Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Plant Based Alternatives To Fish

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Plant Based Alternatives To Fish

Omega sounds like part of college Greek life, right? We’re talking here about Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential to get as our bodies can’t make them. The most common ways we are advised to do so is through eating fish or supplementing with fish oil. The current dietary recommendation is to include one to two servings of fatty fish each week. Fishing is suggested to be unsustainable and environmentally damaging and along with other reasons that some people have for not consuming seafood or other animal-based sources, alternatives need to be addressed. Plant-based omega 3 fat sources are a solution, but are they as efficient in supplying what we need?

NOTE: This post is not intended to give dietary advice. Contact a registered dietitian if that is what you are seeking. Statements are my own or referenced from researched sources to share information helping people interested in plant-based alternatives to seafood. This post is not intended to disapprove of seafood businesses and organizations or one’s personal choice to consume seafood.

Fishing Is Suggested to be Unsustainable and Environment Damaging

Fish is commercially supplied for us to eat, for making fish oil supplements and for fish feed in aqua farming. The demand for fish and fish oil has risen to a point that it may threaten fish populations and the environments they live in. Waste from boats and pollution from land into the water can contribute and also threaten the quality and safety of seafood for consumers. While we don’t know yet to what degree the risk if any it poses to our health, fish are known to ingest or absorb plastic particles, chemicals and others contaminants in the water. Mercury is one concern, but there are many other residues that can become concentrated in their organs and flesh and pass up the food chain to accumulate in humans. That may not influence consumer decisions as much compared to concerns for animal welfare and a desire for sustainable sources.

Seafood suppliers and organizations have suggested more sustainable fishing practices. They encourage consumers to choose fish lower in the food chain more often and sustainable options described as fish with minimal environmental impact. However, the form of fishing described with the lowest environmental impact is hand caught or line fishing, which would be inefficient in supplying everyone with such fish. Sustainable seafood would rely on aqua farming for a higher yield, which is connected with the concerns people have that cause them to choose sustainable seafood in the first place. Not everyone has access to a local supply of fish either and this seafood would come at a higher price. Sustainable like traditional seafood policy also allows suppliers and menus to label fish simply as “fish” rather than the specific species.

Minimizing ocean damage from fishing to an extent that keeps the seafood industry thriving simply slows the damage rather than offer as solution to eliminate the cause of it. Understandably, some people enjoy fish and are allowed to eat what they want. Those interested in following a way of eating that does not include fish or animal sources of omega 3 fats based on environmental and health reasons or additional personal circumstances need alternatives to get omega 3s. Before addressing them, it’s important to first introduce the forms of omega 3 fatty acids, their roles and sources.

Different Forms of Omega-3 Fats Each with a Different Roles

Our bodies can naturally make some of the fats we need, except for omega-3 (and omega-6) fats, which must be obtain from food and are therefore called essential fats.

There are three main forms of omega-3 fats found in our food supply that we know of and each have different important roles in our bodies. Simply explained:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids synthesized from short-chain fatty acids. They are found mostly in oily fish and in smaller amounts in other animal-based sources. Like omega-6 fats, their roles are to either make energy through oxidation or to integrate as phospholipids into cell membranes. They are precursors to molecules involved in the inflammation process and have a role in brain health.
  • Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) are short-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that can be converted to the long-chain fatty acids. They are known to be found mostly in nuts and seeds, with the highest amounts being in flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables and certain fatty animal products that are grass-fed or omega-3 supplemented. They are involved in the inflammation process too and have a role in cardiovascular health.

Due to their different roles and benefits in the body, both EPA, DHA and ALA sources of food are recommended to be consumed.

The Conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is Suggested to be Inefficient

ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA through a series of reactions involving enzymes and intermediates. This process has been suggested to be inefficient. What can make it inefficient?

One explanation is that there are rate limiting reactions that are the slowest and determine the overall rate or time, and therefore the efficiency, of the conversion pathway in forming products. The result is not all of the original reactant appears to get converted into the product and is used in other purposes. One such rate limiting step is the conversion of ALA to a higher intermediate that is catalyzed by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase.

