general, but another important function of vitamin D is to keep you bones healthy. It does this by helping your body absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you consume because your body can’t use it. It’s been confirmed; getting enough vitamin D everyday will very likely result in fewer trips to the doctor. Sure, you won’t get to see that medical assistant you’ve been crushing on, but your body will be in much better shape.

According to the Vitamin D Council, every adult should be getting at least 5 thousand IU of this vitamin (don’t worry; they’re teeny tiny pills).

Did you get your fill of vitamin D today?

Experiment with Natural Protein Sources

Protein is good for you, but only in moderation. I think that is a lesson that is lacking in our country today. Before adopting a vegan diet, I used to binge on protein; animal protein. I’d have two eggs for breakfast (scrambled), some sort of meat sandwich for lunch and chicken or beef for dinner. That’s too much protein and not enough veggies. But, I honestly didn’t know any better. I’m not saying everyone should avoid meat, but I do think it’s wise to cut back and experiment with different protein sources.

Why You Need Protein

Protein helps to build strength and to keep muscles, hair and skin looking healthy. Most people get their protein from meats, eggs and nuts but Americans have become well-known for eating way too much meat. While protein is good for the brain, there are some ways to make sure that you are eating the right kinds of protein.

Experimenting with Animal Proteins

First, make sure that the meat you are eating is high-quality. Organic meat that has been humanely-treated is best for your body and the environment (fewer hormones and no antibiotics). It’s also important to experiment with quantity. Smaller amounts of protein are easier to digest, so the portion should be no bigger than the palm of your hand. You can also change the type of meat you eat. Instead of beef try chicken, fish or lamb.

Experimenting with Plant-Based Proteins

Did you know that your body makes protein from various amino acids? It’s true. So, if you eat a variety of vegetables, you’ll likely get all the amino acids your body needs to make protein. You can also get protein from beans, nuts and a grain called quinoa (pronounced: keenwah). Plant-based proteins are generally easier on the digestive system, which can free up energy that you can use for other things (exercise, anyone?). It’s also completely devoid of cholesterol; compare that to a cheeseburger.

As strange as it may seem, food can really change your mood by increasing the way your brain produces “good mood” chemicals. Regardless of the source, it is important to maintain a balanced diet that includes a moderate amount of protein. But, I wanted to point out that it really isn’t necessary (in fact, it can even be harmful) to eat large portions of meat at each meal. Eating right is pretty simple because it’s not an exact science. You don’t need to measure your food or to learn how to become a nutritionist. You just have to get a variety of real food in your diet every day.

How Food Affects Your Mood

Most of us know that it’s important to eat right so we don’t gain weight and get diabetes, but sadly that’s the extent of most peoples’ knowledge of nutrition. That’s why we end up counting calories and constantly dieting: because no one ever actually taught us how to eat. Ever since I started learning more about nutrition, this is something that has boggled my mind. Whenever I learn something new, I’m always surprised that I had never learned it before: especially since so much of nutrition seems like common sense.

One good example is how food affects your mood. Sure, I get pretty darn grouchy when I haven’t eaten all day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Not entirely, anyway. I’m really talking about our long-term dietary needs. Yes, we do need vitamins and minerals every single day, but if you’re healthy, you should be able to go a day or two without food and not experience symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I’m not sure why I get grouchy; maybe I just really don’t like the feeling of an empty stomach! 🙂

Anyway, I would like to talk a little more about the vitamin deficiencies that do cause a negative impact on your mood. When you go to the doctor for symptoms of depression, more often than not, she’ll send you to a psychiatrist without ever checking your vitamin levels. That psychiatrist may put you on a prescription medication (if your symptoms are severe enough) with a long list of side effects. But in reality, you didn’t need to see the pharmacy tech at all. All you really needed was a steady supply of magnesium-rich foods.

Our healthcare system is broken. There isn’t much we can do about that, but we can educate ourselves about how nutrition and disease are related. If you’re having any symptoms at all, it certainly won’t hurt to do a quick Google search to find out if your symptoms mimic those of a specific deficiency. Then, all you have to do is ask your doctor for a simple test. Deficiencies aren’t always the cause of our problems, but I really think it should be the first place we look for answers.

Other deficiencies that can cause depression-related symptoms are folate and zinc. Also, if you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you might become more irritable.

What Happens to Your Body When You Skip Meals?

I’ve always thought that skipping meals was a bad thing, but it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I guess I’m just not as hungry as most people, or maybe I just get too wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, but I would always find myself skipping about four meals a week. I wanted to find out how bad this really was, so I did some research.

At a glance, one study suggests that skipping a few meals a week might actually help you become healthier, if you reduce your calorie consumption. This one baffled me a little bit, but then it made more sense when I found out that the participants in this study were obese. I think it’s safe to say that the participants eating habits probably aren’t the healthiest and they may be consuming too many calories to begin with. In cutting back on their overall calorie consumption, they very likely could have been cutting out things that aren’t healthy (e.g. cheese and ice cream). The calorie cut resulted in an 8 percent weight loss and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Although this study makes it seem healthy to skip meals, I don’t see how it could be for anyone who isn’t already consuming too many calories per day. For me, I usually struggle to get anywhere above 1,200 calories. I know that sounds crazy, but I follow a vegan diet and I try to limit oil and bread – and I almost never eat sweets. You have to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to reach 1,200 calories. So, if and when I decide to skip a meal, I’m probably not getting enough nutrition for the day. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself.

