Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Posted from SuperFoodsRX.com

Wild Salmon - Superfood

Once upon a time (actually not very long ago), people came to believe that fat was a murderous monster and the ideal diet was completely devoid of daily fat whatsoever. It was the era of fat-free. Fat-free salad dressings, non-fat cakes and cookies, non-fat soups and casseroles. Even bottles of fruit juices proudly trumpeted “a fat-free food” on their labels. (Was there ever a fatty cranberry juice?) Why this fear of fat? It all started as a well-intentioned campaign to improve health. The second half of the twentieth century saw an alarming epidemic of heart disease. Countless studies sought reasons for this epidemic. It became clear that smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high-fat diet were linked to the rising tide of cardiovascular disease. The lesson was obvious: to reduce your risk of heart disease, a major killer, you should cut as much fat as possible out of your diet. Cholesterol became a household word and Americans became fat-phobic. 

It’s taken years for the more complicated and interesting truth to emerge. First, research indicating that all fat is not bad began to reach the public. We all needed an education in dietary fat and, bit by bit, we got one. In a nutshell, we learned that we derive four basic types of fat from food-saturated fat, trans-fat (partially hydrogenated oils), monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The news on saturated fat hasn’t changed: saturated fat—found primarily in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and some tropical oils—has well-established negative health effects, increasing your risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and obesity. One researcher, writing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, concluded that “reducing dietary intake of saturated fatty acids may prevent thousands of cases of coronary heart disease and save billions of dollars in related costs. There’s little positive about saturated fat and it should make up no more than 7 percent of your fat calories per day. 

Trans-fats—listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”—are also bad, probably even worse than saturated fat. Trans-fats were created by chemists seeking a fat that would store better than animal fats. They were an attempt to lengthen the shelf life of foodstuffs. 

Remember, there are good fats. The good guys in the fat family are the monounsaturated fats—the kinds found in olive and canola oils. These fats not only protect your cardiovascular system, they also lower the risk of insulin resistance, a physiologic state that can lead to diabetes and possibly cancer. 

Finally, we come to polyunsaturated fatty acids. Both omega-6 /linoleic, or LA, fat) and omega-3 (alpha linolenic, or ALA, fat) are so-called essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (EFAs). Our bodies cannot manufacture these two fats and therefore we must rely on dietary intake to avoid a deficiency in these essential (for life) fats. Omega-6 fatty acids are currently overabundant in the typical Western diet. They are present in corn, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower oils. Virtually no one in America is deficient in these ubiquitous fatty acids. If you look at almost any packaged food, you’re going to see one of these oils as an ingredient. 

Let’s look for a minute at the omega-3 class of polyunsaturated fat. Omega 3 fats come in two distinct forms: plant derived (ALA) and largely marine species derived (EPA/DHA). With each passing month, additional studies are being published about the health benefits of omega-3s. Unfortunately, many Americans are currently deficient in the omega-3 class of essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids—the ones that help make salmon a SuperFood—haven’t been included in adequate amounts in our diet, partly because of lack of knowledge on the part of the public and also because they’ve been “processed out” of our modern diet. This deficiency has long-term and disastrous health consequences for many people. Indeed, William S. Harris, writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has said: “In terms of its potential impact on health in the Western world, the Omega 3 story may someday be viewed as one of the most important in the history of modern nutritional science.” Dr. Evan Cameron, from the Linus Pauling Institute, has said: “Our epidemic of heart disease and cancer may be the result of a fish oil deficiency so enormous we fail to recognize it.” The bottom line: it’s not just okay to include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, it’s imperative to do so if you want to restore a critical balance in your body that is most likely out of whack. 

Enter salmon. Salmon is one of the richest, tastiest, readily available sources of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids. By including wild salmon in your diet two to four times a week you should achieve optimal protection against a multitude of diseases that have been associated with low intakes of these critical fats.

The Critical Balance of EFA's

The key to EFAs—as with so many health issues—is balance. Your body can’t function optimally without a balanced ratio of EFAs. The optimum balance of essential fatty acids is a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 that is somewhere between 1to 1 and 4 to I. Unfortunately, the typical Western diet contains fourteen to twenty-five times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. This unbalanced ratio that most of us live with determines myriad biochemical events that affect our health. For example, too much omega-6 (the oil that dominates our typical diet) promotes an inflammatory state, which in turn increases your risk for blood clots and narrowing of blood vessels.

We now also know that without sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids, the body cannot adequately build an ideal cell membrane. Membranes that are poorly constructed are not capable of optimizing cellular health, which in turn increases your risk for a host of health problems, including stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias, some forms of cancer, insulin resistance—which can lead to diabetes—asthma, hypertension, age-related macular degeneration, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPE), autoimmune disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression.

Benefits of Omega-3 Acids

People who eat diets with the optimum balance of essential fatty acids manage to avoid many common ailments. Eskimos in Greenland first brought attention to the question of fat in the diet because they had little heart disease despite a diet high in fat. It’s interesting to note that cultures that have high omega-3 consumption in fish have far less depression than those whose diet is dominated by omega-6 fatty acids. In fact, in one fascinating epidemiological study, fish consumption was the most significant variable in comparing levels of depression and coronary heart disease.

