I really can’t believe we are this deep into 2017, can you? Seven months down means seven healthy eating goals down in the Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge, as well. If you’ve been following along, I hope it’s been a worthwhile journey for you.
Earlier this month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that making small, positive dietary changes can make a big impact in your health. They found that for every 20 percent increase in diet quality (the link above mentions the tools they used to do this), there was an 8-17% reduced risk of dying over a 12 year period. What's a 20% increase in diet quality, you ask? In an example given by the researchers, simply swapping out one portion of meat per day with plant-based proteins like nuts or legumes is a 20% increase in diet quality. That’s not a drastic change, is it? Don’t worry, we don’t really need to get too caught up in what individual healthy eating habits account for in terms of percentage changes, that was just for the purpose of the study. What’s important is that simple changes can make a big difference. I like this study because it illustrates that your diet doesn’t need change drastically in order for you to benefit. Every step matters in this journey to healthy eating. Awesome news, isn’t it. This ties into the whole idea behind the Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge - in that making small, sustainable changes each month will make a big impact in the long term.
Let’s get back the challenge itself and take a look at July’s goal of getting (or staying) hydrated. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, summer is upon us and it’s a great time to step up our hydration game. The hot weather sort of makes us have to stay on top of it, doesn’t it? While water should be our drink of choice, other fluids like milk (cow’s or plant-based), coffee, tea, 100% fruit juice (*keep to ½ cup serving per day), carbonated water, as well as many fruits and veggies all can contribute to our overall hydration. Some ways I find helpful in ensuring that my family and I stay hydrated in the summer (and all year round, too) include:
- Keeping a jug of water in the fridge, easily accessible and front-and-center.
- Bringing ice cold water bottles with us when we are out and about.
- Filling the fridge with high water content fruits and veggies, such as watermelon, strawberries, oranges, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
- Snacking on frozen fruits such as blueberries and grapes.
- Having a cup of water (or other fluid) with each meal and snack.
- Infusing water (whether regular or carbonated) with fruits such as cucumber, strawberry, lemon/lime, berries, or herbs. You can really get creative with this one.
- Make ½ your plate veggies at lunch and dinner. Eating more (non-starchy) vegetables by default causes you to up your fluid intake.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS ON KEEPING HYDRATED? WHAT DO YOU DO?
NOW ONTO AUGUST’S CHALLENGE…
August Challenge: Get Your Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fats are an important group of polyunsaturated fats (the name omega 3 denotes part of their chemical structure). Although our body has the ability to make some types of fats from scratch, these omega-3 fats are not among them. They need to be obtained through diet. This makes it essential that we choose food sources of these fats. If you’ve ever heard the term essential fatty acids, this refers to exactly that.
The omega-3 fats that we are most concerned with are:
- Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
The quick and dirty of these omega-3 fats is that ALA is a plant derived, while EPA and DHA are found in marine animals. ALA can also be used to make EPA and DHA within the human body. That being said, the conversion ratio from ALA to EPA and DHA isn’t very high. So although our body can technically make EPA and DHA, it can only do so in very little quantities. What’s more, is that over consumption of other fats (namely omega-6 fats, found in a number of vegetable oils and products made with them) can hinder the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. For these reasons, we consider EPA and DHA to be conditionally essential, in other words we can make them but in order to get enough for your body it is best to obtain them through our diet, as well.
What’s all the fuss about these fats anyway? One of the most significant functions of omega-3 fats is their role in the anti-inflammatory pathway. That is, omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties, they are fighters of inflammation. While some inflammation is needed in the body (as part of our body’s healing process), sometimes inflammation within the body can get a little carried away. Many disease processes trigger the body’s inflammatory pathway or are characterized by chronic, low level inflammation. The theory behind dietary omega-3s is that if the diet is sufficient in them, the body’s anti-inflammatory pathways can be given a boost.
- Omega-3 fats are a component of cell membranes.
- DHA is involved with both visual and neurological development, and is found in high concentrations in the retina and the brain’s grey matter.
- Omega-3 fats are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- ALA intake is associated with a lower C-reactive protein (CRP) level, a marker of inflammation.
- Omega-3 fats may help lower blood triglycerides.
- May be associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline.
- May be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
- May decrease risk of ischemic stroke.
- Omega-3 fats are involved with blood clotting.
- Omega-3 fats are involved with fertility, cell division and growth.
*it should be noted that, like many areas of nutrition research, there is an abundance of conflicting studies on the benefits of omega-3 fats, from both diet and supplements (hence the conditional word may in the above statements). That being said, a Cochrane Review of the evidence on omega-3s concludes that there isn’t enough evidence to advise people to stop taking supplements or including dietary sources of omega-3’s in their diet. There likely is a benefit, or in least in some people there is a benefit to ensuring adequate omega-3 fats.
Omega 3 fats, and in particular the longer chain EPA and DHA fats, can be sort of tricky to obtain. They are certainly less abundant than omega-6 fats (found cooking oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean) and saturated fats (found in animal products and coconut oil).
Sources of ALA include:
- Flaxseed oil
- Ground flaxseed
- Chia seeds
- Walnut oil
- Canola oil
- Radish sprouts
- Wheat germ
Sources of EPA and DHA include:
- Omega-3 fortified eggs (with DHA)
For those of you who consume fish, it really is the best way to ensure you get adequate omega-3 fats, especially those sought after ones, EPA and DHA. It is recommended to have two servings of fish each week (emphasis on those fish listed above) in order to obtain a sufficient omega 3 level. Remember canned, fresh or frozen fish will work to get those omega-3 fats. Just do what works best for you in terms of cooking ease, accessibility and preference.
For those of you who prefer plant-based sources, the focus should be on obtaining ALA so that your body will be able to convert some of the ALA into EPA and DHA. Both flaxseed oil and chia seeds are quite a rich source of ALA (at 1 tablespoon and 1 oz, respectively) and can easily be added into meals to boost their omega 3 content. Including these two sources of plant-based ALA regularly in your diet will give you a huge leg up in your quest for omega 3s.
ARE YOU FOLLOWING ALONG WITH THIS CHALLENGE? MAKE SURE TO CHECK BACK ON THE BLOG AND FACEBOOK PAGE ALL MONTH LONG FOR CHALLENGE RELATED ARTICLES AND TIPS.
REMEMBER TO TAG YOUR PHOTOS ON SOCIAL MEDIA WITH #JOURNEYTOHEALTHYEATING.
Stay tuned for next month’s Challenge!
INTERESTED IN THE PREVIOUS MONTH'S CHALLENGES?
- Find January's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find February's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find March's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find April's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find May's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find June's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find July's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.