Vegetarian Chef’s Salad — Meatless Monday | FN Dish – Food Network Blog

Vegetarian Chef’s Salad — Meatless Monday by Maria Russo in Recipes, August 12th, 2013

Vegetarian Chef's Salad

The key to enjoying a salad as an entree is making sure you beef up the dish with more than just leafy greens, croutons and dressing. Hearty protein, plus cheese, vegetables, olives and eggs, turn a simple salad into a complete lunch or dinner. But when you remove the meat from the plate, finding substitute ingredients can be challenging and often leads to an unsatisfying meal. Food Network Magazine, however, reinvented the chef’s salad — one such main course salad traditionally packed with deli meats — into a meatless plate that won’t leave you disappointed.

Instead of turkey, ham or chicken, the star protein in Food Network Magazine’s Vegetarian Chef’s Salad (pictured above) is tofu, either your favorite smoked or baked variety. Tender roasted mushrooms add an earthy flavor, while crisp-tender wax beans — conveniently cooked in the same pot of hot water used to hard-boil the eggs — and prepared beets add texture. Puree a few of the remaining roasted mushrooms with tangy plain yogurt, olive oil and vinegar to prepare a smooth topping, then mix the topping with the greens, and assemble the vegetables, eggs, cheddar cheese and crunchy sunflower seeds on top for a classic chef’s salad presentation.

KS

How Exercise Can Help Us Learn – NYTimes.com

How Exercise Can Help Us Learn

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDSElhenyo’s Pictures

Phys Ed

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

Over the past decade, in study after study in animals and people, exercise has been shown to improve the ability to learn and remember. But the specifics of that process have remained hazy. Is it better to exercise before you learn something new? What about during? And should the exercise be vigorous or gentle?

Two new studies helpfully tackle those questions, with each reaching the conclusion that the timing and intensity of even a single bout of exercise can definitely affect your ability to remember — though not always beneficially.

To reach that conclusion, scientists conducting the larger and more ambitious of the new studies, published in May in PLoS One, first recruited 81 healthy young women who were native German speakers and randomly divided them into three groups. Each group wore headphones and listened for 30 minutes to lists of paired words, one a common German noun and the other its Polish equivalent. The women were asked to memorize the unfamiliar word.

But they heard the words under quite different circumstances. One group listened after sitting quietly for 30 minutes. A second group rode a stationary bicycle at a gentle pace for 30 minutes and then sat down and donned the headphones. And the third group rode a bicycle at a mild intensity for 30 minutes while wearing the headphones and listening to the new words.

Two days later, the women completed tests of their new vocabulary. Everyone could recall some new words. But the women who had gently ridden a bicycle while hearing the new words — who had exercised lightly during the process of creating new memories —performed best. They had the most robust recall of the new information, significantly better than the group that had sat quietly and better than the group that had exercised before learning. Those women performed only slightly better than the women who had not exercised at all.

That result contrasts tellingly with the findings of another new study of memory formation and exercise, presented in May at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis. During this study, 11 female collegians read a dense chapter from a college textbook on two occasions: once while sitting quietly and, on a separate day, while exercising vigorously on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes. Immediately after each session, the students were tested on the material they’d just read. They were then retested the next day.

In this study, exercise did not help the women’s memories, at least in the short term. Their test scores were actually worse on the memory test conducted immediately after they’d exercised while reading compared with their scores taken soon after they’d been sitting quietly and studying.

But the recall gap disappeared the next day, when the women were retested. At that point, there were no differences in their scores, whether they’d vigorously exercised while learning the new material or not.

The message of these studies would seem to be that exercise timing and intensity interact to affect memory formation, said Maren Schmidt-Kassow, a professor at the Institute of Medical Psychology at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, who led the study of gentle bicycling and memory. Exercising during learning was, in her study, significantly more effective than exercising beforehand or not exercising at all.

But that beneficial impact probably depended on the mildness of the workout, she said. Light-intensity exercise will elicit low but noticeable levels of physiological arousal, she said, which, in turn, presumably help to prime the brain for the intake of new information and the encoding of that information into memories.

