Now that I’ve convinced everyone (maybe?) to try out sardines for their marvelous nutritional benefits, especially the omega 3 fatty acids, it’s time to find the inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids hiding in our diets.
First off, don’t fear fat. Your body thrives on daily sources of natural, healthy fats. Throw out that silly thought that fat will make you gain weight or give you a heart attack. In fact, it’s the low-fat diet that doesn’t fare too well in many research studies. Look around the world, and you’ll find plenty of healthy populations liberally enjoying fat. Just look at the French with some of the lowest rates of heart disease, but they’re the ones eating cheese, red meat, and butter.
This kiddo doesn’t fear fat.
The problem is the American diet is very high in inflammatory fats – omega 6 fatty acids and man-made trans fats and low in anti-inflammatory fats, particularly omega 3 fatty acids.
Let’s tackle trans fats first. Get rid of these. It’s easy if you avoid restaurant fried foods and processed foods. These guys are heartbreakers, literally. They increase your dense LDL (bad) cholesterol particles, decrease your HDL (healthy) cholesterol particles, and increase your risk of a heart attack. Skip the fried foods, and read labels closely for the words “partially hydrogenated.” You can’t rely on the nutrition label – it may say 0 g trans fats BUT that may be a lie. Unfortunately, food manufacturers are allowed to label it as 0 g, even if it has up to 0.5 g per serving. That means if you have a few too many servings of those “0 g trans fats” cookies, you’re easily getting in a few grams of trans fats.
Next up are omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and omega 6 fats are polyunsaturated fats. You need both of these in your diet but in small amounts. The big problem is the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the typical American diet is around 16:1! It should be less than 4:1; experts estimate our ancestors had a diet closer to a 1:1 ratio. So, even if you’re eating fish a few times a week, you may also be eating high amounts of omega 6 fats on a daily basis, which tips the scales towards inflammation.
Where are these omega 6 fats hidden?
In the early 1900s, we were getting most of our polyunsaturated fats from butter, lard, and other fats, but over the past 100 years, there has been a dramatic increase in cooking/vegetable oils (8% to 52%!). As far as I know, we haven’t gotten healthier by replacing butter with these oils. Instead, diseases of inflammation have all increased, including:
- Heart Disease
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease & more
Wait, I thought canola oil and margarine was a better choice than butter? Not so fast. Corn, soybean, and other vegetable oils are not only highly processed, but they are incredibly fragile. Heat these up, and they oxidize and go bad. Leave them out on the countertop in their see-through, plastic containers, and they get rancid. Throw out the corn, soybean, and other vegetable oils, except olive oil. Canola oil is likely to be genetically modified (GMO). Cook with stable fats like coconut oil or real butter. Use olive oil as a salad dressing.
Salad dressings are another hidden source of these not-so-innocent vegetable oils. Take a look in your fridge at your salad dressings. Maybe you skipped the ranch or blue cheese dressings and chose a balsamic vinaigrette or lite italian. Take a look at that handy ingredients list. I bet canola or soybean oil makes an appearance, maybe even along with its pro-inflammatory cousin: sugar.
Even “all natural” salad dressings have them.
While you’re checking out those salad dressings, read the ingredients on other items in your fridge or cupboards. It’s always interesting to see how often vegetable oils and sugar show up.
Instead of dousing your salad with processed salad dressings, it’s ridiculously easy to make your own. Just mix a little olive oil and vinegar together, and add seasonings or other flavorings as you like. My favorites are olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olive oil and apple cider vinegar, or a simple olive oil and lemon juice. Remember fat helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) in your food, so always include some fat.
Try out this Lemon Ginger Dressing:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- Mix together, and drizzle over a bowl of your favorite leafy greens (kale, perhaps?).
Lastly, eat nuts and seeds in moderation. Nuts and seeds are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and are a good choice, but it’s easy to overdo it, especially if you eat almond butter with breakfast, trail mix for a snack, and sprinkle sunflower seeds on your salad for lunch. They also contain omega 6 fatty acids, so stick to a small serving of nuts or seeds. Choose raw nuts or seeds, as roasted nuts are often roasted in vegetable oils. To keep the nuts & seeds fresh, store them in your freezer and away from heat or light. Buy them in small amounts, such as from bulk bins.
I know it may seem crazy to eat BUTTER over canola oil, but I trust cows (especially grass-fed, humanely raised ones) to give me better nutrition than a factory that makes an oil using a multi-step process of refining, extracting, deodorizing, bleaching with solvents and chemicals, then throws some yellow color and a “I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter” label on it.
What’s your favorite fat?