Balancing Omega-3 & Omega-6

We hear again and again about the benefits of essential fatty acids in the diet, particularly omega-3s. But what’s the difference between omega-3 and omega-6? If you prefer visual learning like me, you’ll love this explanatory info-graphic, which I based on an article by Andrew Weil, M.D. with complimentary research from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC. omega-3 omega-6 balance infographic - MindBodyPlateCheck out the two pie charts at the bottom: the left is what our Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio should look like (1/1), and the right shows a fairly generous average ratio for a Western diet (15/1). Yikes! We’re pretty far off, and yet it’s so important that we strive to lower that ratio. In their academic article, The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Simopoulos explains that a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio is effective in “reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.” In particular:

  • “In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.”
  • “A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer.”
  • “The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk.”
  • “A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”
  • “A ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma.”

The clinical benefits of increased omega-3 can also be seen in:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Brain Trauma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin Disorders
  • Fertility
  • Fat Loss

Because the western diet is overflowing with omega-6 fatty acids, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: just eat more omega-3s. Eat more salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Or buy a high-quality fish or krill oil (mine is a liquid that is extra purified for safety and tastes like lemon). Vegetarian sources such as flax seeds and walnuts are wonderful too, just remember the body has to go through the extra step of converting them to EPA and DHA (the two critical kinds of omega-3s). How much is enough? Well, in a lecture I attended by Dr. Barry Sears, he gave the following guidelines:

  • Everyone would benefit from: 2-2.5 g (2,000-2,500 mg) per day
  • For those suffering from obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease: 5 g (5,000 mg) per day
  • For those battling cancer and chronic pain: 7.5 g (7,500 mg) per day
  • For those with neurological disease: >10 g (at least 10,000 mg) per day

Ideally, one would consume a fish oil or omega-3 supplement in conjunction with anti-inflammatory meals, moderate exercise, and stress reduction techniques. As always, remember that I am not a medical professional nor a registered dietitian. Please consult your physician before making any abrupt changes to your diet. References: Simopoulos, AP (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56(8), 365-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

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No Juice for You!

Orange wedges dropping into water

A few months back, I had the pleasure of visiting my sister in Napa Valley, where she works as a pastry chef in a popular, historic bakery. I spent most of my mornings in the bakery’s café area, mindfully enjoying a cup of tea and a bit of breakfast, perhaps reading or just taking in the sights and sounds of the affluent small town. On one such morning, I witnessed an event so unexpectedly horrific that I still think about it every time I see fruit juice.

A mother (or otherwise maternal figure) walked into the bakery with two healthy boys of about five or six years. They approached the register, at which time the boys noticed an open cooler full of Odwalla juice. “Juice!” they squealed, “Can we get juice?”

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

“No, we’re not having juice this summer,” the mother replied, “and let me tell you why: it’s filled with sugar. Besides, you don’t want to waste your Sweet Treat before nine in the morning on a drink.”

This piqued my interest. Though she was in a bit of a crabby mood, it seemed that this mother was sharing the logic behind her decision and trusting her boys to understand its nuances. I really appreciated that. I’m also not a huge fan of fruit juice, especially for kids. I continued to eavesdrop, curious to see how she would handle any follow-up questions.

As expected, the boys persisted. They really wanted that juice. She got agitated.

“You need to learn what ‘no’ means. I don’t want to argue with you. This will not be the ‘Summer of Juice.’ Juice is full of sugar, and it’ll make us fat. If you’re going to have juice, it will be fresh-squeezed.”

*record scratch*

Uh…what? Okay, so at this point, I realized that this conversation was no longer about health. It was about aesthetic value. It was about how juice is “bad” and how being fat is also “bad.” This was also the moment I realized this woman might be kookoo bananas, since she somehow believed that fresh-squeezed juice would be less sugary than a 6oz Odwalla (it is not).

Ready to negotiate, one of the boys said, “But we can have a juice now if we don’t have any other sweets today, right?”

“No, no!” she quipped, “Now listen to me.” At this point, she grabbed the face of the other boy, pinching the loose skin underneath his chin between her thumb and index finger, and shaking it for effect.