If the exercise is more vigorous, however, it may overstimulate the body and brain, she said, monopolizing more of the brain’s attentional resources and leaving fewer for the creation of robust memories.

This theory also helps to explain why, in both studies, memory recall was best a day or two after exercise, by which time, Dr. Schmidt-Kassow said, physiological arousal would have dissipated.

Of course, the mysteries of human memory remain, by and large, mysteries. These new studies don’t explain how, for instance, at a molecular level, exercise affects the creation of individual memories. It is likely that, as part of the arousal process, exercise stimulates the release of certain chemicals in the brain that affect memory formation, Dr. Schmidt-Kassow said. But that idea has yet to be proven, although she and many other scientists have applicable studies underway.

For now, though, there is some practical takeaway from the current studies, said Walter Bixby, an associate professor at Elon University in North Carolina, who oversaw the study of vigorous exercise and reading. “If you have an exam” or other activity that involves memorizing and recalling information “in a few hours, you would probably be better off sitting quietly and studying,” he says. “However, if the exam is the next day, it won’t hurt you to study while exercising.” And if your workout is gentle, it could even help.

The truth about soy and tofu | MNN – Mother Nature Network

I cook for a mostly dairy-free family, and when I browse for recipes for creamy dishes without the dairy, I often come across some that rely on soy-based foods such as tofu. They sound tempting, but despite the convenience, I rarely eat unfermented soy.

For the uninitiated, soy falls into two broad categories, fermented and unfermented. Unfermented soy includes soy milk, soy nuts, tofu and soy infant formula; fermented soy includes tamari, miso, natto, tempeh, pickled tofu and various fermented pastes used in a variety of Asian cooking techniques. Knowing the difference will help you navigate recipes — and understand why I avoid the unfermented kind. Here’s my rationale:

1. Soy is generally genetically modified.

There are a lot of good reasons to avoid genetically modified foods, and soy is one of the most common crops to be genetically modified. Somewhere upwards of 90 percent of the soybean crop is genetically modified. If you want to avoid GMOs, than you will need to avoid most soy products. (I buy organic soy sauce/tamari and natto, for this reason).

2. Unfermented soy contains high amounts of anti-nutrients

Unfermented soy includes anti-nutrients, such as phytate, which can literally block your body from absorbing nutrients. While soy milk may be high in calcium, the anti-nutrients in it can mean that you don’t get the benefits. You can read some of the research I did on the subject of the anti-nutrient, phytic acid.

3. A diet heavy in soy could lead to hormonal imbalances (which could lead to hormonal-driven cancers)

When I first started researching anti-cancer diets years ago, I read a book by a doctor who researched and conducted trials in prevention of breast cancer. One of the chapters in his book presented the sometimes confusing and conflicting research on soy and breast cancer. According to him, too much soy seems to increase your chances of getting breast cancer, and just a little soy in your diet increases it as well. According to him, you had to get the perfect medium in the middle for anti-cancer effects. Good luck on that.

Since then, other research has continued to feed concern regarding soy and cancer. Just one example out of many is a study that showed that women who start to eat soy as adults may derail their cancer treatment. Soy contains isoflavones that mimic estrogen, which some research says is helpful in preventing hormone-driven cancers, while other research shows it can increase your chances of getting cancer. Using soy to prevent cancer is a gamble since there are so many conflicting conclusions from studies.

So what to eat?

I personally follow the Weston A Price Foundation’s guidelines for eating soy. I only eat organic soy (to avoid pesticides and GMOs) and fermented soy (to reduce anti-nutrients) in small amounts. I enjoy tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), miso, natto, and every once in awhile, tempeh.

To Ensure Bone Health, Start Early – NYTimes.com

To Ensure Bone Health, Start Early
By JANE E. BRODY
Yvetta Fedorova

Most people don’t start thinking about the health of their bones until midlife or later, by which time it can be too late to do very much to protect against serious bone loss and resulting fractures.

