Have our eating habits changed that dramatically since the 19th century that we could be completely out of balance with a delicate group of nutrients?
A hidden, quietly spoken group, who influence us from the inside out; how our skin functions, our brain, our mood and even how our genes respond to the environment?
We cannot effectively manufacture these nutrients ourselves, so we’re reliant on gaining them from the outside world.
Yet, it seems we are getting it all wrong!
We are talking about the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6, also known as the PUFA’s.
Both are, in varying degrees, beneficial for skin, and hair growth, brain function, reproductive health, metabolic health, and bone health.
Many in the science world believe that evolutionary man lived on a diet, which was perfectly balanced at 1:1 in the sphere of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid ratios.
But today, we are unconsciously over-consuming Omega 6 to Omega 3 at a ratio of somewhere between 10-30:1, making us vastly deficient in omega 3s.
Is this like the new sugar crisis?
And where is all that omega 6 coming from? And more importantly, what is it doing to our health?
Omega 6 fatty acids:
There are three types or conversions of Omega 6 fatty acids:
-Linoleic acid (LA), is the most common Omega 6, which is then further broken down in to:
-Gamma Linolenic acid (GLA), which, is then metabolized into:
–Arachidonic acid (AA)
LA and AA are the particular kind of Omega 6 fats we consume excessively in our western diet, as it is lurking in a multitude of foods.
Here is a list of the food Sources of LA, from highest to lowest in each category:
–Vegetable oils: Safflower, grape seed, sunflower, poppy seed, low saturated fat oil, wheat germ oil, corn oil, walnut oil, soybean oil, cottonseed, sesame, oat, rice bran, peanut, apricot kernel, canola, mustard, avocado, hazelnut, olive, cashew nut, flax seed, and all foods manufactured with them, such as cooking oils, margarines, mayonnaise, salad dressings, shortening.
–Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, sunflower seeds, butternuts, pinenuts, poppy seeds, watermelon seeds, safflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, Brazil, peanuts, pistachio’s, almonds, Soybean, fried tofu, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, flax seeds,
–Spreads: margarine, tahini (roasted seeds), tahini (raw), Butter/margarine blend, peanut spread, peanut butter, reduced fat margarine, almond spread,
–Snacks: Microwave Popcorn, potato chips, plantain chips, quick noodles, sesame crunch snacks, fast food, corn chips, muesli bars, crackers, cookies, sweet potato chips, peanut butter confectionary, baking chocolate, muffins, instant soups,
–Cereals: All types,
–Meats: All grain fed meat, turkey fat, Chicken fat, meatless bacon?? Duck fat, bacon fat, pork, bacon, fish sticks, sausages, sandwich fish, chicken,
–Miscellaneous: Puff pastry, dried-frozen tofu, soy flour, infant formula, imitation cheese, pie crust, baby food crackers, vegetarian patties, dried egg yolk, almost all prepared snack foods.
And the list goes on…
We are consuming Omega 6 laden food items with most meals and snacks, in dressings, spreads and even hidden in healthy nuts like walnuts; all of which, many of us eat everyday!!
A few years ago we also switched from using butter, with a low level of LA at 1.8g/100g, to margarine believing it was the healthier option, at 24.3g/100g of LA.
Meat manufacturers went from grass fed animals to grain fed, making the flesh we eat, higher in Omega 6 fatty acids.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that: The estimated per capita consumption of Omega 6 rich, soybean oil increased 1000-fold from 1909 to 1999! Making this very fact, the single biggest contributor to our colossal swing in the wrong direction.
Soybean oil became the new staple cooking oil, manufactured into dressings, margarines, pastries, crackers, biscuits, snacks, and most prepared meals.
What does all this Omega 6 do to us?
It turns out that Omega 6, in the Linoleic acid and Arachidonic acid form, are very damaging and are considered “pro-inflammatory”, meaning they evoke a lot of inflammation and pain, once in the body.
Scientific journals are full of studies revealing it’s negative impact particularly on increasing inflammation, impacting cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, lung disorders, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and weight gain.
Higher amounts of Omega 6 negatively impact intellectual development, eye acuity and rates of anxiety, depression and neurological disorders.
But not all omega 6 fats are created equal, and in a stealthy twist, the GLA supplement form of Omega 6, found in evening primrose oil, borage oil and black current seed oil, isn’t always converted to AA, but around half the time, is broken down into DGLA, which is good.
DGLA lowers inflammation and pain, decreases diabetic neuropathy or nerve pain, successfully treats rheumatoid arthritis for some, decreases allergy symptoms, improves ADHD symptoms and skin conditions like eczema.
Having enough Vitamin C, B3, B6, magnesium and zinc, encourages the conversion of GLA to the beneficial DGLA. If these are deficient, then GLA is converted into the damaging AA.
What are the OMEGA 3’s about?
There are 3 types of omega 3’s:
–Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found commonly in chia seeds, flax and linseeds. –Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) -and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) both more often found in cold water fatty fish and krill, originally coming from seaweeds.
The Omega 3’s present in fish oil, are not from the fish itself, but 100% from the seaweed it’s been eating. The fish is simply a storage vessel for the Omega 3 to accumulate within.
It has been argued for years, that the vegetarian ALA form of Omega 3 is more difficult for our body to metabolize and use, but, Australian based researchers from USQ, Professor Lindsay Brown, and Dr. Sunil Panchal found this not to be the case.
Chia and flax were tested and the results: that the ALA Omega 3 present, was as beneficial as fish oils on arthritis, pain reduction, weight loss, decreases in inflammation, heart remodeling, liver health, cholesterol and diabetes symptoms.
When we understand that all the Omega 3’s are actually vegetarian originally, this discovery is not that surprising.
What Else Do OMEGA 3’s Do?
Omega 3 fatty acids play an extremely positive role in healthy development, from childhood through to our twilight years.
Higher levels of omega 3’s are linked to an enhanced memory, mood, task planning and learning ability. Children with higher omega 3’s have increased visual acuity.
While newborn infants with higher levels of DHA Omega 3 have superior eye, brain, and nervous systems development compared with those who do not. With breast milk can being a rich source of DHA.
A research paper published in the Biomedical Pharmacotherapy Journal, found that: “A lower ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies.”
Further, Omega 3 fatty acids decrease the risk of clotting, they lower the bad type of cholesterol, they improve pain conditions, they can assist weight loss, they assist ulcerative colitis, and they treat multiple skin conditions including eczema, acne and psoriasis.
There is additionally so much influence exerted on the brain and behavior by these particular group of oils, that evidence published in a number of respected Journals, including The Oxford Journals, from Oxford University, found that interestingly, most schizophrenic patients lack the Omega fats, principally, the Omega 3 DHA and EPA. (some studies showed that AA was also lacking).
While another intriguing finding: the majority of schizophrenic patients are cigarette smokers, which further decreases your Omega fat levels.
It begs the question, are Omega 3s also acting as an antioxidant, protecting the brain from oxidative damage, which can prevent psychological disorders later in life?
So it leaves us with the question: is all the hidden Omega 6 in our diet the new sugar? Found in everything, you can barely escape it, and it’s injuring our health?
It appears so. But it’s not all bad.
If we simply make more natural food choices away from processed foods, and towards whole foods, we can start to swing ourselves back into balance again.