As I wrote in my last blog on Omega-3s, the food we eat clearly acts like a drug and impacts our health. There’s wisdom in the adage, ‘we are what we eat.’ So what can we do to make dietary changes that can improve both our physical and mental health?
First, let’s go into a bit more depth about why Omega-3 is so important. The key to why it can help eradicate so many problems is due to its balancing effect against Omega-6 fatty acids (note: this is why the Mediterranean diet is so effective). Over the past century, our Western diet has seen a shift in this ratio between the two. With all the processed foods, vegetable oil, and polyunsaturated fats we now consume, the amount of omega-6 we ingest has skyrocketed in the past several generations. Concurrently, our intake of omega-3 foods like wild salmon, cod, sardines, and the like has declined. It’s important to stress that Omega-6 foods are not unhealthy for us; in fact, they are essential for our health. But what we really need to focus on is the ratio between Omega-6 foods and Omega-3s. A lowered ratio is more desirable and has been shown to have less adverse effects on our health. Udo Erasmus, touted as the world’s leading expert on oils in nutrition, has found in his practice that a ratio of 2:1 (two parts Omega-3 to 1 part Omega-6) has yielded the best results for his patients. Our Western diet currently has an average ratio of of 1:10 to 1:20 (favoring Omega-6)!! Can you see why our health is declining so rapidly?!
So what does this have to do with mental health, you ask? A lot! Not only does our current out of balance ratios affect cardiovascular health, inflammatory diseases, and autoimmune disorders, but it has been clearly linked to depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, dementia, autism, dyslexia, and aggression. The less Omega-3s we have in our system, the more out of whack our bodies become. The higher the ratio, the more inflammation begins to set in. You might be familiar with Daniel Amen and his Brain series. One of the treatments he emphasizes as well is, surprise surprise, Omega-3 supplements. The last point I want to stress is that inflammation is certainly more complex than just the interaction between Omega-3s and 6-s; however, this is an important underpinning to wellness.
So what can you do?
- Start by educating yourself on anti-inflammation. Read Mark Hyman’s book, The UltraMind Solution, Barry Sears’ The Anti-Inflammation Zone (or others in his Zone series), or Andrew Weil’s, Healthy Aging. Dr. Weil has also revamped the food pyramid to create one that is anti-inflammatory-friendly.
- You can find more about Dr. Hyman’s UltraMind meal plan on his blog here. I can’t recommend his work enough.
- Add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet starting today, and become more conscious of lowering your ratio between Omega-6 rich foods and oils to Omega-3s. Here’s a pragmatic site that can help with dietary changes. You can lose weight, feel more mentally balanced, and have more energy just by making small, simple adjustments.You don’t need to go on any extreme diet to notice fairly immediate results. And remember, yo-yo dieting doesn’t work!
- Moderate exercise (even in 10 minute chunks) can really boost your results as well. And, like you’ve heard all your life: drink plenty of water and get plenty of rejuvenating rest. These are staples for a reason!
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals every few hours instead of larger, less frequent ones. Keep healthy snacks near you throughout the day (e.g., nuts, small veggies).
- Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. If you can, try to buy organic, especially for those foods that tend to soak up pesticides.
- When eating meals, always strive for balance. Dr. Sears’ Zone Diet, for example, emphasizes a 40:30:30 ratio (carbs, proteins, and fats, respectively). The more you can keep your insulin and glucagon (think: insulin’s opposite) levels in balance, the more your blood glucose concentration stays within the normal range and, hence, less inflammation.
How do you improve your diet if you’re on a strict budget? Here’s some tips from Dr. Amen.
And as with any change, either in diet or by adding supplements, I encourage you to consult your primary care physician first. A dietician/nutritionist can also help guide you with adjustments that will be more tailored with your particular needs.
Here’s to your health!