Saturday, August 2, 2014

Upping the Omega-3s

Most of us could use some additional Omega-3s in our diets.  

Our bodies can produce many of the fats they need on their own.  However, Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two fats that we can only get from our diet. 

For health, a balance of these Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats is required.  In pre-industrial times this balance was easily achieved in the normal course of eating from the natural bounty of the earth.  However, as we began to manufacture food substances, the healthful balance of these two oils was interrupted.  We began to consume large quantities of processed vegetable oils which have more Omega-6.  In fact, in the typical Western diet, we get 4-5 times more Omega-6s than we should.  

When the two fats are out of balance, inflammation is created.  Omega-6s are pro-inflammation and Omega-3s are anti-inflammation.  Excessive inflammation can have many significant effects on the overall health of our body.  Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's and many types of cancer are thought to be caused by inflammation.  

A diet that increases the Omega-3s and reduces the Omega-6s is helpful in decreasing inflammation and the risk of disease that it causes.  Overall, it is not a good idea to eat a lot of Omega-6s and then compensate by eating lot's of Omega-3s, too. What we want to do is keep overall fat consumption somewhat low but increase our consumption of Omega-3s.

How do we reduce our Omega-6s?  Omega-6s are found in processed vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn, sunflower and cottonseed.  These oils are used in manufactured food everywhere (and many of them are GMO, to boot!)  In order to avoid them, we need to eat real food ...

This means eating food that farmers make, not food that manufacturers make.  

Cook at home, shop the outside of the supermarket or your local farmer's market and avoid all processed and fast foods.  Importantly, make your own salad dressings and mayonnaise as processed vegetable oils with their high levels of omega-6s are commonly used in most pre-made dressings.  

How do we get our Omega 3s?  Eating a lot of cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna and trout can help.  Eating about 1/2 pound of fish per week should do the trick.  However, because of the high mercury and pesticide levels in fish, it is inadvisable to eat any more than that.  Many people prefer to take a daily supplement of fish or krill oil rather than consume the fish.  

Also, several oils contain Omega-3s but flax seed oil is by far the most significant source.  Flax oil is a delicious oil but it is delicate and goes rancid quickly.  Consuming rancid oils creates dangerous free radicals and that completely defeats the health promoting purpose of eating more  Omega-3's.  Be sure to buy flax oil cold-pressed, packaged in a light-blocking container and to keep it refrigerated. 

You can also get your flax oil in supplement form, however, there is some research that indicates that the omega-3s are more readily absorbed by the body in food form.  My thinking is always, "Why would you take a pill when there is a delicious food you can eat and enjoy instead?"

You only need to consume about a tablespoon of flax seed oil per day to increase your Omega-3s.  

Unfortunately, flax oil is expensive.  Luckily, you can combine it with olive oil.  Olive oil is low in omega-3s but also in omega 6s so it does not disturb the delicate balance between the two.  It is an oil that is beneficial and has been safely consumed for several thousand years. 

The benefits of flax oil are lost when it is heated so it is best to use it in cold foods or to add it on warm foods that have already been prepared.  Drizzle it over your morning eggs or hot whole grain cereal.  You can pour a little into a bowl of soup just as you serve it or use it to top lentils and other beans.   Many entrees will benefit from a little flax oil poured over the top.  

Of course, one of the best ways to eat flax oil is in dressings with salads.  In the recipes below, I've stretched the flax oil with olive oil in an effort to keep the price appropriate for most budgets.  The two oils together are not only healthy, affordable, but delicious as well.   

Mixed greens and amaranth leaves with farmer's market tomatoes, cucumbers and salad dressing with flax oil.

Salad Dressing with Flax Oil

2 T olive oil
1 T flax oil
1 1/2 t apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 t lemon juice
1 t Dijon
1 T finely chopped shallots
1/2 t dried dill
1/8-1/4 t finely ground sea salt
1/8 t finely ground black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients.

Omega-3 Plus Caesar Salad Dressing

Anchovies are one of the fish that are high in Omega-3s.  If you like them, use them.  If not, the dressing is delicious without them.

In a food processor combine:

6 anchovy fillets packed in oil (optional)
1 small garlic clove
pinch of sea salt
2 Omega-3 egg yolks
2 T fresh lemon juice
3/4 t Dijon mustard

Process until combined.  Add drop by drop with blades whirling:

2 T olive oil
2 T flax seed oil

If you are avoiding or healing inflammation, you may not be eating dairy.  If so, do not add Parmesan cheese.  The dressing is fine without it.  If you include dairy foods in your diet, add 3 T finely grated Parmesan.

Season with freshly ground pepper.

For the salad, mix romaine lettuce with your choice of a super green (chard, beet greens, kale, spinach, amaranth, quinoa, arugula, mizuna etc.)  If you are healing inflammation, you are probably avoiding wheat so create croutons using gluten-free bread or home-made coconut/flax bread.  Just cut the bread into squares and saute gently in olive oil or butter along with a little sea salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence or Italian herb blend.

Another alternative to croutons is to top the salad with nicoise olives and organic chicken.

Finally, below is a mayonnaise recipe which has been adapted to include flax oil.

Homemade Mayonnaise 

2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 T Dijon mustard
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
2 cups of oil total--At least 3/4 cup must be canola or best-quality olive oil (olive oil mayonnaise has a strong taste)  The rest can be flax oil, or you can use as little as 1/2 cup flax oil out of the total 2 cups.

1.  Combine egg yolks, whole egg, mustard and salt and pepper and half the lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process for one minute.

2.  With the motor running, dribble in 3/4 cup of the canola or olive oil in a slow steady stream.  Dribble in remaining oil while continuing to process.  When all the oil is in, shut motor off and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula.

3.  Taste the mayonnaise.  Correct seasoning if necessary; if you are using canola oil, you will probably need the remaining lemon juice.  Scrape mayonnaise into a storage container, cover and refrigerate.  Mayonnaise will keep safely for at least 5 days.  Let it return to room temperature before stirring.

Makes 3 cups

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