(First featured on Onya-Mag Website)
Welcome back to our series, Feed Your Brain. I bet you are feeling better simply from following the tips from Part 1 ??
Here I continue to explore more of the essential nutrients that contribute to an optimally healthy brain, thus, healthy MIND…
2) Essential Fats –
Without doubt the most important type of fat to the brain, and thus mind, are Omega 3 fatty acids.
As a dietitian knowing this, it is really concerning for me to consider just HOW many people I see that are NOT getting in their minimal requirement of this essential nutrient, especially children.
Available in their most bio-available form from fatty fish, Omega 3’s are one of the most deficient nutrients in today’s diet, significantly impacting our mental health as a society.
For an adequate intake, it is recommended that we eat at least 140g of fatty fish per week.
This is incredibly easy if we look at the opportunities available at breakfast, lunch AND dinner.
Sardines on toast are a delicious start to the day (and also provide one of the highest doses of calcium per serve); tinned mackerel on a salad or veggies is a satisfying (and QUICK!) lunch and grilled salmon, sweet potato wedges and vegies is a lip-smacking dinner!
Lots of people initially come to me claiming their absolute distaste of fish – even to the point of gagging at the mere thought. However, with time and coaxing that we essentially “train our tastebuds”, these once avid fish-haters, become self-professing fish lovers.
Check out two of my (and my clients!) FAVOURITE fish recipes that end up converting many ”fish-haters”:
But, what if, you are VEGAN and, or, more environmentally aware and thus concerned at the sustainability of this animal source of Omega 3 fatty acids?
This is a dilemma and challenge I have encountered of late. Without going into all the nitty-gritty detail, let me summarise here the low down on how to get your EFA’s without eating “Food with Faces” (as my Vegan friends term it).
As I mentioned earlier, animal sources of omega 3’s are generally thought to be much more effective in providing our bodies and brains with ideal levels of these fats, than plant sources. This is because plants contain the short-chain version of these fatty acids, which require conversion into long-chain versions.
When we eat animal sources, the conversion is done for us.
Since the conversion process in humans is considered extremely slow and only about 2% of that ingested in is fact converted, there is concern that vegetarians may not get adequate amounts.
Evidence supports that vegetarians and vegans often have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies than meat or fish eaters, however, there is no evidence that vegetarians’ or vegans’ health is in any way affected by these lower levels – in fact, they are widely considered to be healthier than meat eaters.
Clearly, there is a need for more research and as far as I can see, as long as you get plenty of your plant sources of these fats, then there is no need for concern, in fact you may have reason to be extra-stoked with your health!
So where can you get rich, plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids?
Without doubt, one of the richest vegetarian sources is flaxseed oil.
There are so many ways to enjoy this yummy oil in your daily diet.
Try using it in place of olive oil to make salad dressings (do not cook with it as it is highly volatile and its beneficial fats will be damaged, and can even become damaging to the body when ingested), add it to smoothies, or drizzle over cooked vegies.
Ground flaxseeds are another great source, again highly diverse in use – sprinkle over cereals, add to smoothies, make flax-crackers, etc.
Walnuts are another warrior food in this department. Add to salads, serve with some almonds and cashews for a brilliant arvo snack, use in baking, add to stir-fries. The possibilities are endless.
Some less conventional, yet becoming more popular, vegan sources include hemp seed and algae based supplements (chlorella or spirulina).
You can include a sprinkle of spirulina in vegie juices, or green smoothies, or perhaps make some yummy spirulina balls. A tub I had once suggested taking it in water before meals, and just out of curiosity I tried this for the first time whilst writing this article…interesting. Definitely an acquired taste!
In any case, it is a FANTASTICALLY concentrated source of brain loving Omega 3’s so it’s a great vegan option.
Oh! And we mustn’t forget simple, yet brilliant, leafy greens.
Although in much smaller amounts, they are still an important source of these fats for us all.
Think broccoli, spinach, asian greens, kale, rocket, etc. As many of you will know, I use these delights as the base for my super yummy vegetable salads VERY regularly.
Finely chopped and tossed with other colourful, fresh, raw, steamed, baked, roasted vegies, these are truly divine.
As always the key lies in using our IMAGINATION. Let us be creative!
In summary, this ONE habit of including more Omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, is a simple change that offers magically profound potential to positively affect the way a person thinks, feels and acts.
No matter your choice of sources, simply re-work your weekly plan to include as much as you can.
Give this one habit a go for at least 3 weeks and see what changes you notice.
Get your MasterChef on and take up the INVENTION challenge to see how you can incorporate and disguise these brain-loving morsels into your week.
I would love to hear any great ideas you come up with! Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in health and happiness,
Dietitian and Healthy Lifestylist
Writer, Speaker, Consultant