Researchers who study bone health say concern about the strength of one’s bones should start in childhood and continue through adolescence, when the body builds most of the bone that must sustain it for the remaining years of life.

Once peak bone mass has been reached, further gains are minimal, so childhood through adolescence is the best time to pay attention to bone development. By age 20, girls have gained between 90 and 96 percent of their peak bone mass. For boys, the peak occurs a few years later.

About 26 percent of total adult bone is accrued in two years around the time that bone mass increases the most — at age 12.5 in girls and 14.1 in boys. The amount of bone added during those two years is about the same as what is typically lost in the 30 years between ages 50 and 80.

Lifelong studies have not been done in people, but the best available evidence strongly indicates that increasing peak bone mass in childhood by just 10 percent could delay osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women, by about 13 years.

Although nothing can be done about the three factors with the greatest influence on bone mass — age, gender and genetics — two others under personal control can make the difference between suffering crippling fractures in midlife and escaping the effects of osteoporosis until after age 90. Those are physical activity and the bone-building nutrients, calcium and vitamin D.

While the focus here will be on the effects of exercise, it should be noted that calcium consumption by adolescent girls is often seriously inadequate, compromising their ability to build strong bones that will last a lifetime.

Exercise affects bone strength in two ways: in response to the pressure of gravitational forces like those experienced when walking, running or jumping, and in reaction to the stress exerted by muscle contraction.

You might think that any kind of exercise is good for bones, and the more active a child is, the better. That is largely, but not always, true. On average, as with adults, active children have higher bone mineral density and reduced risk of fractures compared with their inactive counterparts, Dr. Kirk L. Scofield noted last year in Current Sports Medicine Reports. But some types of activities are better than others. Studies have found that the bone mineral density of young endurance runners is consistently lower than that of sprinters, gymnasts or ball sports athletes. In fact, those engaged in endurance and non-weight-bearing activities sometimes have weaker bones and a greater risk of fractures, both while actively competing and later in life, than their inactive peers.

“Repetitive stress can tear down bone and is not the best for increasing bone strength,” Dr. Scofield said in an interview. “It’s not that running, walking, cycling or swimming are bad. They’re just not as good for bone strength as other types of athletic activities.”

Bones, he said, seem to respond best to a combination of stress, rest and variety, which suggests that youngsters engaged in endurance activities should also do cross-training to maximize bone strength.

Dr. Scofield, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said that the most effective form of stress on bones is that which works against gravity and starts and stops, as happens when playing soccer, basketball, or tennis; doing gymnastics or dancing; using resistance equipment; or lifting weights.

In a study of 99 college women who participated in NCAA Division 1 sports, runners had the lowest bone density values at every site measured except their legs. Swimmers and divers also showed bone deficits when compared with those who played soccer or field hockey, for example.

An earlier study of young female aerobic dancers, squash players and speed skaters found that sports training that involves “high strain rates in versatile movements and high peak forces is more effective in bone formation than training with a large number of low-force repetitions.”

A major bone-robbing issue for some young athletes, especially women, is what sports specialists call “energy availability” — the amount of energy they consume during exercise minus the amount they expend, divided by their lean body mass (muscle and bone). It represents the energy left to support all the body’s functions, including formation of new bone.

Low energy availability can result from insufficient calorie intake, excessive calorie expenditure during exercise, or a combination of the two, even if the athlete does not appear to be underweight and is not undernourished, Dr. Scofield said.

Runners, for example, may burn so many calories there’s not enough energy left to maintain normal bone health. He recommends a nutrition consultation for young athletes who suffer stress fractures, an indication of bone weakness that can be from low energy availability.

A related concern that can result from excessive training is a syndrome called “female athlete triad” — an interrelationship between energy availability, menstrual function and bone density. Girls who overexercise and don’t consume enough calories to support all bodily functions can suffer menstrual irregularity or lose their periods entirely, which can lead to muscle and bone injuries.

