I’ve mentioned a few times about the role of inflammation. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that inflammation within the body is behind many of today’s health problems. One example of this can be seen in heart disease. We have been told that if we have high cholesterol, we are more likely to have heart issues. I would suggest that maybe the elevated cholesterol is only a symptom of inflammation in the body, which may be the actual cause. That means it’s the inflammation causing the health problem and not the high cholesterol.
We know that diet is one factor that can cause inflammation. It is also one factor that we can change. We can eat differently if we choose too. So how do we do it and what changes should we make? One of the biggest changes that we can make in order to decrease inflammation, is to balance our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These two fatty acids play opposing roles in the human body. Omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory. In other words, we need both of these, but too much of the 6’s and too little of the 3’s makes for more inflammation which is more conducive to chronic disease.
It appears that over time our intake of these two essential fatty acids drastically changed. Humans once ate a diet with an almost even ratio of 6’s & 3’s. Now instead of an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that is almost even (1:1), this ratio is more in the 1:10 range or higher by some accounts. Again, this sets up the possibility for increased inflammation in the body
What has caused this shift in the 6:3 ratio?
Good question. The answer: increased intake of processed foods! Most of the grain-based snack foods (think chips, bread, crackers, granola bars, etc.) contain some form of vegetable oil, which is higher in omega-6’s. That means we are getting more 6’s than 3’s. There is also some evidence that over time foods have been grown in a manner that may have lowered their omega-3 content, but the biggest factor is still the increase of omega-6’s from processed foods. Remember, that humans haven’t been using processed vegetable oils such as soy and safflower oil for very long, and it appears they may be one of the big reasons for our decline in health. I have seen some estimates that indicate as much as 20% of calories in the American diet are coming from soybean oil alone.
How do I fix this ratio?
One strategy is to eat more omega-3 rich fatty fishes such as salmon, and I think this is a great idea. Problem is, it can be very difficult to eat enough fish to bring the omega-3’s up in a significant manner. That means you have to also do things to bring the omega-6 intake down, and the best way to do that is by decreasing intake of the processed foods mentioned above. More fish, less processed foods.
Also, there is one more thing you can do. Eat more beef that has a better omega-6 to omegar-3 ratio. Our quality of beef has changed over time. Cows used to be raised eating grass. Now days they are usually shipped off at some point to feedlots where they eat a diet high in corn and grains. The grains are cheap and seem to do a good job of quickly fattening the cows (this works on humans also). From an economic standpoint this technique is effective, but from a health standpoint, it’s just another way to bring the quality of our food supply down another notch.
What is the problem with feeding cows grain?
This change in diet has a negative impact on the nutritional quality of the beef. The meat that comes from grain-fed cattle is higher in overall fat, higher in saturated fat, higher in cholesterol, but much more importantly, it’s omega-6 to omega-3 ratio turns more in favor of the omega-6’s. As was already mentioned, more 6’s and less 3’s means more possibility for inflammation and increased health risk. Remember, inflammation bad! So, it turns out, not only are you what you eat, you are what, what you eat eats! Does that even make sense?
The good news is that you can still find good quality beef if you look hard enough. Farmers are around who still feed their cattle grass and you can reap the benefits from eating said meat.
Here is some of the other good stuff about grass-fed meat that I may not have mentioned:
- better omega-6 to omega-3 profile (less 6’s, more 3’s)
- higher vitamin A and vitamin E content (important antioxidants)
- increased CLA content (may fight cancer and lower risk of diabetes)
- less total fat, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol content
- more environmentally friendly
- no hormones
- tastes great! (ok, that’s just my personal preference)
Hope this information sheds some light on the benefits of managing your intake of omega-3’s and omega 6’s.
Also, if you are interested in finding local grass-fed beef please visit my friend Ron Young’s website. He was a college professor as well as a NASA research scientist and he now runs Lynchburg Pasture Fed Beef. His meat is great and if you are in Northern Alabama as I am, he can meet you. In other words, you don’t have to drive to Lynchburg to get a nice package of ground beef, steaks, and roasts.
This is his website and email info:
also, if you aren’t in this area, check out this website for more info. on where to find grass-fed meat:
Please email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org