OMG! – Omega-3 and 6

Have you ever wondered why we are told to eat more omega-3, why is omega-6 considered the ‘bad one’, is oily fish really the best source of omega-3 and why are they called ‘essential’ fatty acids?

I feel like I’ve gone back to science lectures to try and make sense of this topic! Firstly it is not simply a case of the ‘bad’ one, the real problem is the ratio. A typical western diet causes the ratio to become unbalanced. Typically 16:1 (omega-6 to 3) or higher, rather than the desired 4:1 or ultimate 1:1 ratio. We do need both omega-3 and 6 in our diets, but an imbalance between them is linked with serious health issues. There is a cap on the total amount of the two that the body can use, so they end up competing for space, therefore too much omega-6 can block omega-3.

In short elevated omega-6 intakes are associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases – which is to say virtually all diseases. The list includes (but isn’t limited to); cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, cancer, psychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases.

This is not a simple subject, so I’ve summarised the key messages:

  • The main reason for the imbalance and high omega 6 levels is processed seed and veg oils and foods containing these oils (chips, crisps, snacks, cakes etc). These oils are cheap so they are in a lot of processed foods.
  • Follow this link for a detailed list of omega-3 and 6 in foods. Interestingly butter and cow and sheep fats are preferable to the majority of seed and veg oils http://paleozonenutrition.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/omega-3-and-6-in-fats-oils-nuts-seeds-meat-and-seafood-2.pdf
  • Appreciate the need to balance your intake. Focus on reducing omega 6 intake as well as eating more omega 3.
  • As we are all becoming aware of the need to increase omega-3 it is being used as a marketing tool. Be cautious of omega 3 being used in marketing to promote foods. Learn which foods naturally contain omega-3 and avoid foods being fortified with omega-3, this is more about sales than health.
  • Rethink chicken and turkey fats, especially intensively farmed products due to very high omega 6 levels.
  • It is true that oily fish is the main source of 2 of the 3 omega-3s, but these can also be obtained from microalgae, see notes below.
  • Whilst omega-3 is promoted in foods, in converse you will not see warning that foods are high in omega-6, so you need to be aware when making food choices. For example look at a mayonnaise label, it lists omega-3 as a way of promotion but not that it has over 7x that amount of omega-6, making the ratio 7:1 which doesn’t make it a good source of omega-3.
  • Natural unprocessed foods containing high ratio’s of omega-6 to 3 are considered to be less harmful than processed foods. So it is believed to be high levels of omega-6 in processed foods that are the main focus.
  • Eating whole fish versus fish oil as a source of omega-3 is preferable.
  • Grass fed meat and dairy has a better ratio of omega-3 to 6. Whilst this should be a consideration, the key message to take from this is grass fed is healthier in general, but the difference is negligible when compared to the impact of processed oils in our diet.

Let’s take a closer look;

Omega-3 – Since the human body can’t produce omega-3 and 6, these fats are referred to as “essential fats,” meaning that you have to get them from your diet.

Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes, with important benefits for your heart, brain and metabolism. They also have a number of other important functions, including, improving heart health, supporting mental health, reducing weight and waist size, decreasing liver fat, supporting infant brain development, fighting inflammation, preventing dementia, promoting bone health, preventing asthma. Unfortunately, the Western diet does not contain enough omega-3s.

There are three types of omega-3; ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA can be obtained for plant based foods, but EPA and DHA are mainly found in oily fish or microalgae, but can also be found in smaller quantities in milk, eggs and meat from animals that have consumed a natural diet high in omega 3. ALA converts to EPA efficiantly but larger quantities are needed to convert to DHA so people not eating the recommended amount of oily fish or for vegans and vegetarians it is recommended to take a supplement such as algae oil as a source of DHA https://draxe.com/algal-oil

Examples omega-3 by type in percentages, e.g. 2% equals 2g per 100g.

  • Chia seeds:        17.8% ALA
  • Salmon:                2.0% EPA and DHA
  • Mackerel:             2.0% EPA and DHA
  • Walnuts:               9.0% ALA
  • *Linseed oil:       53.4% ALA
  • *Linseeds:          22.8% ALA
  • Sardines:              2.2% EPA and DHA

* Linseed is also know as flaxseed. It needs to be milled (crushed) for us to digest it. So whilst you will burn calories crushing your own! it is advised to looked for the milled option.

