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'Captain of the Happier Meal' Gets an Overdue Salute
U.S. NIH psychiatrist Joe Hibbeln, M.D., leads efforts to redress an unhealthful imbalance in American's diets … too few omega-3 fats and far too many omega-6s

02/16/2011 By Craig Weatherby
Although their primary focus is on healthy recipes and tips, Eating Well puts out some pretty sound nutrition advice
We're glad to see the magazine relate recent revelations about Americans' imbalanced fat intake... and do it by profiling of one of the best and hardest-working omega-3 researchers.
The articletitled “New Science Links Food and Happiness—tells readers what they need to know to eat wisely.
It also shows you how to avoid the increasingly common bait-and-switch, in which food manufacturers add a plant-source omega-3 called ALA to a food product and label it “fortified with omega-3s.”
They hope that consumers won't know that their bodies can only convert from two to 10 percent of those omega-3s into the kind the body actually needs: the EPA and DHA found in fish and needed in human cells.
Article highlights a public health hero and his message
The Eating Well feature centers on their interview with Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., who's a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service … hence, the article's teaser in the table of contents: “Captain of the Happier Meal.”
Joe Hibbeln is also a clinical psychiatrist for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (part of the National Institutes of Health), where he's Acting Chief of the Section on Nutritional Neurosciences.
We first met Dr. Hibbeln at a 2005 Seafood & Health conference in Washington, D.C., and have since spent time with him at gatherings of omega-3 scientists and nutrition-savvy physicians and health professionals.
He's been one of a small group of researchers at NIH who've shed light on the health benefits of fish and supplemental omega-3s from fish.
Joe Hibbeln has focused his work on the mental health and child-development benefits of omega-3s. For example, see:
Most recently, he organized a conference for the U.S. military, where leading academic experts educated key officers about the potential mental health and performance benefits of raising service members' intake of omega-3s … and reducing their consumption of omega-6 fats (see “Soldiers and Omega-3s: Pentagon Pitched on Benefits”).
Eating Well focuses on America's omega imbalance
Analyses by Dr. Hibbeln and others link diets lacking in omega-3s and overabundant in omega-6 fatsthe average American's eating patternto higher rates of cancer, depression, and heart disease.
We call this pattern the “omega imbalance.” It only dates back about 100 years, and flows from two factors:
  1. Lack of fish (or fish oils) in Americans' diets
  2. The dominance of omega-6-rich vegetable oils (corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, and safflower) in America's restaurant, takeout, and packaged foods… as well as in the grains and soy fed to U.S. livestock.
A fast-growing body of evidence links the omega imbalance to greater risk of cancer, diabetes, depression, immune disorders, and dementia.
So we're glad to see Eating Well publish a substantial article about Dr. Hibbeln's research and experiences.
This excerpt gives you the article's essence in a nutshell:
  • “For years, Hibbeln and others have advocated eating lots of omega-3-rich fish to restore the omega balance in the brain. But they haven't lost sight of the fact that animal studies suggest slashing the omega-6s may work just as well. ‘We don't need to increase the world's fisheries production tenfold to achieve the same goal,' says Hibbeln.”
  • “‘Eating a traditional Mediterranean-style diet that's centered on vegetables and fruits, legumes and olive oil, provides plenty of seafood and is limited in meat, will help to lower omega-6 intake dramatically', says Hibbeln.”
Because Dr. Hibbeln's research focuses on brain health, the article doesn't address the implications of America's “omega imbalance” for other major health problems from cancer to diabetes.
To read more about that, see “Report Finds Americans Need More Omega-3s and Less Omega-6s” and search our news archive for “omega-6”.
We also recommend the companion article titled “5 Ways to get in Omega-3 Balancewhich does a good job of summarizing the subjectand the magazine's Healthy Omega-3 Recipes as well as our own Vital Choice seafood recipes and recipe videos, chock full of omega-3s.
  • GormanRM. New Science Links Food and Happiness. Eating Well, May/June 2010. Accessed at health/new_science_links_food_and_happiness