Conversion can vary from person to person based on other factors, including gender and age as well as overall diet. Omega 6 fatty acids are known to compete with omega 3 fatty acids for some of the same enzymes, which can affect conversion rates too. Most studies have shown that adequate high doses of ALA can convert more efficiently to EPA, but conversion to DHA does not occur.

However, inefficient conversion from ALA is based on earlier studies performed using humans who consume fish or other direct sources of preformed EPA and DHA. Some have even suggested that the vegan and vegetarian diets observed tend to be low in ALA food sources. More studies have yet to be performed on vegans or people who do not intake direct sources of DHA from seafood, algae or other animal products and fortified foods and who intake enough ALA food sources (and adjust for the other factors addressed like individual differences and omega 6 intake). Only one such study has been performed so far and offers an insight into the Omega 3 conversion process and optimizing it through what we eat.

Conversion Is Likely More Efficient Without DHA Source

The EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study on dietary intake and status of omega 3 fatty acids in fish-eating and non-fish-eating groups of people found that the reactant (ALA) to product (DHA) ratio was higher, suggesting higher conversion, among non-fish-eater vegans and vegetarians compared to fish-eaters.

These results can be explained by other studies that also look into the process at the cell and molecular level, including one suggesting ALA intake can adequately meet brain DHA requirements. Preformed DHA is suggested to cause the gene that expresses for the production of the enzyme elongase involved in the conversion process to turn off. Only in people who do not intake preformed DHA is the gene that produces the enzyme able to stay on and convert more ALA up through to DHA. It may be the body’s mechanism of signaling when it has enough DHA and doesn’t need to convert more ALA to DHA.

Understanding how we may be able to optimize the omega 3 pathway for better conversion to EPA and DHA in this way would be a huge breakthrough in dietary recommendations for plant-based non-fish eaters. Current recommendations include taking an algae-based omega 3 supplement, which contains DHA, though this may cause a similar inefficient conversion from ALA due to the direct DHA source. Another possible way to increase conversion would be to bypass one of the rate-limiting enzymes by including a food source that contains one the intermediates between ALA and EPA. In the next post, I will share this and other food sources of plant based omega 3 fatty acids.

Thanks for reading!

Cedric

 

Becoming a Dietitian (and a Florida Gator)

Becoming a Dietitian (and a Florida Gator)

ORANGE! BLUE! My affinity for the University of Florida goes back more than 10 years ago as a fan while growing up in South Florida. It started when my sister attended for her undergrad and carried on through the times of Tim Tebow and Joakim Noah, college football and back to back basketball championships and ultimately moving to Gainesville. Then as a high school senior, I was accepted into all major Florida public universities except for UF. It’s clear now that this was not a rejection, but a redirection. 

From an engineer to an ESPN journalist to an NBA basketball player, I never knew exactly what I wanted to be. When college apps came, I chose to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa and major in Cell & Molecular Biology, because 1) I enjoyed the Biology classes and labs and 2) I had to choose at orientation between that or Integrative or Marine Biology since general Biology was not an option. In college, I found my niche in research and developed an interest in helping others in some area of health and wellness.

My path became more clear to me after I went plant-based and rediscovered the passion I had growing up for food and nutrition. My parents can tell you the kitchen is where I often hung out and I played with pots and pans (I don’t remember). Through Instagram, I was first introduced to current and future dietitians and the possibility of becoming one myself. The decision to do so came after graduation when I returned to Gainesville and started working in nutrition-related research. I reached out to an advisor and found that UF conveniently offered a Post-Baccalaureate Dietetics program. After nearly two years of back-and-forth emails, repeats of Organic Chemistry I & II and Microbiology to improve grades and a thorough application, I’ve been accepted into the program!

 My reasons for becoming a Dietitian include:

  • more regulated than Nutritionist and more career opportunities in the U.S.
  • ability to counsel others in addition to performing research
  • applying my background in Biology to provide new insights in Dietetics
  • helping to promote diversity in Dietetics and be a role model to other men
  • an interest in sports nutrition and working with athletes
  • experience with plant-based eating and wanting to help others with it
  • helping to leverage the role of Dietitians in research

How to Become a Dietitian

Based on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, here are steps I am taking through the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD)  route to become an RD with a previous bachelors degree that is not in nutrition or dietetics: 

