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Focus: Why do we need omega-3 fatty acids?

The focus of Week 3 is to eat more omega-3-rich foods. Omega-3s are fatty acids that have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. They can reduce inflammation throughout the body, keep your blood from excessively clotting, and maintain the fluidity of your cells. When people are deficient in omega-3s they may more frequently experience heart disease, arthritis, and depression; they may also experience dry skin and brittle hair and nails. So ensuring that you get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by eating fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetables is important to your health and how radiant you look.

This week you'll learn more about omega-3-rich foods, the difference between wild vs. farmed salmon, and how to choose fish in light of mercury contamination issues. You'll also learn preparation techniques for foods included in this week's menu, including salmon, arugula, butternut squash, kale, apples, flaxseeds, and more.

The Menu for Week 3 includes recipes that feature creative ways of enjoying omega-3-rich foods throughout your meal. It can be enjoyed as lunch or dinner.

Week 3 Menu:
  • "Quick Broiled" Salmon with Mustard
  • Arugula Salad with Walnut Croutons
  • Mediterranean Feast: 7-Minute "Healthy Steamed" Winter Squash and Kale with Ground Flaxseeds
  • 10-Minute Apple Sundae
  • Healthy Lifestyle Tea

7-Minute "Quick Broiled" Salmon with Mustard Sauce

This recipe is featured on page 481 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.

  1. Preheat the broiler and place an all stainless steel skillet (be sure that the handle is also stainless steel) or cast iron pan under the heat for about 10 minutes to get it very hot. The pan should be about 5 to 7 inches from the heat source.
  2. While the pan is heating, chop or press garlic and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Letting it sit before cooking helps to preserve its heal-promoting phytonutrients.
  3. Rub salmon with 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper and coat with mustard. You can "Quick Broil" with the skin on—it just takes a minute or two longer. The skin will peel right off after cooking.
  4. Using a hot pad, pull pan away from heat and place salmon on the hot pan, skin side down. Return to broiler. Keep in mind that it is cooking rapidly on both sides, so it will be done very quickly, usually in 7 minutes, depending on thickness. Test with a fork for doneness. It will flake easily when it is cooked. Salmon is best when it is still pink inside.

Preparation Tip: Salmon

Cooking salmon with the skin on will help to keep it moist. It is best to cook the salmon with the skin side down. After the salmon is done cooking, the skin can be easily removed with a fork. While some people like to eat the skin of fish and it is a nutrient-rich portion of the fish (containing, for example, important concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids), it's best to only do so if you are sure that the fish came from clean waters, since the skin can be a source of contaminants.

To remove the bones from salmon fillets: Lay salmon fillet skin side down and run your fingers along the flesh in both directions until you locate the line of bones. Pull bones out one at a time with fingers or tweezers. Cut fillet into desired size.

Preparation Tip: Quick Broil

To "Quick Broil," you want to first preheat the broiler. It heats up very quickly so you don't have to have the broiler on for very long. Place stainless steel skillet (with steel handle) or cast iron skillet under broiler to get it hot. Preheating the pan allows the fish, meat, or poultry that is being "Quick Broiled" to cook on both sides at one time. Because the pan is so hot, it immediately seals the fish or meat on the bottom to retain the juices and keeps it from sticking to the pan. For more on "Quick Broil," see page 60 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.


Preparation Tip: Lemon juice

Rinse lemon before cutting. It's best to juice a lemon when it's at room temperature since it produces more juice when it is not cold. Roll the lemon under the palm of your hand on a flat surface to extract more juice. Cut the lemon in half, removing the visible seeds from the fruit.You can juice the lemon using a juicer or reamer, or squeezing it by hand.

Preparation Tip: Garlic

Separate the individual cloves by placing bulb on cutting board and gently, but firmly, applying pressure with the palm of your hand at an angle. This will cause the layers of skin that hold the bulb together to separate. Alternatively, you can insert a knife between the individual cloves to separate them from the rest of the bulb.

To peel the skin off of the clove, place the side of a chef's knife on it and give it a quick whack with the palm of your hand. This will loosen the skin so you can easily remove it.

Slice the garlic into 1/16-inch pieces. Then cut across the slices of garlic using a rocking motion with your knife, chopping it into the desired size. For minced garlic, chop fine.

