Brain Fuel, the Omega Boosters
Still ringing true in evidence-based reports today, even the earliest clinical descriptions noted the overwhelming presence of depression and anxiety co-occurring with eating disorders (Bulik, 2002). What if some of the depression and anxiety that surfaces with the eating disorder could be alleviated by improving nutrition? Lyon (n.d.) claims that nutrition is vital to recovery from an eating disorder and that malnutrition can make recovery oriented decisions even more challenging for the brain. Just imagine if a lot of the mental turmoil and emotional misery you experience while active in your eating disorder has little to do with WHO YOU ARE and more to do with WHAT YOU DO and DO NOT EAT.
Essential Fatty Acids
Because EFA's are not manufactured by the body, we must consume them through our diet. We need a healthy balance of both omega-6 and omega-3 EFA's in order to build, maintain, and repair our beloved brain cells! "Health experts recommend an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of about 4:1" (Brown, 2012).
We do not hear much concern about omega-6 EFA's, because most Americans get sufficient intake of omega-6 through safflower, sunflower, corn, and sesame oils, which are present in many processed foods. Avocados, poultry, pork, eggs, and many nuts are additional omega-6 sources. If restricting dietary fats is a behavior of your eating disorder, you may need to be mindful of consuming more of these healthy fats, too.
In addition to the clear benefits for brain health, research also suggests omega-3 EFA's support lowered risk of chronic diseases and conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and arthritis (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011). The current dietary recommendations are to consume between 7-11 grams of omega-3's a week, or at least 1 gram a day. You may be surprised how easy this can be: ¼ tsp. flax seed oil or 1 Tbsp. walnuts.
Omega-3 Nutritional Boosters
Fish: Cold water and oily fish are excellent sources. Try salmon, mackerel, sardines, swordfish, bluefish, cod, crab, scallops, albacore tuna, lake trout, & herring.
Eggs: Free range eggs. When hens are able to roam the pasture, they are able to forage greens and insects, making them a good source of omega-3 for vegetarians and those who do not like fish. *Mirasol residents gather their own free range eggs from the Mirasol hens!
Flax Eggs: Flax eggs are a vegan egg substitute made by whisking or blending 3 Tbsp. water into 1 Tbsp. flax meal. Due
to the nutty flavor, they are best used when preparing baked goods like brownies, muffins, and quick breads.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are easy to add to your diet. Toss walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds into your trail mix, yogurt, cereal, and baked goods to get a crunchy omega-3 boost. Ground flax meal can be added to cereals, yogurt, smoothies, baking mixes, meatloaf, and even egg salad.
Oils: Experiment with new oils by making your own salad dressings. You can also add oil to smoothies for a nutritious snack. Try flaxseed oil, walnut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, olive oil, hemp oil, and cod liver oil.
Beans: Soybeans are a good source of omega-3 for vegetarians, as is tofu! Hummus makes a great omega-packed snack thanks to the tahini (ground sesame seed paste).
Plants: Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, kale, collard greens, basil, sea vegetables, and algae all have small amounts of omega-3. Even papaya makes the list!
Supplements: A lot of foods are fortified with flaxseeds these days, so be on the lookout for these new choices! If you feel your diet may be lacking in EFA's, there are many supplements in capsule or liquid form that you can take, including vegan options. Please consult your healthcare provider to discuss what options, if any, are best for you.
1. For individuals taking blood thinning, diabetes, or anti-inflammatory medications, supplementation could be contraindicated. Please discuss with your physician before making any significant dietary changes or before taking oral supplements.
2. Most vegetarian sources of omega-3 contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body must convert to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for maximum benefit (Brown, 2012). This processing requires additional metabolic work, which may be of concern for those re-nourishing. Fish and fish oil are already in DHA form and may be more efficient sources, but for those who dislike or do not wish to eat fish, with a little creativity and planning, you can meet your needs through plant-based sources.
Tufts University Tables of Omega-3 Foods by Grams
Brown, E. N. (2012). Omega 3's: 8 vegetarian ways to sneak more into your diet. [Online Article]
Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/omega-3-vegetarian- vegan_n_1299283.html#s722321&title=Brussels_Sprouts on July 12, 2012.
Bulik, C. M. (2002). Anxiety, Depression, and Eating Disorders. In Fairburn, C. & Brownell, K. D.
(Eds.), Eating disorders and obesity: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.). (pp. 193-198).
New York: Guilford Press.
Goncalves, C. G., Ramos, E.J., Suzuki, S., & Meguid, M.M. (2005). Omega-3 fatty acids and
anorexia. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 8(4), 403-407.
Lyon, T (n.d.). From food as nourishment to food as dominate force. [Online Article]
Retrieved from: http://www.optimaleating.com/articles/tami.htm on July 11, 2012.
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids. [Online Article]
Retried from: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm on
July 11, 2012.