Omega-6 fats are also necessary for survival, but they’re not nearly as beneficial as omega 3s. Omega 6 fats help with brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production, but they also cause inflammation, and they compete with omega 3s in the body. The ideal is to eat just enough omega 6s to function, but no more, and to balance them with lots of omega 3s

See the chart below for example ratios in oils, understood to be the main cause of high omega-6 intake:

efa content of oils

Parting thoughts – There is strong scientific evidence that there is an issue with the imbalance in our diets. It is a hard topic to get exact answers to every question past the obvious but what is clear is that again our western diet and intake of processed foods is the real issue here. The closer we can stick to a whole food, plant based diet with naturally raised products, including any animal products, the better off we will be.

 

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Oats – super simple, super food

I love oats, an everyday superfood. A long list of health benefits, easy to cook, yummy and cheap as chips. Best of all they can aid in weight loss!

Oats are among the healthiest grains and most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, they are a complete food, per 100g – 59g of carbs, 13g of protein, 7g of fat (1g saturated) and 8g of fiber, but only 363 calories.

  • Oats can help you lose weight by making you feel fuller for longer. It does this by slowing down the emptying of the stomach and increasing production of the satiety hormone PYY
  • Oats as full of vitamins and minerals, a serving (78g dry) has,
    • Manganese: 191% of the RDI,
    • Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI,
    • Magnesium: 34% of the RDI,
    • Copper: 24% of the RDI,
    • Iron: 20% of the RDI,
    • Zinc: 20% of the RDI,
    • Folate: 11% of the RDI,
    • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI,
    • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI,
    • Calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols, avenanthramides which are almost solely found in oats. Providing additional protection against coronary heart disease, colon cancer, and skin irritation.
  • Oats contain large amounts of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber. Beta-glucan partially dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like solution in the gut. The health benefits of beta-glucan fiber include:
    • reduced LDL and total cholesterol levels,
    • reduced blood sugar and insulin response
    • increased feeling of fullness
    • increased growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract

Oats are really flexible, we typically eat them in the form of oatmeal, AKA porridge oats. Try these three easy oat ideas. Remember you can eat oats raw so don’t fret over how long you cook them:

Porridge – Add handful of oats of a saucepan, cover with 50/50 water and apple juice, bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes. I add extras like mixed nuts, mixed seeds, milled linseed, banana, raspberries, cinnamon, cacoa powder. You can cook with milk, but try the apple juice version, it is delicious.

Granola – Shop bought cereals (even the healthy ones) contain a lot of sugar. I make me own. It is soooo easy. Put 500g or 1kg jumbo oats in a large mixing bowl, add one tablespoons at a time of olive or rapeseed oil (any oil works) and mix really well. Add enough oil until they are all lightly covered. If you want to be super healthy you don’t have to use oil at all! Add golden syrup or Demerara sugar, you can add as little as you want. I use about two tablespoon. 20g which means that in 1kg it is 2% sugar (Dorset cereal is 14%). Mix really well. I add 250g chopped mixed nuts, 150g pumpkin and same sesame seeds. The spread out of a flat baking tray. The thinner the better so split across two trays if it helps. Put in an oven set at 180c and leave 10 mins, check and mix around. Idea is to toast the oats, so watch for them turning brown. Make sure they don’t burn. So keep checking and mixing until done.  Store in a an airtight jar or tub, it keeps as long as it lasts. Eat it with fruit compote, yogurt, milk, or just nibble as a snack.

Oat smoothie – A perfect super quick breakfast or snack. In a blender, add a large handful of raw oats,  a banana, then any fruit you want ( mango, apple, berries etc), add any extras, milled flaxseed, cinnamon, ginger etc. Add enough oat milk or 50/50 water and apple juice, to cover plus about 1 inch. It depends how thick you like it. Blend until smooth. Drink and feel smug all day!

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Wild about salmon?

 

Wow there is a huge difference between farmed and wild salmon. Nutritionally it is a completely different product. Farmed salmon is higher in calories, fat and saturated fat. People eat salmon due to it being a good source of Omega-3 (one to increase), but farmed salmon is also high in Omega-6 (one to decrease). Farmed salmon are fed on oil and smaller fish, ground-up feathers, GM yeast, soybeans and chicken fat. The white lines you see on a salmon fillet are fat lines. Wild salmon get their colour from eating krill and shrimp. The flesh of farmed salmon is grey, and is coloured by astaxanthin, a manufactured copy of the pigment that wild salmon eat in nature.