In a study of 249 females athletes at three high schools published in The Journal of Athletic Training last year, researchers in Provo, Utah, found that nearly 20 percent experienced menstrual irregularities and 63 percent developed musculoskeletal injuries, with the highest percentage of injuries among those with irregular or missing periods.

I asked Dr. Scofield what advice he would give to the parents of young children and adolescents. His response: “Get kids away from electronics and encourage them to play actively and do a lot of different activities. Equally important is to avoid pressuring them to be too thin.”

He also urged adequate consumption of calcium-rich foods, like dairy products and canned salmon and sardines with the bones. An assessment of calcium intake can be determined from a Web-based calcium calculator.

Children ages 4 through 8 should consume 800 milligrams of calcium daily and those 9 through 18, 1,300 milligrams. If children are not getting enough calcium from their diet, Dr. Scofield recommends that they take a calcium supplement with vitamin D.

Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb and utilize dietary calcium, and children ages 1 through 18 need 800 International Units daily. Most vitamin D is obtained when skin is exposed to sunlight, but the widespread use of potent sunscreens has greatly reduced this source, so a supplement may be essential.

A version of this article appeared in print on 08/06/2013, on page D5 of the NewYork edition with the headline: To Ensure Bone Health, Start Early.

KS

Different kinds of happiness affect genes in different ways, study finds | MNN – Mother Nature Network

Steven Cole, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles has spent the last 10 years trying to figure out what makes the human genome tick. Specifically, how our genes respond to stress, misery, fear and various other forms of negative psychology.

But in his latest foray, Cole and his colleagues decided to look on the brighter side; they set out to see what biological implications happiness has on genes.

The researchers assessed and took blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were classified as having either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is defined as happiness gained from seeking pleasure; eudaimonic well-being is that gained by having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life.

The study showed that people who had high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed favorable profiles with low levels of inflammatory gene expression and exhibited a strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. For the pleasure seekers, the opposite was true; those with high levels of hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, giving high inflammation and low antiviral/antibody expression.

The differences in genes persisted even though both groups were happy and felt comparable amounts of well-being.

“Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive,” Cole said. “What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion.”

“Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds,” he added.

This study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[tag different kinds of happiness]

FDA sets new rules on gluten-free foods | MNN – Mother Nature Network

People with celiac disease can now trust that foods labeled “gluten-free” are safe for them to eat, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says.

The agency issued a final rule on Aug. 2 that requires foods with “gluten-free” labels to limit their gluten levels to less than 20 parts gluten per million parts of food.

The new rule also says that gluten-free foods cannot contain any wheat, rye or barley, or any of their crossbreeds. If any ingredients derived from these grains are used, they have to be processed to reduce their gluten to amounts less than the new limits, according to a statement from the FDA.

“This standard ‘gluten-free’ definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products, and will assure people with celiac disease that foods labeled ‘gluten-free’ meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA,” said Michael R. Taylor, deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

People with the intestinal condition celiac disease have to avoid eating foods that contain gluten, proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye and barley. Eating cakes, pasta and bread made with these grains’ flours can be life threatening for people with celiac disease.

“The only choice for the up to 3 million Americans living with CD is to adhere strictly to a gluten-free diet,” said Virginia A. Cox, associate commissioner of the FDA’s Office of External Affairs.

For these people, consuming gluten can damage the intestines, prevent the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and lead to a host of other health problems, she said.

Celiac disease is a condition in which the body’s defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine, and currently has no cure. The symptoms include pain, diarrhea and weight loss.

The new gluten limit is the lowest level that can be detected in foods using available tools, and is consistent with the limits set in other countries, according to the FDA.

“This is a tool that has been desperately needed,” Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance said. “It keeps food safe for this population, gives them the tools they need to manage their health, and obviously has long-term benefits for them.” [How to know if you have celiac disease]

The new rules are an addition to FDA requirements for other food labeled as “free”: “Salt free” or “sodium free” means less than 5 grams of salt per serving, and items labeled “sugar free” should contain less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving. Foods labeled “zero calories” should have less than five calories in each serving.