Let garlic sit for 5-10 minutes before incorporating it into recipe to allow the conversion of the maximum amount of garlic's sulfur-containing phytonutrients to occur. This will greatly enhance its health-promoting benefits. You'll notice that as you let it sit, its notably pungent aroma appears; that's because the same compounds responsible for its health benefits are also responsible for its famous smell and flavor. For more information on the importance of letting garlic sit before cooking it or eating it, see page 261 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.


Arugula Salad with Walnut Croutons

This recipe is featured on page 531 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.
  1. Press garlic and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Slice onion thin and soak in hot water and vinegar while preparing the rest of the salad. This will make the onion sweeter. Letting onions sit for 5-10 minutes before eating them will help to promote the activity of its health-promoting phytonutrients.
  3. Whisk together the dressing ingredients, adding olive oil at the end, a little at a time.
  4. Wash and dry arugula. Squeeze out excess water from onions. Combine onions and arugula and toss with dressing. Sprinkle salad with walnuts just before serving. Top with cheese (optional).

Preparation Tip: Onion

Cut onion in half so that each piece will contain part of the root. Peel the onion. Place peeled onion half on cutting board. If you use your right hand to cut, have the root end to your left and the flat-edge end to the right. Thinly slice the onion and then place it in the hot water and vinegar mixture.

To chop onions place a peeled onion half in front of you with the root end away from you and slice the onion from side to side just short of the root end, leaving it intact. The slices can be made large or small depending on the size cut you want to end up with. Slice horizontally through the slices two to three times, again leaving the root intact. Slice the onion crosswise down through the other cuts. The onion will fall into pieces.

Let the onion sit for 5 minutes before incorporating it into recipe to allow the conversion of the maximum amount of onion's sulfur-containing phytonutrients to occur. This will greatly enhance its health-promoting benefits. You'll notice that as you let it sit, its notably eye-watering aroma appears; that because the same compounds responsible for its health benefits are also responsible for its smell and flavor. For more information on the importance of letting onions sit before cooking them or eating them, see page 276 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Preparation Tip: Arugula

Trim the roots of the arugula, separate the leaves and then place them in a large bowl of tepid water, swishing them around with your hands to dislodge any dirt. Remove the leaves from the water, refill the bowl with clean water, and repeat this process until no dirt remains in the water (usually about two to three times will do the trick).

For more on preparing delicious salads, see page 140 of The World's Healthiest Foods book

Preparation Tip: Lemon juice

Rinse lemon before cutting. It's best to juice a lemon when it's at room temperature since it produces more juice when it is not cold. Roll the lemon under the palm of your hand on a flat surface to extract more juice. Cut the lemon in half, removing the visible seeds from the fruit. You can juice the lemon using a juicer or reamer, or squeezing it by hand.

Mediterranean Feast: 7-Minute
"Healthy Steamed" Winter Squash and,
Kale Topped with Ground Flaxseed

This recipe is featured on page 277 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.
  1. Fill bottom of steamer with 2 inches of water.
  2. While steam is building up in steamer, slice kale leaves into 1/2-inch slices and kale stems into 1/4-inch slices. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking to enhance the activity of its health-promoting phytonutrients.
  3. Chop garlic and let it sit for at least 5 minutes before cooking so that its phytonutrients become more active.
  4. Cut winter squash into 1-inch cubes.
  5. Steam winter squash (with cover on) for 2 minutes and then add the kale and cooked for 5 more minutes.
  6. While vegetables are steaming, grind flaxseeds in coffee or spice grinder.
  7. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. For more flavor, toss kale and winter squash with the remaining dressing ingredients while they are still hot. (Mediterranean Dressing does not need to be made separately.) Sprinkle flaxseeds on top.

Preparation Tip: Butternut Squash

Rinse butternut squash under cold running water before cutting it. To cut the butternut squash into 1-inch cubes, first cut it in half between the neck and the bulb. This makes peeling, which can be done with a potato peeler or knife, easier (Like kabocha squash, butternut squash doesn't need to be peeled although many people like to do so.) Cut bulb in half and scoop out seeds. Slice into 1-inch slices and make 1-inch cuts across slices for 1-inch cubes. Cut neck in half and slice each half of neck into 1-inch thick slices. Turn the slices and make 1-inch strips across the slices. Finally cut across the strips for 1-inch cubes.

