Since the industrial revolution, our nation’s fascination with using machines to increase convenience and lower costs has never slowed down. This is even true of the way we prepare and process food. Throughout the 20th century, food manufactures improved their processes of altering, preserving, cooking, and packaging foods as the American public became increasingly reliant upon convenience items to fill their refrigerators and pantries. Though manufacturers have fought the notion that these changes are linked to an increase in disease, scientific studies increasingly show a relationship between processed foods and our most prevalent chronic conditions. This relationship is particularly true of processed fats.
OUR TROUBLED RELATIONSHIP WITH FAT
In the 1960s and 70s, Americans, prompted by guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration, started drastically reducing their fat intake and shifting their sources of fat from naturally-occurring animal fats to industrially-processed vegetable and seed oils which had slowly gained the designation “heart-healthy.” As Americans developed a love affair with “low-fat” and “fat-free” foods flooding our supermarkets, they also began to show signs of signs of deteriorating health and chronic conditions. Researchers believe this is due in part to an unhealthy imbalance of necessary fatty acids in our bodies.
NOT ALL FAT IS THE SAME
Omega-6 acids, derived from seed and vegetable oils and Omega-3 acids, derived from animal sources are two types of fats that humans need in their diet. They perform vital functions such as storing energy, releasing hormones, and insulation and, since our bodies cannot produce them, we must ingest them through foods that we eat. In general, Omega-6 fatty acids cause inflammation and Omega-3s fight it, so they are needed in balanced proportions. While it is believed that the ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake is less than 4:1, our diets hover in the neighborhood of 16:1 and,in extreme cases, top out at 25:1. This increase in Omega-6 has researchers concerned.
THE INFLAMMATION FACTOR
The oils we have come to accept as “healthy” such as soybean, corn, canola, and sunflower (among others) have created a decidedly unhealthy imbalance in our fatty acid intake and, thus, our bodies’ fat stores (adipose tissue). Data compiled by Stephan Guyenet, PhD, from 37 studies conducted between 1960 and 2010 show that Omega-6 concentration in our bodies has increased 136%. The result is excess inflammation. Despite its reputation, inflammation isn’t inherently bad. We need this response to fight infection and injury. We just don’t need more than our body can effectively deal with. Too much bodily inflammation is linked to many serious and increasingly prevalent diseases. Among them:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type-2 Diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases
It’s time to get our ratios back in balance. But how?
Improving the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio in our collective diet will take a collective effort of smart individual choices. Eat a whole-food-based diet of fresh or frozen vegetables, fruit in moderation, pastured meat and eggs, and foods rich in Omega-3 fats such as sardines, anchovies, or wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
Cook food at home using first-pressed virgin olive oil, butter, unrefined coconut oil, herbs, and spices rather than salt and sugar. If you must buy processed foods, know what’s in them by reading labels and avoiding hydrogenated/trans fats, as well as added sugar and salt.