Manufacturers have one year to ensure their gluten-free labels are consistent with the FDA requirements. Foods that carry labels stating they’re gluten-free, free of gluten, without gluten and no gluten, but fail to meet the set limits, would be considered misbranded and subject to regulatory action by the FDA.

[tag FDA sets new rules on gluten-free foods]

Why Everyone Should Eat More Plants

Why Everyone Should Eat More Plants

There is a misconception that eating a plant-based diet is unnatural, the purview of activist radicals and the socially marginalized. Instead, I submit that it is beyond a doubt the most natural, healthy, and advisable thing you can possibly do to optimize your wellness and become bulletproof to Western disease.

Outrageous!

What’s truly outrageous is just how sick we’ve become. We live in the most prosperous nation on Earth, and yet overall we’ve never been more unhealthy. Chronic illness is killing us and bankrupting our economy. One out of every three deaths in the US is caused by heart disease, America’s #1 killer. A close second is cancer, killing one out of every four in the U.S. alone. 70% of Americans are obese or overweight. And by 2030, 50% of Americans will be diabetic or pre-diabetic. Total insanity.

How did we get here? Of course the answer is complex, but the biggest contributor is what we eat. Currently, 94% of the calories consumed by the typical American eating the standard American diet are empty, lacking any true nourishment whatsoever, with only 6% of calories coming from fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seeds.

Natural has become unnatural. Unnatural has become natural. We’re completely upside down when it comes to food and health. And it’s time for a change.

To right the ship, we must begin by confronting the reality that we’re actually addicted to foods that are killing us. Atop the list are processed foods—soda, snacks, desserts and other packaged items laden with preservatives, saturated fat, sugar, fructose corn syrup, sodium, and other unnatural chemicals. Of course, we all know these foods are bad for us. And yet so many are powerless when it comes to giving them up.

Why?

Because many of these foods are specifically devised to activate the pleasure centers in our brain, enslaving us to habitual poor dietary choices—the very essence of addiction. When combined with our national preference for excessive meat and dairy intake, blood cholesterol escalates, clogging our arteries; our cells become cancerous; and our immune systems spiral out of control in response, creating a state of chronic inflammation. This confluence of factors creates a persistent condition in which our bodies become disease incubators, sentencing us to an almost certain future of chronic illness.

Even more outrageous? Standard operating procedure for treating these common chronic conditions—everything from high cholesterol to erectile dysfunction—is to prescribe medications that treat symptoms rather than address the root cause of the issue. Counsel and guidance to improve diet and exercise have been supplanted by Lipitor, Crestor, Viagra and countless other pharmaceuticals designed to quell the symptoms of every conceivable malady.

Taken as a whole, the aforementioned four conditions (hearth disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes) account for approximately 75% of our current health care costs, to the tune of countless billions of dollars annually. This is simply not sustainable.

And yet the great irony is that so many chronic diseases (exempting certain cancers of course)—in fact 90% of all Western disease—need never exist in the first place.

It’s time to reverse the trend. But how?

Simple. Eat more plants. You might be surprised to learn that a plant-based diet is the only nutritional protocol known to man that has been shown to prevent—and in many cases, actually reverse, these four and many other chronic illnesses that unnecessarily plague us.

In the most simplistic terms, if America flipped the Standard American Diet so that we began getting 94% of our calories from fresh, whole plant-based foods (rather than current levels of 6%), most of our diseases would simply vanish. And our health care crisis would essentially repair itself.

I know it may sound daunting. I can’t imagine life without pizza! How can l possibly live without eggs?

Personally, I cannot emphasize enough how adopting a 100% PlantPower diet revolutionized my life. But I also realize not everyone is ready to jump in with both feet on Day One. I get it. I sympathize.