1. Apply to and complete courses through an ACEND-accredited program to receive a verification statement.

This can be done at the undergrad or grad level. As a previous Biology major, I luckily already completed all the required science courses and am just missing the nutrition and food science courses. I’ve chosen to complete them at the undergrad level, because it’s the best local and financial option for me and all the masters programs (at least near me in Florida though can vary by state and university) are coordinated with an internship (MS-DI), which I can’t enter without the verification statement. I will earn a 2nd bachelors degree in addition to the verification statement. Completing these courses can take someone anywhere from 2 to 4 semesters (like me) to possibly longer if you have a totally unrelated previous degree. I considered an online program, like Kansas State University, but preferred this on-campus option due to the convenience and in-person connections. To increase your chance at internships, it’s recommended to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher and a certain amount of nutrition-related work or volunteer experience.

2. Apply to and complete an ACEND-accredited supervised dietetic internship program.

This can be with or without a masters degree program portion, but starting in 2024, a graduate degree will be required to be eligible to take the dietetic registration exam. Anyhow, completing the masters degree can offer an advantage, which is the route I’m taking. Completing the required courses and the internship at separate institutions helps if you want to take some time off prior to the internship to gain additional experience or are seeking to move to another location for it. The internship involves 1200 hours of supervised practice and can take about 8 to 24 months. The process to get matched into an internships can be competitive due to the shortage of internships compared to the number of applicants with about a 50% match rate.

3. Take and pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s dietetic registration exam.

Data over the previous years suggest an average pass rate of 75% or higher for first-time test takers. The exam can be repeated multiple times if failed, though the passing rate has been consistently lower below average for repeat test takers. 

4. Get licensed in your state of practice (if applicable) and maintain continuing education credits.

Where do Dietitians Work

Many Registered Dietitians work in traditional settings, including hospitals, clinics, care centers and community and public health programs, school foodservice or as college and university faculty. Other roles are now also available in sports programs, media and technology, food blogging, research, private practice and a variety of other areas. 

For more resources and info on becoming a Dietitian, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.

I would have never considered a public health profession years ago while I was more reserved, but this is the opportunity to continue to make strides outside comfort zones with something I am very passionate about. I am excited to begin this journey, looking forward to connecting with other dietetic students and dietitians and becoming a resource to help others.

…and it’s great to be a Florida Gator!

Cedric

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan Cocoa Blueberry Recovery Smoothie

Vegan Cocoa Blueberry Recovery Smoothie

Blue Velvet Berry Workout Recovery Smoothie Recipe

How can food promote recovery from workouts and injuries?

Food can play a role, as some like fruits and veggies contain antioxidants to counteract inflammation and others like refined foods may contribute to it. While eating more plant-based foods is a good step in controlling inflammation, we should not go anti-inflammatory crazy and know that inflammation is not all bad. You need some inflammation to help recover and adapt to training. Simply too much that is long lasting may lead to issues that can sideline you.

Other factors play a role too. Sleep and rest days, workout structure and overall training plan and how you cope with life stresses can also influence how your body recovers and controls inflammation.

Don’t force yourself to eat certain foods just because they’re marketed as superfoods, which basically means nutrient dense food, without developing an enjoyment for them or knowing tasty ways to include them. This vegan cocoa blueberry recovery smoothie includes a few nutritious and antioxidant rich ingredients.

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Vegan Cocoa Blueberry Recovery Smoothie

Blue Velvet Berry Workout Recovery Smoothie Recipe

Combining a few delicious and nutritious ingredients, this vegan cocoa blueberry recovery smoothie will be a new go-to post workout meal.

  • Author: Cedric Torres
  • Total Time: 5 min
  • Yield: 1 serving 1x
Scale

Ingredients

  • ½ cup blueberries, frozen
  • 1 banana, ripe
  • 1 cup milk (almond, coconut or other non-dairy beverage)
  • 1 scoop plant-based protein powder, chocolate flavor brand of choice
  •  ¼ tsp cinnamon
  •  ¼ tsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp nuts, chopped (Brazil nuts, almonds or walnuts)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. Add blueberries, banana, plant-based milk, chocolate protein powder, cinnamon and ginger into a food processor or blender and power on until smooth.
  2. Top with chopped nuts, chia seeds and shredded coconut (optional).
Blue Velvet Berry Workout Recovery Smoothie Recipe
2018 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Recap

2018 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Recap

This post includes a race recap I wrote for an article in the Florida Track Club December 2018 newsletter plus some extras added in.

