We hear a lot about fats in the diet, but we don’t hear enough about the terrible imbalance in the omega 6:3 fat ratio and why it is driving disease. The ideal 6:3 ratio is somewhere in the range of 1:1 to 3:1. Consumption of omega 6 fats has soared as the American diet has been taken over by processed foods and grain-fed animal protein. Omega 6 fats are found mainly in grain and seed oils (soy, corn, canola, grapeseed and the like) and in animals fed those same crops.
The estimate is that the Omega 6:3 ratio in the Standard American Diet is around 25:1, but I have seen estimates that it is as high as 35:1. Omega 6s are not inherently evil, but they are inflammatory and need to be balanced by omega 3 fats. Whole food sources of omega 6s, like those in nuts, are not the health risk that seed and grain oils are. Because the Standard American Diet is high in processed and fried foods, the amount of omega 6 oils consumed is very high. Not only are grain and seed oils inflammatory, but they are often rancid, chemically extracted, usually genetically modified, and heated repeatedly causing oxidation. (Fantastic post from Chris Kresser here.)
The increase of dietary seed and grain oils drives inflammation. Inflammatory diseases include most diseases, but here are some of the big ones: (Kresser)
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
- macular degeneration
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psychiatric disorders
- autoimmune diseases
According to the USDA, from 1909-1919, seed and grain oils contributed 8.5% of the polyunsaturated fats (including omega 6 and 3) in the American diet. By 2004, seed and grain oils were contributing 52.4%! During that same time, the use of high-quality fats like butter and lard has plummeted. See the USDA pdf here. These animal fats are good sources of omega 3 fats when raised correctly. When animals that are meant to be on a grass diet or an omnivorous pasture-based diet are instead fed grain, the omega 6:3 level in the meat becomes skewed.
So, what are we to do? It’s pretty clear. These are the steps to take:
- Decrease processed foods (for lots of reasons) because they contain seed and grain oils. This means baked goods, salad dressing, mayonnaise, etc. You are unlikely to get it all out, but do your best to rid yourself of canola, soy (most prevalent,) sunflower, cottonseed, and corn oil especially. If you start reading labels, you will quickly understand why we are consuming so many of them. They are in everything. The reason is that they are cheap and produce products that can sit on store shelves for a long time.
- Upgrade your protein. High-quality grass-fed/pastured proteins, animal products, and animal fats are great sources of balanced fatty acids. Besides, fat is where toxins are stored so upgrading your protein needs to be diet rehab priority number one. 100% grass-fed beef is a fantastic source of not only omega 3s but also another anti-inflammatory fat called conjugated linoleic acid. In comparison, the ever-popular chicken is naturally much higher in omega 6 fats (even when pastured.) Chicken now accounts for 13% of the omega 6 fats in the average American diet. (Ballantyne) What have we been told for years? Less red meat, more chicken. Uh huh. There’s certainly room for chicken in our diets, but high-quality red meat needs to be a respected source of protein.
- Consume more omega 3s. Wild salmon, anyone? Mackeral, anchovies, sardines, and tuna are good choices as well. As mentioned above, high-quality grass-fed/pastured protein and eggs are good sources. Consider a high-quality fish oil supplement too. Chia seeds and flax seeds are good sources on paper (and there are great reasons to eat them,) but our bodies must convert the omega 3s to a form we can use and we do so very inefficiently, so animal sources are very important.
Take back your power. Say no to industrial seed and grain oils and make your own or buy better products. The oils I like for salad dressings and mayonnaise are avocado and olive. And guess what…making mayonnaise and salad dressings is easy. Really. If you have never made mayo, do it. You will feel like a wizard and it will taste fantastic. This recipe from Nourished Kitchen is a sure thing. There are only 4 ingredients in addition to water: egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, and avocado oil.
If you are going to buy mayo and salad dressings, I really like Primal Kitchen brand. Let’s look at the Primal Kitchen ingredients compared to a very popular mainstream brand. Primal Kitchens’ mayo has avocado oil, eggs, egg yolks, vinegar, salt, and rosemary extract. Those are ingredients you would use in your own kitchen to make mayo. That’s the kind of convenience product I support. I used to make all of our mayo. Now, I am happy to support such a clean brand and the mayo is phenomenal. That same attention goes into their salad dressings too.
Here is a very popular mainstream brand’s ingredient list. It sure doesn’t look like anything that would come out of your kitchen. Instead, it is made with GMO canola oil, GMO corn starch (thickener,) sugar (probably from GMO beets,) disodium EDTA (a preservative derived in part from formaldehyde,) “natural flavors” (which can mean nearly anything,) and a long list of other food additives completely unnecessary in real mayonnaise. No thanks. This mayonnaise imposter needs to go.
Paying attention to the omega fatty acid balance in your diet has long-reaching effects on your health.