So I’m here to say, relax. Don’t be afraid. Ease into it. And let go of the idea of perfection. Let it go. This is not about deprivation. Instead, it’s about a willingness to release old ideas you’ve harbored your whole life about what a healthy diet entails. It’s about being open to the adventure of experimentation, exploring and rediscovering whole foods in their natural state. It’s about developing an enhanced connection to and relationship with your body, learning to pay greater attention to the nexus between the foods you eat and how you feel and function. And ultimately, it’s about developing a more acute intuition about what truly serves you, so you can reprogram yourself to make better choices that are in your best long-term interest physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

With each successive step along the path, you’ll begin to notice changes. As your energy levels improve, your preferences will shift from empty calories to foods that actually nourish you. The more whole, plant-foods you incorporate into your routine, the

more likely those unhealthy cravings will subside. And before you know it, that hankering for cheese might just vanish altogether.

Against all odds—and despite being a self-avowed junk-food junkie for most of my life—it happened for me. And I’m here to tell you that it can happen for you, too.

At the end of the day, there is only one rule: eat more plants. Because baby steps move mountains.

I’ll leave you with this: Embracing a plant-based lifestyle didn’t just repair my health. It was the key that unlocked my heart and allowed me to discover, embrace and unleash a better and more authentic version of myself on the world.

I wish only the same experience for you. Because we need more of who you really are.

Peace + Plants,

Rich

Tacos With Salmon or Arctic Char, Greens and Tomatillo Salsa – NYTimes.com

Tacos With Salmon or Arctic Char, Greens and Tomatillo Salsa

Either salmon or arctic char will work in this dish. You can oven-steam it ahead and flake the fish, then just toss with the greens and salsa when you are ready to serve the tacos. The fish doesn’t have to be hot; but it should be well seasoned.

1 pound salmon or arctic char fillets

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch spinach or chard (about ¾ pound), stemmed and washed well in 2 changes of water

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), minced

1 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chiles (to taste), minced

1 cup cooked tomatillo salsa (ed: please link)

2 to 3 ounces crumbled queso fresco or feta (optional)

Shredded cabbage (optional)

8 to 10 corn tortillas

Chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and lightly oil the foil. Place the salmon or arctic char on top. Season with salt and gently rub the salt into the surface of the salmon. Add pepper to taste. Fill a roasting pan or cake pan halfway with boiling water and place it on the oven floor. Place the fish in the oven and bake 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the thickness), until white beads of protein appear on the surface and the fish can be pulled apart with a fork. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until you can handle it. If desired, scrape away the white protein beads, then flake the fish and place in a bowl. Discard the skin. Season the fish well with salt and pepper.

2. Steam the spinach or chard just until wilted, about 1 minute for spinach, 2 minutes for chard, or blanch in boiling salted water (20 seconds for spinach, about 1 minute for chard). Transfer to a bowl of cold water, then drain and, taking the greens up by the handful, squeeze out excess water. Chop medium-fine.

3. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy, medium size skillet and add the garlic and chile. Stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute, and add the greens and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and toss in the pan for about a minute, until nicely infused with the oil, garlic and chile. Remove from the heat and add to the fish. Stir in 1/2 cup of the salsa. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Heat the tortillas: wrap in a kitchen towel and place in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and steam 1 minute. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes without uncovering. Top the hot tortillas with the fish. Spoon on a little more salsa and if desired, garnish with crumbled cheese and shredded cabbage. Fold the tortillas over and serve.

Yield: 8 to 10 tacos

Advance preparation: The salsa will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. You can oven steam the fish several hours ahead and the steamed spinach will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.

Nutritional information per taco (8 tacos): 174 calories; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 2 grams polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 27 milligrams cholesterol; 15 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 159milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 15 grams protein

KS

The power of omega-3s | MNN – Mother Nature Network

I first became interested in the power of omega-3 fatty acids when psychiatrists I work with began prescribing the nutrient to depressed patients, finding it made positive improvements. Then, I started hearing about the potential benefits of omega-3s for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Could it be possible that one nutrient could provide so many benefits?

The connection between omega-3s and health was first observed in the 1970s. Scientists observed that Inuit populations in Greenland had a reduced rate of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments even though they ate a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet. The researchers hypothesized that the type of fat — marine-derived — might play a role. Since then, study after study has confirmed that omega-3s in fish have a potent effect on reducing heart disease.

