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13/01/11 Resolutions? A little at a time

An overwhelming urge to change.

That’s what I hear year after year from people after the festive time.  Have to lose weight, tone up, get fit, get healthy, be better, learn more, rush around in circles and not achieve anything!  My advice:  Relax, Chill out a little, and make a plan.

I want to talk a little about basics really.  So many of us spend fortunes on vitamin pills, personal trainers, fashion, hair, beauty, and I believe our wellbeing building blocks start at such a simple point, if we miss this we are missing out on the foundations on which to develop our bodies, minds and souls into more rounded, resilient beings.

I am talking Oil, Water and Balance, believe it or not.

No performance engine will run efficiently without the right oil.

In today’s society we have become “fat free” in our search for losing weight.  In my opinion, the quickest way to gain weight is to eat these “fat free” foods as they are all high in sugar or worse still in my opinion, artificial sweeteners.

When we eat processed, packaged and fast foods we often consume a high level of ‘bad fats’ (saturated fats), and then forget or become fearful of fats in general, actually we have to give our bodies some ammunition in the form of ‘good fats’ to deal with the outfall from the baddies!

Good fats are a special sub group of polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). They are called ‘essential’ as they are not easily manufactured by the body and must be provided by food. They are split into two groups:

Omega 3 – These are found in oily fish, fish oils, some vegetable oils and some nuts and seeds.

Omega 6 – These are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and grains.

In general we get sufficient Omega 6 fats in our diet from vegetable oils used in cooking, polyunsaturated spreads, nuts, seeds and grains. Omega 3 fats, however, are found in fewer foods so it is important to ensure we get enough.

What will the oils do for me? Many clinical studies have been conducted and researchers have found a multitude of benefits of omega fatty acids in human diets. Omega consumption in our diets benefits our bodies by protecting against heart disease, by improving our brain cells and brain function, and by helping our cell membranes remain healthy, here is some further research information:

  • A reduction in inflammation and prevention of chronic heart diseases can be attributed to consumption of omega 3 in diets, benefits include the lowering of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides and the increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol. There is also strong evidence that fatty acids help reduce high blood pressure, and by inhibiting the development of plaque and blood clots, help prevent and treat atherosclerosis. This evidence also strongly suggests that omega-3 fatty acid intake, primarily from fish, helps protect against stroke by the same process.
  • Infants benefit from omega 3 that promotes developing vision and nerves during pregnancy. Infants are at risk for developing problems in these areas, if they don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers.
  • In rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory joint condition, studies have shown benefits of fatty acids in reducing joint tenderness, decreased morning stiffness, possible decreases in medications that control this chronic disease. Along with this joint condition, omega-3 benefits people with osteoporosis by increasing the levels of calcium in the body and by increasing bone mass and bone strength
  • People are at risk for suffering depression if they do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids. The benefits of omega-3 for this illness work by helping nerve cells to communicate, an essential step in achieving good mental health. Cell membranes must be healthy in order to improve brain function and the overall condition of our brain cells. Studies showed that people hospitalized for depression had lower levels of fatty acids than people who ate a healthy diet with omega-3. When treated with an appropriate amount of fatty acids, these people had reduced feelings of depression and hostility and improved brain function. The same studies found the same omega-3 benefits for people suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Other studies suggest that people not suffering from depression may experience improved brain function with omega-3.
  • In studies of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it was determined that those children may have low levels of essential fatty acids. Some of those children exhibited learning and behavioural problems. More studies are needed to determine if omega-3 benefits children with ADHD by reducing their symptoms and improving their general condition.
  • There have been preliminary studies conducted that show omega-3 benefits for people with the chronic disease, asthma. They show that fatty acid supplements may decrease the inflammation in the lungs and improve overall lung function in adults.
  • More omega-3 benefits include a lower incidence of macular degeneration in people who consumed a significant amount of fatty acids from fish in their diets.
  • Other omega-3 benefits are being studied in regard to colon cancer, inflammatory bowl disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Some studies have preliminary findings that support the argument that the diseases are prevented from worsening by consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Women with the highest dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids were found to have the mildest symptoms during menstruation in a study performed in Denmark.
  • Preliminary research seeks to determine whether there is an omega-3 benefit in fighting infections, and in treating ulcers, migraine headaches, lupus, emphysema, and glaucoma.

How can I add Omega 3 to my diet? Omega 3 fats occur naturally in seeds as alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and in oily fish as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Good sources of ALA include: linseed (flaxseed) oil, linseeds, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil, rapeseed oil and soya beans.

The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently. This is why oily fish plays such an important role in our diet. Oily fish contains EPA and DHA in a ‘ready made’ form that the body can use easily.

The main sources of oily fish in the UK include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers, either fresh, frozen, canned or smoked. Watch out though, tinned tuna does not count as it does not contain the high levels of oils found in fresh and frozen tuna.

Omega Table

I understand that some of the health benefits, primarily the ones linked with cardiovascular health, have only been achieved through Omega 3 derived from fish sources.  If you are vegetarian, you may consider a supplement, Cod liver and fish oil capsules are a good source of EPA and DHA and in some cases contain vitamins A and D as well. If you are taking a supplement that contains vitamins A and D it is important not to exceed the recommended dose. If you are taking any medication you must seek your doctor’s advice.

The great thing is, if you like fish, a tin of sardines is a great cost effective lunch and can sit in your drawer (unopened please!) for months – the perfect long life fast food snack.