Loving the BITE: The Wrong Kind of Fat
Whether you realize it or not, you’re surrounded. It’s in you, in your fridge, in your pantry, in your foods. While small amounts are okay, large amounts are the enemy. It’s the wrong kind of fat. It promotes inflammation and blocks anti-inflammatory fats. It’s chronic inflammation has negative effects on your health, your cycling performance, and your recovery. And, its source may surprise you.
Recipe of the week: Wonderful Asian Ginger Dressing
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root (remember, the skins comes off easily with the side of a spoon)
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce or soy sauce mixed 1:1 with water
- 3 tablespoon organic honey
- Mix all ingredients together.
- Enjoy over a fresh salad, or as a seasoning oil for stir-fries.
There’s a very good reason to be extra picky about your salad dressings and condiments. I mean, looking-at-every- ingredients-list or making-your-own picky. Quite simply, commercial condiments have the wrong kind of fat in them. A cheap kind. A kind that’s pro-inflammatory and hugely detrimental. And, it’s in many, many of the condiments you likely use regularly.
As if fats are not confusing enough, I’m going to go ahead and throw a wrench into everything you think you know about them. And this time, we’re talking about unsaturated fats. Like saturated fats, some are more beneficial than others, and some are harmful to our health. What makes it confusing is that omega-6 fats, which are necessary in our diets for health in small amounts become harmful to health in large amounts. And worse, for years, it’s these very fats we’ve been told to consume. Dang it.
Here’s the issue: Fats with the double bond at the 6th carbon, or omega-6 fats, compete with omega-3 fats to steer our bodies’ production of hormones toward more chronic inflammation and away from reduced chronic inflammation. Omega-6s are primarily found in plant oils, especially grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil, and soybean oil. They are also found in whole grains, whole grain products, and the meats of animals that are not grazed but fed grains. These fats are widely used in the body and readily absorbed. For the experts who have studied the effects of omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, over-consumptions of omega-6s increase the risk of many diseases including heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, inflammation, mood disorders, obesity, and cancer (especially breast and prostate cancer).
While small amounts of these fats are necessary, they are so abundant even naturally in foods, that you don’t need to go out of your way to get them. In fact, while concentrating on getting as much omega-3s as possible, you’ll likely get plenty as these fats are often found in varying amounts in the same foods (so choose the ones that are high omega-3 and lower omega-6). And, in fact, we should go out of our way to minimize them. They should only make up a very limited portion of our diet.
At this point, I’m not going to recommend counting every milligram of omega 6s (I’ve seen recommendations as low as 6 grams per day, which is very tough to which to adhere). Instead, I’m going to tell you the best three ways I know to easily reduce as many grams as you can without too much work. Ideally, the whole diet should balance to a ratio of only 4:1 omega-6:omega-3 or less. This is difficult to achieve with our modern processed diets. And, unfortunately, simply loading up on huge amounts of supplemental omega-3s does not achieve the same results as minimizing omega-6s while getting adequate omega-3s through diet and supplement. So, let’s get to reducing omega-6s.
The big 3: Minimize your intake of soybean oil, cottonseed, and other omega-6s oils in commercial condiments, stop cooking with the high-omega-6 oils listed above, and don’t use a omega supplement that includes omega-6s (such as omega-3/omega-6/omega-9).
Condiments: Most all commercial salad dressings are primarily composed of soybean oil. You’ll have to be picky, and spend a little more to find those made with olive oil (most Amy’s and Braggs, for example, are made without soybean oil). Or, of course, you can make your own using a delicious recipe like the one above.
Cooking: There are really only a handful of oils I recommend for cooking. These all have 2 grams of omega-6s fats or less per Tablespoon, and are (grams/Tbsp listed): organic coconut oil, avocado oil (1.8), high-oleic sunflower (0.5) or safflower oils (2.0) (these are specifically “bred” and grown to produce more omega-9s and less omega-6s – they will be labeled as high-oleic), and at lower temperature, extra virgin olive oil (1.3). And the ones I don’t recommend for cooking in order from worst to less worse, with grams of omega-6 linoleic acids per one Tablespoon (15 gm): safflower oil (10.1 gm), grapeseed oil (9.5), vegetable (7.9), wheat germ (7.5), corn oil (7.3), walnut (7.3), cottonseed (7.0), soybean (7.0), and sunflower (5.4), canola oil (3.0).
Supplements: Again, we don’t need to go looking for omega-6s which compete with omega-3s, so why there are supplements sold, by highly reputable companies, that combine the two I simply don’t know. Supplement omega-3s, not omega-6s!
A word on whole food vs. isolated nutrients: If you’ve heard or read my recommendations for including nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds in your die,t you ought to be plenty confused by now. It’s important to remember that once we isolate and/or concentrate a nutrient from a whole food, it’s a whole new ballgame and we have to be very careful. Walnut oil, in which the fat has been pressed from the whole food walnut, becomes a different food than the walnut, which also contains protein, fiber, and other nutrients. When packaged as a whole food, the other nutrients affect the absorption and metabolism of individual nutrients, you get less each specific nutrient, and you don’t often get the same degree of effect of each individual nutrient. Yes, some people go as far as restricting omega-6 whole foods such as nuts, but I think a better step is to simply minimize the isolated and concentrated omega-6 fats.
Omega-9 fats: And where do monounsaturated fats, omega-9s, fit into all of this? These are neutral in the inflammation vs. anti-inflammatory system. They are often combined with other fats, and are found in significant amounts in olive oil and olives, many nuts, avocados, and high oleic oils.
A LOT of info today, I know. And, I’ll be honest, this went against most of what I learned back in school. This is not on the Food Guide Pyramid nor on the American Heart Association’s website. But, in my opinion, it should be. This week, don’t get bogged down in too much nutrition information. Instead, just hear the take-home message loud and clear: Keep your foods simple and real. As much as possible, stick to whole, slow foods and make most of it at home. The more convenient, the more commercial, the more fast-food, the more omega-6s and the more issues. If you choose to buy your condiments, be picky and identify the fat used. Fight chronic inflammation and give your body fuel that it can use to stay healthy. These small everyday choices have a big impact, both on and off the bike.
Fuel your Ride. Nourish your Body.
Photo c/o allrecipes.com