Omega-3s work several ways in the heart. They appear to prevent irregular heartbeat, reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease inflammation.

“Omega-3 favorably affects a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and at the top of the list is reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attack,” said Penny Kris Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.

But when it comes to the benefits of omega-3s, that may be just the tip of the iceberg!

Stethoscope among Omega-3 capsules

The two most potent omega-3 fatty acids are known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). They’re usually found in a 50:50 or 60:40 ratio in fish. These fatty acids are essential nutrients and enter every cell membrane in the human body, serving as a cell lubricant, improving flexibility and communication between cells, and aiding cell metabolism and gene expression.

Researchers have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in seafood, can improve your chances of living longer if you have heart disease. But its healing powers don’t stop there. Other organs may benefit.

While not an answer to every ailment, omega-3s have a positive impact from the womb to old age, with studies showing significant physiological and psychological benefits.

In fact, omega-3s are so important to human health, the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recently set a minimum daily requirement for the first time. For years, we thought there was only one essential fatty acid, omega-6 fatty acid (found in vegetable and soybean oils), but now scientists have added omega-3 to the list of essential nutrients humans must get from their diets.

But as we’ve discovered in nutrition, balance is everything. The two essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, must be in harmony with each other for proper functioning. If one or the other is too high or too low, negative consequences result.

“If you eat too much omega-6, as is the case with today’s American diet, this promotes inflammation, blood clotting and constricts blood vessels,” said Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health and the author of “The Omega Diet” (Harper Collins, 1999). “When your cells contain equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3, as was the case with early humans, this promotes less inflammation, less constrictive blood vessels and prevents clot formation, all important functions in preventing many diseases.”

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is the hottest debate among omega-3 researchers. If you followed the fatty-acid recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and had an intake of 12 grams of omega-6 for women (17 grams for men), and an omega-3 fatty acid intake of 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men, your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 would be approximately 10 to 1. But many omega-3 researchers say a ratio of 1 to 1, 2 to 1 or even 5 to 1 is ideal. If you’re a typical American, the ratio that you are actually ingesting could be as high as 12 to 1 or 15 to 1. Still others believe a specific ratio doesn’t matter. But, they all agree on the need to get more omega-3s.

Omega-3 concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. The fatty acids are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission.Emerging research indicates omega-3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violence.

“In 5 out of 6 of the clinical trials where people were given either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids, on average, the symptoms of depression have been reduced by about 50 percent,” said Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “This is true even when the subjects were already on antidepressants and failing to respond to them.”

Poached salmon

Hibbeln’s studies found an increase in depression, violence and homicides in countries where people eat less fish as compared with countries where people eat more fish. Omega-3s may even improve conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Bone density may also be enhanced by omega-3 intake. “Osteoporosis is lower in populations who eat more fish, such as Asians, when compared to Europeans who eat more calcium-containing foods,” said Bruce Watkins, nutrition professor at Purdue University. The mechanisms aren’t completely understood, but omega-3s may help support bone formation.

Omega-3 may also benefit the skin.The Greenland studies with Inuit populations found they don’t suffer much from psoriasis, a skin disease that causes painful inflammation, redness and scales. Laboratory studies have found that omega-3s suppress the hyperproliferation of skin cells, which causes psoriasis to spread. When researchers tested the impact of omega-3s on people with psoriasis, after 10 weeks, 60 percent of subjects experienced a decrease in the area of skin affected by the condition and a decrease in cell proliferation and skin inflammation.

Apparently, the dose is essential. As the authors have said, while the work is promising, more research is needed to understand the mechanism and doses, and why it works for some but not others.