Concern about antibiotics – Antibiotics are often routinely used in fish farming, which presents the same concerns as all intensive farming and the risk of causing antibiotics resistance in humans.

Sustainability – Many farmed fish are fed largely on wild fish. To produce farmed fish such as salmon, it takes about three times the weight of wild-caught fish. This is not only unsustainable, but adds to the serious welfare concerns about how wild fish are caught and slaughtered. Wild salmon volumes are also greatly depleted so eating less fish is essential.

Origin – Wild alaskan salmon is the most readily available source of wild salmon. Salmon farming is prohibited in Alaska to protect wild stocks and fisheries. Wild salmon used to be readily available in UK and Ireland coastal waters, but they have been greatly affected by farmed fishing. Be aware that some frozen wild alaskan salmon is packed in China due to cheap labour! So look for Alaskan salmon, packed in the UK.

Organic salmon – is definitely preferable to the conventional fish-farmed equivalent, but that’s not saying much. Salmon is a wild animal so farming it is still farming even if it is organic. The stocking density are less and use of chemicals are less but the product is still inferior to the wild variety.

Risky pollutants – Persistent organic pollutants (POPs for short) sound dangerous. They are. POPs have been linked to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. Evidence suggests obesity might be even more of a risk factor for diabetes when POPs are present in your body. And specific types of POPs increase the risk of stroke in women. Why does this matter? Because PCB (one type of POP) levels are five to 10 times higher in farmed fish than in wild fish. Wild salmon wins here, hands down.

Cancer-causing chemicals – In the wild vs. farmed debate, this is a tricky issue. Although both offer omega-3 fatty acids, eating large amounts of either type of fish to get their full benefits could expose you to cancer-causing chemicals. These chemicals come from the potentially polluted water fish swim in. That’s why your omega-3 sources need to be broad, with fish as only one piece of the puzzle. However, one study does conclude: “The benefit-risk ratio for carcinogens and noncarcinogens is significantly greater for wild salmon than for farmed salmon” Both wild and farmed salmon come with risk if eaten in large quantities. But eaten in moderation, wild salmon is safer.

Unsafe contaminants – In recent studies contaminants in farmed salmon were generally higher than in wild salmon. Likewise, other research has suggested that children, women of child-bearing age and pregnant women should choose wild salmon — or other sources of omega-3 fatty acid. Both wild and farmed salmon contain contaminants, but wild salmon has lower levels and is considered safer overall.

 

Smoked salmon – The same applies to smoked salmon products. This once luxury item has become relatively cheap and readily available, look for wild Alaskan smoked salmon. Tesco offers reasonably priced option in the major supermarkets.

Cost consideration – Wild salmon costs more than farmed fish, but the difference is well worth it. To offset the higher cost, as always it is a case of ‘eat less but eat better’. Salmon should be eaten as a treat, we eat too much fish and is isn’t sustainable so going for a better product and reducing the amount you eat ticks a lot of boxes 🙂

Alternatives – In search of health-giving oily fish that are cheaper and reasonably plentiful, then we must turn our attention to other species like mackerel and herring. When being any wild fish look for the MSC logo.


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If you eat chicken, read this

Grow fast, die young, (very young) – The modern broiler (meat) chicken, typically a Ross 308 or Cobb 500 is a very different animal to the one we envisage peaking around the farm yard. Huge investment has been made by the industry to grow the chicken as large as they can as fast as they can. This work continues with ongoing pressure to produce more and more cheap chicken whilst maximising profit, weights increase and days decrease. This presents huge animal and human welfare, environmental issues and global health risks all for a lower quality product.