Preparation Tip: Kale

Before cleaning kale, discard damaged and discolored leaves. Rinse kale under cold running water before cutting. To preserve nutrients, do not soak kale or the water-soluble nutrients will leach into the water.

Stack the kale leaves, cutting horizontally across the leafy portion cut the kale so that you have 1/2-inch slices. When you reach the point where the leaf ends and the stems remain, make thinner slices (1/4-inch wide) and continue cutting to within the bottom inch of the stem; discard the bottom inch as it is fibrous.

The latest scientific studies show that cutting kale into small pieces breaks down cell walls and enhances the activation of an enzyme (myrosinase) that slowly converts some of the phytonutrients into their active form, which have been shown to contain health-promoting properties. Since heat will inactivate the myrosinase, it's important to let kale sit before cooking it. So to get the most health benefits from kale, let it sit for 5-10 minutes after cutting it and before eating it or cooking it. Since ascorbic acid (vitamin C) increases myrosinase activity, you can also sprinkle a little lemon juice on the kale before letting it sit, in order to further enhance its beneficial phytonutrient concentration. For more information on the importance of letting kale sit before cooking it or eating it, see page 157 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.


Preparation Tip: Garlic

Separate the individual cloves by placing bulb on cutting board and gently, but firmly, applying pressure with the palm of your hand at an angle. This will cause the layers of skin that hold the bulb together to separate. Alternatively, you can insert a knife between the individual cloves to separate them from the rest of the bulb.

To peel the skin off of the clove, place the side of a chef's knife on it and give it a quick whack with the palm of your hand. This will loosen the skin so you can easily remove it.

Slice the garlic into 1/16-inch pieces. Then cut across the slices of garlic using a rocking motion with your knife, chopping it into the desired size. For minced garlic, chop fine.

Let garlic sit for 5-10 minutes before incorporating it into recipe to allow the conversion of the maximum amount of garlic's sulfur-containing phytonutrients to occur. This will greatly enhance its health-promoting benefits. You'll notice that as you let it sit, its notably pungent aroma appears; that's because the same compounds responsible for its health benefits are also responsible for its famous smell and flavor. For more information on the importance of letting garlic sit before cooking it or eating it, see page 261 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Preparation Tip: Lemon juice

Rinse lemon before cutting. It's best to juice a lemon when it's at room temperature since it produces more juice when it is not cold. Roll the lemon under the palm of your hand on a flat surface to extract more juice. Cut the lemon in half, removing the visible seeds from the fruit. You can juice the lemon using a juicer or reamer, or squeezing it by hand.

Preparation Tip: Flaxseeds

In order to derive benefits from flaxseeds, they need to be ground to break their hard shells and allow for the digestion and absorption of their nutrients. While flaxseeds can be purchased preground, I always prefer to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them at home right before serving them in a recipe. Flaxseeds can be easily ground in a coffee grinder. Just make sure to clean the grinder well both before and after grinding the seeds.

10-Minute Apple Sundae

This recipe is featured on page 437 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.
  1. In a small mixing bowl, blend the almond butter, maple syrup and almond extract until smooth. It should be the consistency of caramel sauce.
  2. Cut the apples into quarters and core. Then cut the quarters into three pieces lengthwise and 1/2-inch pieces crosswise. Place in two serving bowls.
  3. Drizzle the sauce over the two bowls of apples and top with almonds and coconut.
Note: Use different varieties of apples, such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith or Braeburn for a mixture of taste and color.

Preparation Tip: Apples

Rinse apples under cold running water before cutting. To slice apples cut apples in half. Cut each half in half and cut out core. Cut each quarter the thickness desired.

Once apples are cut, the enzymes in the flesh will oxidize, causing it to turn brown. To prevent this browning, prepare a bowl of water large enough to hold the quantity of apples you will be slicing. For every 2 cups of water, add 2 TBS lemon juice. Add apple slices to the lemon/water solution as you cut them. When you are done slicing, use a colander to strain the apples.

Preparation Tip: Almonds

Whole shelled almonds can be chopped by hand or can be placed in a food processor to chop. If using a food processor, it is best to pulse on and off a few times instead of running the blade constantly as this will help ensure that you end up with chopped almonds rather than almond butter.