I’ve always had this meal skipping problem, even before I was vegan. But during that period, I would skip a meal and then eat more at the next meal to make up for it. I was interning as a paralegal in a busy office and I just wouldn’t stop ever stop for lunch; but then, I’d eat the equivalent of two meals for dinner. Now, I’ve found out that might actually be worse than not eating enough. Well, for one, I knew it wasn’t good because I was about 15 pounds overweight. But, one study actually found that following these exact eating habits can lead to elevated fasting glucose and delayed insulin response – two precursors to diabetes. I’m certainly glad that I stopped that habit, but I do still have to work on eating more often during the day. All this research made me curious about whether I was alone in my struggle.

Do you ever skip meals? If so, do you just end up eating less calories – or do you just make up for the loss later on?

Getting Through the Holidays with a Lot of Fitness and a Little Vanity

As we’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to post about motivation. Different things motivate different people, but there are some commonalities in our ways of thinking. For example, I try to stay fit in order to stay healthy. Many people do the same, but others do it to get back to health or to impress someone (either with their physical ability or with their fit physique). Others don’t even think much about fitness per se, but they have physical goals that keep them in shape, such as climbing a mountain or running a marathon. But, in the holiday season especially, it’s easy to put anything that might be keeping us in shape on the back burner.

You might say “One month of unhealthy eating isn’t going to derail a year’s worth of fitness efforts.” Or, you might just put your goals on hold until the new year. Both are very common reasons why people allow themselves to gain weight over the holidays. But, if you really think about it, aren’t the holidays a time when you want to look your best? It’s a time when you see people you don’t get to see all year. Do you really want them thinking about how dull your hair looks, how drained you seem or that you’ve gained a few around the midsection? Probably not, right? You’ve worked so hard to look your best all year; why would you throw that away when it counts the most?

Allow yourself to be a little vain, and go ahead and think of it that way, too. By keeping hydrated and staying away from alcohol, you’re treating your body to increased oxygen, water and nutrients that you know it needs to look its best. By choosing broccoli over mashed potatoes and gravy, you’re avoiding carbs that will add to your midsection in favor of ones that will help contribute to a clear complexion and healthy, shiny hair. Don’t think of it as deprivation. Realize that you’re actually treating yourself by making healthy choices. Don’t be jealous of anyone else’s plate. Instead, feel sorry for them because they aren’t treating themselves to good nutrition. I’m certainly not suggesting you mock anyone’s food choices, but you should change your own mindset to focus on what you know will help you be at your best.

Thinking of the “bad” foods and beverages as toxic instead of tempting will not only get you through the holidays, but it can also boost your fitness efforts for the remainder of the year. If you can get through just one semester completely committed to your fitness goals, you might want to start thinking about a physical fitness teaching career. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but it is a good way to make sure you stay committed to fitness for the rest of your life.

Staying Fit This Thanksgiving

“We’ve got ANOTHER holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.” – Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Doesn’t it seem like even the best intentions to live a fit and healthy lifestyle get derailed during the holidays? I mean, even when you’re trying to be on your best behavior, you seem to gain a few pounds. It hardly seems fair. The truth of the matter is that when there is more food, we tend to eat more.

Another thing that works against us is that we also tend to eat more when we think we’re eating healthy foods. I guess it’s because we feel less guilty, so we go ahead and eat more. Unless you’re noshing on healthy veggies like spinach and kale, that can indeed add on some extra pounds.

To really stay fit, you’ve got to become good at seeing things for exactly what they are. As you walk into the dining room this Thanksgiving, imagine yourself as an FBI agent about to interrogate a room full of suspects (foods). Mentally “lock up” the bad ones and think of the good ones as upstanding citizens that you are free to interact with.

Here are a few more tips that can help keep you from packing on the pounds over the holiday season:

  • Portion Control – Use a dessert-sized plate for dinner. You can pack enough food on there to keep yourself full until dessert actually comes around. But, if you’re really hungry, you can go for seconds. The act of getting up to fill a second plate of food will make you realize how much you’re eating. Two dessert-sized plates are definitely better than two regular-sized plates.
  • Healthy Options – If you’re visiting a place where you know healthy options will be limited, make a healthy dish that you really enjoy and bring it along with you. Just be sure to make enough for everyone. This way, you’ll know you have at least one good option.
  • Staying Fit – If the weather is nice enough, encourage everyone to take a walk with you after dinner. It’s a great time to work off all that food before dessert comes around. If you don’t feel like walking, you may suggest a game of softball, basketball or touch football. If you don’t have enough space, you can always hop in the car and head over to the closest park.
  • Staying Hydrated – This may sound surprising, but people often mistake feelings of thirst for hunger. If you’re feeling hungry shortly after eating your Thanksgiving meal, try drinking some water instead of going straight for the snacks. If you’re still hungry after finishing that glass of water, then you know you’re feeling hunger. Have a small snack, but keep it healthy.