Inflammation and food- part 2

First an injury update- I’m back to running! The rest, ice and, of course, ground flaxseed must have worked. Although I’m resuming running with caution, my extensor tendonitis seems to be completely resolved.

If you read my last blog (which I highly recommend), I talked about omega-3 fatty acids and their role in reducing inflammation. However, omega-3 fatty acids are only part of the picture. This is where omega-6 fatty acids come in. Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are also essential in our diet and must be consumed daily. Top food sources include:

  • Soybeans
  • Corn
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs

While consuming adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids is important, consuming too much omega-6 fatty acids is harmful. Why? Eating too much omega-6 fatty acids increases the dreaded inflammation! Unfortunately, it’s very easy to eat too much omega-6 fatty acids. A typical Western diet consists of about sixteen omega-6 fatty acids per every one omega-3 fatty acid. In comparison, before the industrialization of foods, about one to four omega-6 fatty acids were being consumed per one omega-3 fatty acid.

corn-oilWhy such a sudden increase in omega-6 fatty acid consumption? One reason is that most Western diets consist mainly of corn-based products. If you look back to the list that I provided of omega-6 fatty acid food sources, corn has a high omega-6 fatty acid content. Another reason for increased omega-6 fatty acid consumption was the switch from butter to margarine and other vegetable oils. These tend to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids. However, I am not advocating a high amount of butter consumption (check out my blog on butter).

To reduce inflammation, we need to not only increase our omega-3 fatty acid consumption but also decrease our omega-6 fatty acid consumption in order to reach an optimal ratio of omega-3: omega-6. It’s not that omega-6 fatty acids are bad. They are essential to health and play an important role in our body. However, health problems occur because of an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids and too little omega-3 fatty acids.

Last week’s blog highlighted ways to increase omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Here are some things I do to keep my omega-6 consumption in check:

  • I choose my cooking oils carefully. I use olive or canola oil instead of the vegetable oils listed above that are high in omega-6 fatty acids
  • I carefully read the ingredients list when selecting salad dressings, mayonnaise and other spreads, to check the type of oil that is being used. Most use soybean oil, which is higher in omega-6 fatty acids. I try to select margarine and mayonnaise made from olive oil. I usually make my own salad dressing with olive oil, which is both easy and delicious.

cattleThere has been a lot of interesting research on the omega-6 fatty acid content in grass-fed vs. grain fed beef. Grass-fed beef is higher in ALA (one of the omega-3 fatty acids) than grain fed beef. However, the omega- 6 fatty acid content is the same. If your diet is largely made up of beef, you might want to consider buying grass fed beef. However, I came across a lot of conflicting research on the debate over grass fed vs grain fed beef. While grass fed beef seems to be better, I’m not sure if the health benefits are significant enough to outweigh the added cost.

The omega fats are certainly a comprehensive and confusing topic, so I hope that something positive came out of running injury, and that you all learned something new! If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my weekly blog so that you can stay up to date with the latest sports nutrition research.

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram: @the.running.dietitian.

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