Healthy Lifestyle Tea

For more information about Healthy Lifestyle Tea, see page 31 of The World's Healthiest Foods book.

  1. Add 1 tsp lemon juice to 1 cup of brewed tea.
    Optional: if you're sensitive to caffeine, you can drink decaffeinated green tea instead.
    Serves 2

Preparation Tip: Green tea

Green tea has numerous health benefits. Research has shown that three cups of green tea a day can reduce body weight and waist circumference by 5% in three months. Not only does it inhibit the breakdown of fats, it also increases your metabolism. Concentrated in antioxidant catechin phytonutrients such as epigallocatechingallate (EGCG), green tea also helps to inhibit the oxidation of LDLcholesterol, which when oxidized is one of the contributing causes of atherosclerosis. Therefore, green tea can play an important role in a diet that promotes cardiovascular health. Additionally, research has shown a connection between catchin intake and decreased risk of many types of cancers.

When preparing green tea, use four grams of loose tea leaves for each eight ounces of water. Although heartily boiling water is used to brew black and oolong teas, green tea needs much lower temperatures (160-170°F; 79-85°C). Some types of green tea only need to steep for 30 to 60 seconds although varieties such as Nilgiri and Dragonwell will take longer.

Preparation Tip: Lemon juice

Rinse lemon before cutting. It's best to juice a lemon when it's at room temperature since it produces more juice when it is not cold. Roll the lemon under the palm of your hand on a flat surface to extract more juice. Cut the lemon in half, removing the visible seeds from the fruit.You can juice the lemon using a juicer or reamer, or squeezing it by hand.

SHOPPING LIST FOR WEEK 3 MENU

This shopping list will prepare Week 3's menu for two people. If your group consists of four people, you should buy double the amount of ingredients listed. If your group consists of six people, you should buy triple the amount of ingredients listed. If your group consists of eight people you should multiply by four times the amount of ingredients listed.


Healthy Eating Topics of Interest

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. The most commonly discussed omega-3s in food are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is primarily found in nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and other plant foods. EPA and DHA are concentrated in seafood and algae.

ALA is known as an essential fatty acid because our bodies cannot make it; we need to get it from our diet. ALA is the building block from which all other omega-3 fatty acids can be made. For example, ALA can be converted into other omega-3 fatty acids known as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, the most well-known of these long-chain omega-3 fatty acids being EPA and DHA. While ALA can be converted into EPA in the body, research has suggested that many people cannot convert it efficiently to DHA; therefore, individuals who don't consume fish may want to discuss with their physicians alternate ways to ensure adequate DHA intake.

ALA, EPA, and DHA have all been found to have benefits; all are important nutrients for optimal health. There has been research showing the anti-inflammatory and hearth-health benefits of ALA. EPA and DHA are also anti-inflammatory compounds with many noted health benefits, with DHA thought to be of particular benefit to the brain and retina since these areas of our body are concentrated in this type of fatty acid.

The low intake of omega-3s compared to high intake of omega-6s (another polyunsaturated fat very prevalent in our diet since it is found in soy oil, corn oil, and other commonly consumed foods) has been linked to many chronic diseases that have an inflammatory basis, such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. That's because while omega-3s produce compounds that reduce inflammation, omega-6s produce compounds that activate inflammation.

Researchers estimate that most people in westernized societies consume a diet with an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of somewhere between 10:1 and 20:1. The suggested goal is between 2:1 and 4:1.

Therefore, it's important to concentrate on eating an adequate amount of omega-3s throughout the day. Since they each have different functions, it's important to focus on consuming all three—ALA, EPA, and DHA.

In 1999, a panel sponsored by the National Institute of Health suggested that people consume at least 1.2% of calories as omega-3 fats. This would translate to about 2.5 grams for someone consuming 1,800 calories.

By focusing on eating seafood (such as salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and other cold-water fish), nuts and seeds (such flaxseeds and walnuts) and plant-based sources of ALA including vegetables and leafy greens, you'll be well on your way to a diet rich in health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids.