Let the facts explain:

  • Chicken along with pork is our most intensively farmed meat with over 90% reared in intensive systems
  • Intensively farmed chickens live 0.1% of their natural life
  • Figures from the FSA published Oct 2017 found Campylobacter contamination in 56% of chicken from 3,980 samples – 29.5% @ 10 – 99 cfu/g, 21.6% @ 100 – 1000 cfu/g and 5.9% over 1000 cfu/g. This is a decrease from previous years but highlights the price of force farming animals. *Campylobacter is naturally found in all poultry but not at the dangerous levels seen in industrial farming.
  • Chicken is also our most popular meat making up 50% of meat consumed in the UK
  • More than 975 million broiler (meat) chickens are slaughtered every year in the UK, that is 2.3 million a day
  • From chick to the supermarket shelf in 5 weeks, typically 35-40 days
  • Broiler chickens have been genetically modified to grow 4x faster than a traditional breed
  • A modern chicken processing plant can process 26,000 birds per hr
  • Chicken catching machines can handle up to 26 tonnes of birds per hour (about 8000 birds per hour – at 2.5 kg per bird)
  • A typical chicken shed holds 40,000 birds
  • About 5% die or have to be culled prematurely
  • Intensively farmed chickens live in sheds stocked at 42kg (EU) and 39kg per m2 (UK), that is up to 17-25 chickens per square meter
  • 1/3 of broiler chickens suffer from lameness and can’t walk without pain
  • They are often subjected to 23 hrs of artificial light per day to encourage them to keep eating
  • BPC figures reported 23.72 tonnes of antibiotics were administered in 2016 despite evidence that they could be fuelling drug resistant forms of dangerous food poisoning illnesses in humans, including campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli.
  • Campylobacter is the leading cause of food poisoning in the UK. It makes 280,000 people ill each year. 80% is attributed to raw poultry
  • Breast meat severely affected by WS (*White Striping) has dramatic variations in nutritional values, including a 224% fat content increase and a 9% protein decrease.
  • Chicken lorries heading to the slaughter house, the ones you see on the motorway layed with orange crate carry around 6000 birds.
  • A poussin is an even younger chicken, less than 28 days old
  • Free range and organic chicken is around typically 8-12 weeks
  • Some independent producers offering 100 days / 14 week old chickens
  • The natural life span of chicken is around 5-10 yrs, depending on the breed

*White Striping – growing demand has led to genetic selection to produce fast-growing broilers,inducing the appearance of several spontaneous, idiopathic muscle abnormalities along with an increased susceptibility to stress-induced myopathy. Such muscle abnormalities have several implications for the quality of fresh and processed products. Three commonly reported types of breast muscle myopathies in broilers are deep pectoral myopathy (DPM), white striping (WS), and wooden breast (WB)

 It’s not nice – but THAT is how supermarkets can sell a whole chicken for £2.60 per Kg! Cheap chicken being good value is a myth. It is low quality, unsustainable and high risk. For free range birds in the supermarkets you’ll pay around £4.25 per kg for free range and £6.95 per kg for organic whole birds.

Outside the supermarket you’ll find superior choices that often go over and above minimum standards and are focused on producing a better quality product, such as:

  • Ginger pig 100 day at £10 per kg
  • Fosse meadows 81 days at £6.45 per kg
  • Springfield poultry min 70 day, £6 per kg
  • Suttonhoo poultry min 70 days, £6.50 per kg
  • Search for slow grown or traditionally raised chicken and you’ll find plenty more.

At the butchers, farm shop, markets or independent retailers, always ask how the chicken was produced, don’t assume it is higher welfare.

As with any meat, don’t buy on price alone. Consider what you are getting for your money. Think about the value, the taste, the texture, health considerations, you are not comparing the same product and with chicken the extra money is well worth it. Being and EOr is not simply about replacing your meat with an ethical product, it is also about cutting down our meat consumption, therefore offsetting the cost of superior meat products. Eat less and eat better.

Learn more https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/chickens/meat-chickens

Beware of the Red tractor logo! It does not mean higher welfare, it is still intensive indoor rearer broiler chickens.

 

 

Parting thoughts – Buy chicken with caution, there are higher welfare options and the cost different is well worth it. There are also lots of ways to replace chicken in dishes if you choose to cut down or want to give chicken meat up.

P.S. I have not added any pictures of inside broiler houses, processing plants or chicken catching machines in action. If the information about is not enough to make you think, Google it and view images or videos. Instead a picture of baby chicks full of hope and a new day 🙂

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Herefordshire – beautiful open countryside and…..

Check out this interactive map of factory farming per county. We live on the Herefordshire and Worcestershire border, we love this area, the countryside around us is stunning. Rolling green pastures in every direction, yet there are 17 million farm animals being raised indoors, it is very disappointing https://www.ciwf.org.uk/factory-farm-map

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