Prevent cancer. Research is just beginning to demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in preventing both breast and colon cancers.

Prevents age-related macular degeneration. In the Nurses’ Health Study, those who ate fish four or more times a week had a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration than those who ate three or fewer fish meals per month. The most prevalent fatty acid in our retina is DHA, and the primary dietary source of this “good fat” is salmon and other so-called heart-healthy fish. DHA also seems to reduce some of the adverse effects of sunlight on retinal cells.

Mitigate autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Raynaud’s disease. Researchers believe that the anti-inflammatory abilities of omega-3 fatty acids are what help reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases as well as prolong the survival of those who suffer from them. Multiple studies have substantiated these results.

Relieve depression and a host of mental health problems. Perhaps the most interesting research on omega-3 fatty acids involved their relationship to mental health ailments such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease. Our brains are surprisingly fatty: over 60 percent of the brain is fat. Omega-3 fatty acids promote the brain’s ability to regulate mood-related signals. They are a crucial constituent of brain-cell membranes and are needed for normal nervous system function, mood regulation, and attention and memory functions.

How Much Omega-3 Should You Eat

While we often think that if a little of something is good, a lot must be better, be cautious: too much omega-3 fatty acid can promote a risk of stroke by thinning the blood excessively. Bleeding time is prolonged with an intake of omega-3 fatty acids that exceeds 3 grams a day. (Greenland Eskimos who consume an average 10.5 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids have an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke.) Too-high a daily dose can also negatively affect your immune system.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academies, recently revised the recommended daily intake of ALA (plant-derived omega-3) to 1.6 grams for adult men and 1.1 grams for adult women. They didn’t feel it was possible to set an acceptable range for all omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA). They therefore recommended that a target amount of EPA or DHA is 160 milligrams a day for men and no milligrams a day for women.

A Fish Story

Wild salmon, and all fish for that matter, used to carry a reliable nutritional benefit.
The fish, in their natural habitat, love to eat zooplankton (tiny single-celled organisms), which are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. People who ate the fish thus delivered this healthy fat to their eagerly awaiting cells. Sadly, as the oceans have become over fished and polluted. This picture has changed. For one thing, U.S. Atlantic salmon are virtually extinct. (Most Atlantic salmon sold in the United States is farm raised.) Even worse from a health standpoint, some cold-water fish are contaminated with mercury. These include swordfish. shark, tilefish, and king mackerel. Avoid eating these fish.
Today, farmed fish have come to dominate many sectors of the market. You’ve no doubt noticed a wide variation in the price of salmon, from very inexpensive farmed salmon to very expensive, fresh Alaskan salmon. Many environmental groups are opposed to farm-raised salmon and there is some controversy about their omega-3 content, as they’re not always fed the marine diet that produces high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. In my opinion, the best salmon is U.S. Pacific wild Alaska salmon, whether it’s fresh, frozen, or canned. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies Alaska salmon as a “Best Environmental Choice.”
Other heart-healthy, environmentally safe seafood choices include the following: Arctic char, catfish (U.S. farmed), clams (farmed), crab (Dungeness), crayfish, halibut (Alaskan), herring, mahi mahi, mussels (farmed), sablefish, sardines, scallops (farmed), striped bass, and tilapia (farmed).

Wild Salmon to the Rescue

When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon is one simple answer. Add it to your diet. Wild salmon is delicious, high in protein, widely available in canned form, easy to prepare, and, more important, high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. If you eat wild salmon or other cold-water fish, like sardines or trout, two to four times a week, and incorporate some of the other recommendations in this section about the use of oils, you will rebalance” the ratio of fatty acids in your body and be on your way to vastly improving your cellular health. There’s ample evidence that including cold-water fish like wild salmon in your diet will have a positive effect on your short- and long-term health.

Shopping Tips

Most Americans don’t eat enough seafood—or enough of the right kind of seafood (fried shrimp does not count!). The reason is obvious: it’s not always easy to find good, fresh fish locally. Some of us have great local seafood markets: others are miles from any fresh fish outside a pet store. Here are two solutions: canned wild Alaskan salmon or canned Albacore tuna and/or frozen fish.
Canned wild Alaskan salmon can sit in your pantry for months. Canned sockeye salmon has 203 milligrams of calcium—17 percent of your daily requirement—as an added bonus if it’s canned with the bones; don’t worry, the fish has been cooked and the bones are so soft as to be unnoticeable. You can add the salmon to a green salad for a delicious light meal. You can make salmon-burgers out of it that are irresistible. Canned tuna is another good choice (although without the calcium boost). Just be sure to buy albacore tuna packed in spring water. Canned sardines are another excellent source of beneficial marine-derived fatty acids, vitamin D, plus the beneficial calcium from the hidden soft bones. Select sardines packed in tomato sauce for the added benefit of lycopene or soybean oil or olive oil.
If you’re a beginner at sardines, try the ones packed in olive oil; they have the best taste in my opinion.
Frozen fish can be an excellent alternative to fresh. Many stores— Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods—make a point of offering environmentally safe, high-EFA frozen fish. Just be sure to defrost it slowly in the refrigerator, to preserve texture and flavor.
Of course, fresh wild salmon, trout, or sea bass is also terrific. Get to know your fishmonger and don’t be shy about asking which is the freshest fish he has available.

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