My choice to run the Philadelphia Half Marathon through a Steven Detweiler Scholarship was influenced by what got me into running a few years ago. In 2013, I found running as just a way to stay in shape for basketball, but caught the running bug when I realized that running was not only an outlet through which I could improve myself, but also support others. The tragedies at the 2013 Boston Marathon inspired me to run for those who can’t and participate in races for causes. I ran recreationally in college and decided to join Florida Track Club and Team FTC to start training competitively in 2018 after moving to Gainesville to study nutrition and dietetics at UF. The first FTC meeting I attended included a race scholarship report that got me interested in applying for the scholarship myself. I chose the Philadelphia Half Marathon, because of the race weekend’s affiliation with the American Association for Cancer Research, which ties together my interests in research and in running for a cause (also because a few runners on Instagram recommended it to me).

After a breakout Spring season, during which I improved my race finish times in the 5K and 10K thanks to training with Coach Enoch and Team FTC, I had my eyes set on a big Summer of base building in prep for this Fall Half Marathon with a goal of breaking 1 hour and 30 minutes. Summer did not go as planned. I started experiencing lower hamstring tendonitis and decided to take a week off from running, which was extended to two weeks after I was involved in a serious car accident in which I was fortunate to survive with only some scrapes. I visited Physical Therapy to determine that my hamstring injury was caused by weakness in my hips and once the pain was gone, I started strength exercises to correct it while maintaining aerobic fitness through biking and aqua jogging. I also continued to focus on adequate nutrition through eating mostly whole food plant-based to support my recovery. After a total of about 2 months off from running and 2 months left before the race, I was cleared to start gradually adding runs back into my training. A few weeks out from the race, I ran my highest weekly mileage ever (40mi) and was able to include some faster runs back in as well.

When race weekend came, I had the opportunity to take over the Florida Track Club Instagram page stories to share my trip and the race scene. After a connecting flight through Atlanta, we arrived in cold Philadelphia and stopped by the race expo. For it’s 25th anniversary, the Philadlephia Marathon expo featured talks by Bill Rodgers, Meb Keflezghi (typo: should be Keflezighi – what a long work day and not enough sleep does to you, lol). and Des Linden, tons of expo booths and the history of the race. Besides hotel accommodation, our stay in Philly was mostly unplanned as we relied on shuttles and UBER to get around the city and coincidentally found a food market right across from the expo convention center.

The night before the race, I had everything prepped, except for my race plan. When coach texted me for any last minute questions, I let him know that I doubted I could maintain the pace I needed for my finish time goal, but he assured me that I was fit enough. I then believed in the possibility again, but decided that my main focus going into the race would be to simply enjoy it and challenge myself rather than set expectations and be hard on myself.

(I did not get to meet Des or Meb in person despite paying extra for the VIP pass, which the VIP features were not as useful to me as I thought prior, but my mom who came to run the 8K was within feet from her and snapped a photo)

Race Gear and Fuel

Shoes: Asics Dynaflyte 2

Compression Calf Sleeve: CEP compression

Night before race meal: Chinese food (white rice, curry tofu – possibly too spicy for pre-race) + black bean burger from Vegan Deli in the market.

Pre-race Breakfast: 1 banana + black tea.

Intra-race Fuel: Huma Gel – Berries & Pomegranate.

Post-race meal: pretzel and lots of veg food from the Reading Terminal Market a few hours later. 

On race morning, the weather could not have been any better for racing with temperatures in the the 40°Fs, no ice on the roads and just a few patches of snow on the ground. After an active warmup, I got to the start line with a throw away hoodie that I tossed to the side too soon before the start as I started slightly shivering. Once the race started though, my focus in the first few miles was to gradually warm up and find my pace. The race started on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, across from the Philadelphia Art Museum and the steps from the Rocky movie and winded through part of the city before running along a highway and the Delaware River. During a sharp turn at mile 2, which ended up being my fastest mile in the race, I accidentally kicked down the calf sleeve on my right leg to the point it was scrunched at my ankle, but I never stopped to adjust it during the rest of the race. The course passed by historic buildings and monuments, including the Liberty Bell and some universities.

