In this article 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.
Salt. We know we shouldn’t over do it. Too much can lead to serious problems like high blood pressure and annoying “charlie horse” calf cramps waking you up in the middle of the night. With processed, packaged foods a plenty, it’s way too easy to get more than the recommended daily amount (1,500 mg). There’s that much in a can of Campbell’s tomato soup.
It’s this kind of thing that gives salt a bad rap. The body needs it though. The problem is we’re getting too much sodium from processed foods and too much of the refined stuff that doesn’t have the good stuff with it. It’s just like white bread. They strip out the good-for-you stuff, bleach it, and what’s left has no nutritional benefit.
Unrefined sea salt actually has more than 60 minerals that the body needs. Craving pretzels? It could just be your body asking for those minerals. You mean there’s more to those cravings than just a passion for potato chips?
Yes. But, with common table salt, when we try to satisfy that craving, we’re getting the salt but not the minerals the body asked for. Our taste buds recognize the flavor, but to our body no nutritional transaction has occurred.
So, given the option, with sea salt at least you’re getting some nutritional benefit. Different brands come from different waters and vary in flavor so it’s suggested to try a few before settling on one. And it’s natural so the crystals will be larger and have more of a yellow or brownish tint to them.
Funny story… I’ve actually mistaken sea salt for fine parmesan cheese and dumped a heaping spoonful of it over pasta at a nice Italian restaurant in New York once (remember that Hales?). Hales had just moved to NYC and my friend Steph and I took a trip to visit. We were all chatting, laughing, drinking wine and having a grand time … our food came out, I went for what I thought was the parm, took a bite and it was ALL sea salt. So bad. I can almost taste the ocean as I write this.
It’s much better just on veggies. 🙂
Calcium. Milk. The two words are practically interchangeable when we think of what our bodies need in order to have strong, healthy bones. Be it from effective advertising (Got Milk?), or the food pyramid (the old version recommended 2-3 daily servings of dairy), or good old parental reinforcement (“drink your milk”) this is a generally accepted truth.
But what if you don’t like milk? Or are lactose intolerant? Or don’t believe humans are meant to consume cow’s milk? My freshman-year roommate in college thought this. I remember thinking it was strange at first, but I see her point. No other species on the planet consumes the milk of another species, besides humans. Cows produce milk for the same purpose humans do – to feed and nurture their babies. Baby calves drink their own mother’s milk as long as they need it and then stop. Just like we do. So why do we then consume something that wasn’t naturally intended for us in the first place? That’s the argument. Rebuttal? Because cheese is good.
There are some in the nutrition field that say people simply cannot get the recommended 1,000 mg or so of calcium without dairy or supplements. Then there are others who say dairy is an unnecessary and (for some) harmful part of our diet. Of course you can argue either side and not be 100 percent right or wrong. And that is why I love this stuff. There’s no single prescription for everyone out there. We all just have to find what works best for us.
And for calcium there are more sources than you might think. If you really look at the numbers, some alternatives to dairy actually lap milk in the calcium race. Dairy is definitely not the end all be all.
Here’s how it breaks down:
(Based on a 100 gram or 3.5 ounce portions)
Cow’s milk – 291 mg
Yogurt – 252 mg
Human Breast Milk – 33 mg
Sesame Seeds – 1160 mg
Collard green – 249 mg
Kale – 234 mg
Almonds – 234 mg
Salmon – 167 mg
Chickpeas – 150 mg
Beans – 135 mg
Sunflower Seeds – 120 mg
Spinach – 93 mg
Soybeans – 52 mg
Broccoli – 48 mg
Brussels Sprouts – 36 mg