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?

4 Things to do When You Feel a Cold Coming On

I don’t get sick very often, but boy when I do, I really get knocked out. This happened last week, much to my dismay. I had a little cough for a few days and I knew something was brewing, so I was taking lots of vitamins D, B (all kinds) and C, but it still hit me like a ton of bricks. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. I think it might be because I took the right precautions before it really took hold. Either way, it was a good reminder that I should start taking better care of myself. Here are a few things I like to do when I feel a cold coming on:

Drink lots of waterHydration is always important, but when you’re getting sick, your body needs a little extra. Eight 8-ounce glasses of water is a bare minimum when you’re well. Try to drink at least two more glasses when you’re sick.

Take your vitamins – When I’m getting a lot of vitamins from my food, I usually tend to skip a multi, but when a cold is brewing, I add it back to the daily routine. It certainly can’t hurt to get some more nutrients. I also wash an extra (2k IU) vitamin D pill down with a glass of emergen-C (which has loads of B12 and vitamin C).

Get your 7 to 8 hours of sleep – When I’m really busy, sometimes I forgo a few hours of sleep, but never when I’m sick. Your body recuperates while you’re sleeping, so don’t skimp out. Just lay back and let your body to its job.

Go for a little walk – It’s really important to get fresh air and sunshine when your body is fighting a cold, so a walk is the perfect thing. It’ll also get your blood flowing which will help deliver oxygen and nutrients to your vital organs.

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.

3 Simple Exercises to Improve Focus

Although I tend to focus much of my energy on exercise and nutrition, I know that those aren’t the only two things I can do to make sure I’m well. Last post, I talked about meditation, which is a great way to keep your mind and body in sync and ready to handle anything. When you’re feeling disconnected, but don’t have time to meditate, there are a few exercises you can try to bring your focus back.

Why is focus important? Focus and concentration are essential to succeeding in just about everything life throws your way. Everyone has tasks that require more concentration than others, and when these arise, it’s crucial to be able to think sharply.

Here are a few exercises you can do to help increase and improve your powers of concentration:

Thought exercise: Choose one thought and focus on it. Hold the thought in your mind for as long as you can without getting distracted or allowing your mind to wander. At first, you may not be able to do this for very long, but practice every day and soon you should be able to stay focused for some time.

Focus within: Sit or lie down and focus all of your energy inward. Think about your heart and the amazing capacity it has to pump blood to all the corners of your body. Focus on one beat at a time and allow yourself to visualize the blood pumping in and out, all the way out to your fingers and toes and back again.

Journal: Each morning, write down your dreams, and each evening, write down the events of your day in reverse. Doing this will help your concentration and your memory. Writing your dreams and daily events each day will help with your memory and understanding as you connect your daily life to your dreams.

If you practice every day, these three exercises can help you improve your focus, concentration and memory, which in turn will help you lead a more fulfilled life. Who doesn’t want that?

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.

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.