Grains are almost single-handedly responsible for the removal of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet. That’s right, those little fats that have been getting tons of press lately are as important as suggested, and maybe even more so. There have been over 2000 studies done on omega-3 and for good reason: the omega-3s in our diet (or the lack their of) have massive implications on our health. It all boils down to ratios: the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is so crucial, it goes down to the cellular level.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Essential!
Here’s the breakdown: There are certain fats that we need to get from our diet, called essential fatty acids, and they are used for many different things in our bodies. One of the big ones is the way they make up our cellular membranes. We have something called a phospholipid (phosphate + fat) bi-layer that makes up our individual cell walls. The lipid part is made out of a delicate balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.
Cell Walls and the Magic Ratio
When the cell wall is made of more Omega-3 fats, they are flexible and permeable, allowing wastes and nutrients in and out very easily. Cell walls made of more Omega-6 fats are rigid and less permeable, decreasing the amounts of wastes and nutrients that enter and exit the cell. Think of a house built with more windows and doors (Omega-3) versus one made with more wood and brick (Omega-6). The house with increased windows and doors allows for more activity, people coming in and out, and circulation or airflow, whereas the house with more wood and brick is much more structurally sound. Now, obviously, a house built with too many windows and doors will collapse on itself, and if there are no windows in a house, no one would want to live or visit there. So it really is the ratio that is key! There must be a balance in the cell wall so that there are plenty of ways for nutrients to get in, but there must also be enough structural support that it won’t cave in or break apart with slight pressure.
Humans are designed to eat a diet that is contains roughly 1 or 2 parts Omega-6 to every 1 part Omega-3, and believe it or not, that is exactly what is found when eating natural, healthy, unprocessed foods from the earth (veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, wild animals and the occasional bug). However, the typical modern diet is roughly 10 or 20 parts Omega-6 to every 1 part Omega-3 (Eaton & Konner. Paleolithic Nutrition revisited. European J. of Nutrition 1997: 51;207-16)! Our houses (cells) have hardly any windows! This makes our bodies very stew-like.
Grains (breads, pastas, cereals, wheat, flour, corn, barley, etc.) are the culprits for two reasons. Grains are sturdy and are designed to survive harsh conditions and only sprout when the conditions are right, so they are loaded with structural (Omega-6/windowless/sturdy) fats. So, when we consume grains, not only do we eat massive amounts of these Omega-6 fats, but we also displace all of the Omega-3 fats that we would have eaten. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in green leafy veggies and the animals that eat these green leafy plants (wild-caught salmon, grass-fed cows, wild game, etc.). Industrialized meats (animals raised on industrial farms – a.k.a. most meat found in grocery stores and any fast food restaurants) are made by feeding the animals GRAINS!! That completely disrupts their Omega ratios and makes them as unhealthy for us as the grains they eat. Great resources for healthy meats: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, www.eatwild.com.
“Fortified with Nutrients!”
One more thing to think about is that grains are processed. The processing of foods is a harsh process, one only very stable nutrients survive. This is why we fortify processed foods with vitamins and minerals, because most of these nutrients are destroyed during the process of processing food. Omega-6 fatty acids are much more stable than Omega-3, which is why they are able to handle the processing much better, leaving a culture that consumes most of its food in the form of processed (food-like) foods, severely deficient in all nutrients, especially Omega 3 fatty acids.
Bonfire Recommendations: Add more veggies and healthy meats; do your best to stay away from grains at all times; and give your body the correct omega 3 ratio through your diet, thus giving your health a chance to take back its rightful place!