“Look at this! Look at your brother! We will not be drinking any more juice, because it’ll only add to this [chin] and we are not going to get fat!”

Need I remind you that this was a perfectly healthy pair of young boys? Not even close to overweight. I was mortified. Soon thereafter, they purchased their breakfast (ironically, a bag of carbohydrates – aka SUGAR), and left the bakery. I whipped out my smart phone and transcribed the interaction, still in shock about what I’d just witnessed.

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

Food Rules and Weight Gain

There’s no question that we need to address the obesity epidemic in this country. But when will we realize that labeling foods as inherently “good” or “bad” is not the answer?

Look, I typically stay away from fruit juice, and I’ve made the personal decision to cut out refined sugars. Yet, from time to time, my body tells me that it needs some no-sugar-added citrus juice, and I’ll be damned if I ever deprive my body of what it needs ever again. Granted, it took me a long time to suss out the difference between a true need and an emotionally driven craving, but it’s a skill set that we are all capable of achieving.

And though I typically say no to refined sugars, when I’m visiting my pastry chef sister in Napa, California, I will never deny myself a taste of one of her delectable creations, because I know that there is nourishment in such a thing that goes way beyond nutritional value. There’s a term I use in my practice called Primary Food, and it applies to all of the non-food aspects of living that feed our soul, nourish our mental health, and satisfy our hunger for life. Bonding with my sister over her passion is one such example of Primary Food, and I know that it will benefit me more in the long run than abstaining from a few bites of sugary pastry.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

Restricting food almost always backfires in the end. Research shows that making certain foods off-limits can lead to obsessing and bingeing. In fact, eaters who restrict are more likely to experience cravings and more likely to give in to them. A study published in the journal Appetite demonstrated that the more a mother restricts her young daughter’s access to snack foods, the more snack foods the daughter will eat when given the chance (1).

It’s time to shift the conversation so that it’s about feeling healthy and good in your body, not about a number on a scale or about attaining some kind of saintly dietary perfection. And it begins with us, in our every-day actions and our every-day conversations.

Let’s teach children that too much sugar actually makes you feel pretty gross, in the short term and long. Let’s make it about them feeling good in their bodies. Let’s make it clear that there’s nothing inherently bad about 100% fruit juice, but that it’s a “sometimes” food and not an “all-the-time” food.

The war on childhood obesity may be warranted, but if we continue to tolerate fat shaming and fail to teach moderation, we’re creating a generation of binge eaters.

References:

(1) Fisher, J.O, & Birch, L.L. (June 1999). Restricting Access to Foods and Children’s Eating. Appetite, 32 (3), 405-419. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/appe.1999.0231

I Believe

Image: Flickr Commons

Image: Flickr Commons

I believe that our society promotes the dangerous notion of aesthetic-based worth.

I believe that conventional “diets” are counterproductive to achieving and maintaining healthy weight.

I believe that you can make vast improvements in your physical and mental health with nutrition.

I believe that when you start making food choices that positively affect your brain and body, junk food automatically falls by the wayside.

I believe in crowding out less ideal foods with healthier, feel-good options rather than engaging in deprivation and punishment.

I believe in bio-individuality, that each person has unique dietary and lifestyle needs.

I believe that there’s no such thing as a bad food choice, only a good opportunity to examine how different foods make you feel.

I believe that deprivation backfires every time.

I believe that fat, carbs, and protein all serve their purpose and contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.

I believe that mindful eating is the missing link in the big picture of weight management.

I believe that mindful eating increases joy and satisfaction.

I believe you can achieve healthy weight through joyful living.

I believe that it is possible to overcome a dysfunctional relationship with food.

I believe that our bodies have a wisdom that outshines (and, if honed, can outperform) any cerebral conceptualization of “healthy diet.”

I believe that we all have the ability to tune in and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

I believe that learning about the health properties of specific ingredients can offer respite from dysfunctional eating.

I believe that the “war on obesity” should focus on changing the current U.S. food system, not on fat-shaming.

I believe in celebrating healthy body shapes that differ from the Hollywood ideal.

I believe that body acceptance is a radical act of feminism.

I believe that following your bliss takes guts.

I believe that loving your guts is where it all begins.