For more information on omega-3 fatty acids, please see: The World's Healthiest Foods book: Page 770
The World's Healthiest Foods website: Omega-3 fatty acids

World's Healthiest Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Best Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids from World's Healthiest Foods
(Seafood Sources: contain EPA, DHA and DPA)
Food Serving
Size
Cals Amt
(g)
DV(%) Nutrient
Density
WHF
Rating
Salmon 4 oz wt 262 2.1 83.6 5.7 Excellent
Scallops 4 oz-wt 152 1.1 44.0 5.2 Very good
Sardines 4 oz-wt 191 1.4 54.4 5.1 Very good
Shrimp 4 oz wt 112 0.4 14.8 2.4 Good
Cod 4 oz-wt 119 0.3 12.8 1.9 Good
Tuna 4 oz-wt 158 0.3 13.2 1.5 Good

Best Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids from World's Healthiest Foods
(Plant Food Sources: contain ALA)
Food Serving
Size
Cals Amt
(g)
DV(%) Nutrient
Density
WHF
Rating
Flaxseeds 2 TBS 95 3.5 140.4 26.6 Excellent
Walnuts 0.25 cup 164 2.3 90.8 10.0 Excellent
Cauliflower 1 cup 29 0.2 8.4 5.3 Very good
Cabbage 1 cup 33 0.2 8.0 4.1 Very good
Romaine lettuce 2 cups 16 0.1 3.2 3.7 Good
Broccoli 1 cup 44 0.2 8.0 3.3 Good
Brussels sprouts 1 cup 61 0.3 10.4 3.1 Good
Winter squash 1 cup 80 0.3 13.6 3.1 Good
Tofu 4 oz-wt 86 0.4 14.4 3.0 Good

Wild vs. farm-raised salmon

I highly suggest purchasing wild-caught salmon since it not only better for you but better for the environment.

The fat content of farmed salmon has been found to be much higher than in wild salmon; FDA statistics show that it is between 30-35% fat by weight. Wild salmon has a 20% lower fat content and a 20% higher protein content. Farm-raised fish have been found to have much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6s than wild-caught fish.

The rich pink color of wild salmon comes from carotenoids that they get by eating pink krill; but on aquafarms, the rich-pink hue of farmed salmon is supplied by a synthetic pigment. Farmed fish are vaccinated as small fry and given antibiotics and pesticides later in life to ward off infection; wild salmon do not have exposure to these chemicals. Additionally, farm-raised salmon may be more prone to contamination; several studies have shown that farmed salmon accumulate more cancer-causing PCBs and toxic dioxins than wild salmon.

For more information on wild vs farmed salmon, please see: The World's Healthiest Foods book: Pages 483, 488
The World's Healthiest Foods website: Salmon

Concern about mercury in fish

Mercury contamination of fish is a definite concern for all individuals, particularly for pregnant women, women considering pregnancy, and children. Yet, fish do have health benefits. They have always been recognized to be an excellent source of protein. In more recent years, cold-water fish have also been recognized as excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Risk of mercury contamination has thrown some of these nutritional benefits into question, and the benefits-versus-risks of fish have become a matter of widespread debate. Do the nutritional benefits of fish, including their rich omega-3 fatty acid content, outweigh the risk of mercury exposure?

I believe the answer to this question is "yes"—but a conditional yes, rather than an unconditional one. Yes, the nutritional benefits of fish outweigh the risk of mercury exposure, provided that (1) lower mercury fish are chosen for consumption and (2) total weekly intake of fish stays fairly restricted.

Safe levels of mercury exposure (including consumption of mercury-contaminated fish) are controversial because "safe" really depends on who is trying to stay safe and the specific health dangers they are facing. Exactly how much could such a person eat? Here the answer would depend on the person's age, physical activity level, body size (height and weight) and other factors, including immediate performance goals. To get the best answer about how much fish you can eat without worrying about mercury contamination, it would be advisable to speak with your physician who can guide you to a clearer understanding.

Following is an excerpt from the Fish & Shellfish Guide on page 457-9 of The World's Healthiest Foods book. The Guide details mercury levels, omega-3 fatty acid levels and sustainability issues related to different fish. The following mercury information is from the 2001 report of the USDA Office of Seafood.

For more information on mercury contamination in seafood, please see: The World's Healthiest Foods book: Pages 457, 463
The World's Healthiest Foods website: Should I be concerned about mercury in fish?
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