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Nutrition Essentials for Feeling Good

Alpha and Omega: The Essential Fats for the Brain
Now that you understand the value of essential amino acids derived from protein, let's take a look at essential fatty acids, which are mainly derived from oils, seeds, and fish. Fatty acids are the molecular components of fats and oils. They come in several categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. We're going to focus on the healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids from which vital omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are derived.

Most people aren't aware that certain fats are vital to health. The essential fatty acids produce hormones called eicosanoids, which are necessary for many chemical processes within the body. They stimulate the immune system, fight inflammation, and support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. In fact, fats comprise 60 percent of the brain, and the essential fats make a big difference in brain cell communication, powerfully affecting mind and mood.

The popularity of very low- to non-fat diets in recent years has actually contributed to a whole host of problems, from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and infertility to depression and anxiety, and even to premature aging. About 30 percent of the calories in your diet should come from beneficial fat. While the bad fats can be incorporated into the brain, they are not functional and can actually numb your thinking processes and worsen your mood; therefore, it's important to avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats in the forms of meat, dairy products, and junk foods.

For optimal brain function, you need the polyunsaturated oils, the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), in a ratio of 1:1 and 1:2, respectively. The typical modern diet, though, is usually far too high in omega-6 oils (more like 1:20 to 1:30). The omega-6 oils are found in meats, milk, vegetable oils, seeds (sesame, hemp, sunflower, and pumpkin), and nuts, so getting enough is less of a problem in the average diet. Most of us have to work to ensure our intake of omega-3s, found in flaxseeds and in fish, especially fatty cold-water fish such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon.

For an adequate omega-3 supply, you should have a serving of fatty fish three times a week or 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (combined) daily. If you are a strict vegetarian, you should take a teaspoon of flaxseed oil daily or a heaping tablespoon of seeds every day – half flaxseeds, and half sesame, sunflower, hemp, and pumpkin-seed mix, ground up in a coffee grinder to release the nutrients within. To ensure freshness, keep them in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. Sprinkle the mixture over cereal or add it to a shake.

You can also buy organic cold-pressed seed oil blends that provide both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and use in salad dressings or on just-cooked vegetables instead of butter. Don't use these polyunsaturated oils for frying, as this will denature them.

Phospholipids: The Insulation Experts
Another family of "intelligent" fat in your brain, the phospholipids phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidyl serine, forms the insulating layer, or myelin sheath, that covers all nerve cells. They also enhance your mood and mental performance, protecting against age-related memory decline and Alzheimer's disease.

Although the body can make them, getting extra phospholipids from food is highly beneficial. Egg yolk is the richest source of phospholipids in the average diet. But since egg phobia set in, amid fears that dietary cholesterol was a major cause of heart disease, the average intake of phospholipids dropped dramatically. (The American Heart Association now states that you can eat up to seven eggs a week.) Significantly, cases of Alzheimer's disease have sky-rocketed.

Lecithin is an excellent source of phospholipids and is widely available in health food stores as either granules or capsules. The easiest and cheapest way is to add lecithin to your diet is to sprinkle a tablespoon of lecithin granules or a heaping teaspoon of high-PC lecithin on your cereal or add it to your protein drink in the morning. Or you can take four lecithin capsules providing 1,200 mg each. By the way, lecithin doesn't make you fat. In fact, quite the opposite occurs: it helps your body to metabolize fat.

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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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