Just as omega-3s inhibit proliferation of skin cells which cause psoriasis, new research is finding it inhibits proliferation of cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon. This is a new area of research that hasn’t been tested widely. But, a new study found breast cancer patients responded better to chemotherapy and the cancer was less likely to spread when patients were given omega-3 fatty acids. And, there is epidemiological evidence that men who eat more fish have a lower risk for prostate cancer. [Omega-3 in Fish May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk]

There is also evidence that omega-3s may help prevent Type 2 diabetes and improve the effects of diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved omega-3s for infant formulas because of the overwhelming evidence that it improves cognition and visual functioning in children. (A mother’s breast milk provides it naturally, especially when the mother regularly eats fish.)

Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease may also improve with omega-3 supplementation.

The studies are just beginning. More research needs to be done to understand who will benefit most from higher levels of omega-3s in their diets. Your genetics and environment play large roles in responsiveness to omega-3s. And while studies are very promising for a wide range of illnesses, the optimal amount of omega-3 and the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 are still hotly debated in the scientific community.

What isn’t debated is that adult women need at least1.1 grams of omega-3s daily, and adult men need 1.6 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board. Unfortunately, Americans don’t come even close to getting their omega-3 requirement. But they used to. Apparently, in humans’ earlier evolutionary stages, plenty of wild greens, lean animals which grazed on high omega-3 grasses, and fish high in omega-3s were consumed, and humans evolved a need for it.

But today, omega-3s have largely been replaced with omega-6s in vegetable oils, especially soybean oil, which is used in large doses in processed foods and fast foods. And no longer do our animals graze on high-omega-3 grasses, but on grains instead. This changes the fatty acid composition of the meat, to our detriment.

Most research studies have found a positive benefit with 500 to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s per day.The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends all adults eat a variety of fish, particularly oily fish, at least twice weekly, which would provide an average of 500 mg daily. For patients with coronary artery disease, AHA recommends 1,000 mg daily, or double the seafood requirement(but never above 3,000 mg without a doctor’s supervision).

Omega-3 supplements

Supplements are effective and may be used instead of eating the fish. Due to environmental pollutants found in fish, experts recommend women of childbearing age keep fish intake to no more than 12 ounces per week. But omega-3 researchers believe the risk of not getting enough omega-3 in your diet outweighs the potential risk of pollutants.

There are possible dangers to taking too much omega-3 supplement. The human inflammatory response results from a person’s immune system working, or overworking — meaning omega-3s are actually reducing your immune response when they reduce inflammation.

This suppression of the immune system could be an explanation for the recent possible connection between prostate cancer and high omega-3-fatty acid in the bloodstream. However, that is a single study and the issue needs more research.

With high doses of omega-3s, there is also a slight increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke or excessive bleeding. So, people with compromised immune systems should take large doses only with a doctor’s advice.

As usual, I have to underscore balance. It may be safer to stick with food sources and not supplements so you don’t go overboard and are more likely to stay in balance.

Studies of the vegetable source of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are promising and showing positive benefits. However, the nutrient — found in flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil — is not as potent as marine-derived omega-3 from fish. The body has to convert ALA into DHA and EPA, which means vegetable sources are less potent than fish oil. But, it’s still a great idea to include those sources in your diet.

KS

Labor Day Chickpea Veggie Salad Recipe- www.celebrations.com

There’s nothing quite like a satisfying side dish to accompany any traditional Labor Day picnic. Not only is this chickpea veggie salad delicious, but it’s also packed with loads of healthy ingredients.

Beyond it’s nutritional value, the best part are the festive colors that will pop on your dinner table!

Ingredients:

1 can garbanzo beans

4 ears of fresh corn cut off of the cob (or 1 can of corn)

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cups grape or cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber

1/2 cup fresh basil

1/2 cup parsley

Salt and/or fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

Rinse and drain garbanzo beans and corn. Pour into a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice.

Chop tomatoes and cucumber into mini pieces, then add to bowl.

Wash basil and parsley; dry completely. Finely chop herbs and add into bowl with other salad ingredients.

Put 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive in a small bowl; whisk together until combined. Pour dressing onto salad and gently mix together and add salt and/or pepper to taste.

Allow salad to marinate for about an hour before serving.