In Prevention magazine, Susan Allport looks at our typical diet in light of the seasonal eating habits of animals. Her conclusion: we're storing up for a long, scarce winter.
But we don't hibernate. And food is never really scarce. She explains... "The base of our food supply has shifted from leaves to seeds, and this simple change means our bodies are storing more fat, leading to obesity and all its associated diseases."
Allport noticed that animals naturally went for seed fats with Omega-6 when it was time to hiberate in the winter and plant fats (Omega-3s) for fuel when it was time to migrate or mate in the spring. The Omega-3s speeds up activity in cells, while Omega-6s get stored in the tissues for months when food is scarce.
Between spring and winter animals naturally get both fatty acids and they balance each other out. But for humans that's hard to do these days. Our Western diet has more than doubled in Omega-6 and Omega-3s are MIA. Why? Corn, soy and vegetable oils (seed fats) are now in nearly everything, from the crackers made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, to the eggs of chickens on a soybean diet, to the steak from a cow that's raised on corn. When our grandparents ate steak and eggs they naturally got at least a trace amount of the inflammation-blocking, blood-flowing benefits of Omega-3s passed along from an animal's grass-fed diet and not nearly as much Omega-6, which promotes blood clotting and inflammation.
That's why Allport calls Omega-3 the "vanishing youth nutrient" and links its absence in our modern diet to increased rates of heart disease, cancer, learning disabilities, bad moods and wrinkles.
The key is understanding how the opposing forces of Omega-3s and Omega-6s affect us and to pay attention to the balance in your own diet.
Here are Allport's tips for achieving a better balance (excerpt from article):
Three ways to increasing Omega-3s in the diet:
- Eat More Greens
Leafy greens, legumes, and potatoes have a better balance of omega-3s to omega- 6s than most seeds and grains. Omega-3s live in leaves as the omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Animals (like us) convert ALA into even more dynamic omega-3s: EPA and DHA. This conversion is somewhat inefficient, however, and that's why the next steps are so important.
- Eat Healthier Meats
Cows raised on grass produce meat, milk, and cheese with many more omega-3s than their corn-and soy-fed counterparts. Chickens fed a diet rich in flax and greens produce eggs that are as high in EPA and DHA as many species of fish. Some would argue that grass-fed meats are more expensive than grain-fed, but the former come without the very steep medical price tag of a diet high in omega-6s.
- Eat Fish
Fish can also be a sustainable part of our new diet, as moderate fish consumption will be more effective when our diet has fewer omega-6s. Try to eat at least two meals of fish per week. Fish oil supplements can also help, as toddler Lisa's mother found, though they're not a long-term solution to this widespread nutritional deficiency.
10 Ways to Decrease Omega-6s:
- Replace processed cereal with cereal or oatmeal that contains flaxseed.
- Make your own salad dressing with a mix of canola and olive oil.
- Eat less fast food because it's all very high in omega-6 seed oils.
- Look for potato chips that are fried in canola oil rather than cottonseed, soy, safflower, or sunflower oil.
- Substitute walnuts for other nuts when you can because they're a seed that's high in omega-3s.
- Make your own baked goods, replacing half the butter with canola oil.
- Check food labels to avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
- Avoid omega supplements that contain both omega-3s and omega-6s. You'll see these labeled with terms like Complete Omega.
- Choose grass-fed pork, chicken, beef, or bison whenever you can.
- Avoid farmed fish because they are often fed corn and soy.