For the next couple miles, which winded into neighborhoods outside of the city, I stayed within sight behind the 1hr 30min pacers. I took my only gel of the race at around mile 6, taking water at stops before and after and carrying the gel for about a mile while taking it in small amounts as I was trying to maintain my breathing rhythm. At around mile 8, when the course went onto a few bridges over the Schuylkill River and had the biggest elevation changes in the race up through mile 11, I started to develop painful side stiches, which caused me to slow down, lose sight of the pace group ahead and another college runner I was strategically latching onto. After mile 10, I started focusing on my breathing and it helped the side stiches go away.

At this point, for motivation to overcome any pain to finish the race strong, I thought again of “running for those who can’t” as I usually do towards the end of each race. I thought of the cause of the race, everyone who has or is undergoing a health condition with worse pain that what you may feel in a race and which sidelines them from running and I ran stronger for them. I picked up the pace in the final miles to the point that I caught site of the 1hr30min pacers again with less than a mile to go, passed them and ran as hard as I could with everything I had left. As I approached the finish line, a huge relief came upon me when I spotted the time clock showing 1hr28min and something sec. After crossing the finish line, I was greeted by my mom whom I traveled with and was overwhelmed with emotion to the point that I cried tears of joy for overcoming everything I faced to make it to the race and accomplishing the goal that I thought I could not. My official finish time was 1:28:52, which in my 3rd half marathon is a 15min PR from my last half marathon at Tom Walker Memorial in 2017.

Thank you to Florida Track Club for the race scholarship that gave me the opportunity to travel to and run this race and to Team FTC and Coach Enoch for an amazing supportive running group to be a part of. If you are considering a race on your bucket list or of your dreams, I recommend applying for a Steven Detweiler scholarship. Perhaps my next application will be towards a trip to the NYC or Boston Marathon after qualifying.

Philly was such a fun and memorable race that I think I’d go back to run it again if I can and maybe visit more of the city if I have more time. Did you run one of the Philly races too and if so, how was your experience?

Homemade Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese

Homemade Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese

Dairy Free Mac and Cheese Featured

This dairy-free mac & cheese is a great addition to a holiday meal and is one of my go-to comfort foods during the “colder” winter months here in Florida. I have made it for nearly every potluck or family get-together and it has been a big favorite among others. The use of cashews provides monounsaturated fats and the chickpea pasta gives it a complex carbs and protein boost that is great for athletes. It can stand as a balanced meal itself, possibly with a side of veggies, that you can even make ahead of time and include within your busy schedule.

Cashews are actually seeds, rather than nuts, grow from sweet edible, but fragile, “cashew apple” fruits on trees and the crop originated from South American before being introduced in Africa and Asia. Cashews are an excellent source of magnesium, manganese and copper and a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus and vitamin K. They are lower in total and saturated fat compared to most other nuts and dairy cheeses and are mostly made up of monounsaturated fats in the oleic acid form with a smaller amount of polyunsaturated fats.

Dairy Free Mac and Cheese

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Homemade Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese

Dairy Free Mac and Cheese Featured

This dairy-free mac & cheese is creamy and delicious, high in protein and redefines mac & cheese as a main dish rather than a side.

  • Author: Cedric Torres
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 people 1x
  • Category: Lunch/Dinner
Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 package (8oz/227g) Banza chickpea elbow pasta (or sub any macaroni elbow pasta)
  • 1 cup raw cashews (soak in boiling hot water for 5 minutes to soften)
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened cashew or coconut milk beverage
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric OR paprika (optional, for yellow or orange color)

Instructions

  1. Cook the macaroni elbow pasta according to the package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, place the cashews into a blender or food processor and blend into until smooth like cashew butter. Add and blend in the nutritional yeast, vinegar, salt and optional turmeric or paprika. Then add and blend in little by the little the cashew or coconut milk until everything is evenly smooth and mixed together.
  3. When the pasta is done cooking, pour or strain out the water, return the pasta into the pot and pour the sauce on top. Mix the pasta around to evenly coat it in the sauce.
  4. Done! Enjoy and store any leftovers in the fridge for about one week.

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