I grew up during the low-fat craze of the 1990s and beyond. I was always told to avoid fat and to buy the low-fat yogurt, the low-fat milk, the low-fat cheese and the low-fat whatever else could have fat removed from it. The craziest low-fat food that I ever saw was low-fat peanut butter that was basically peanut dust (last time I checked, that’s not peanut butter).
As the science behind nutrition has matured and we’re beginning to learn that there are a.) different kinds of fats and b.) our body responds to different fats in different ways. For starters, we know that trans-fats, which used to be glorified and found in things like margarine and just about anything else, are actually terrible for you and can completely destroy your body’s circulatory system. We also know that Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are pretty great and help with all sorts of things like reducing an individual’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. We also know that regulating the balance between Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids is really important and that in recent years, our intake of Omega-6 is much much much higher than it should be. In fact, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids that most people consume is the exact opposite of what it should be: we should be consuming much more Omega-3 than Omega-6.
There’s a relatively new (to me) food movement that is built on finding the correct balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plant oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil. Omega-3 acids come from fish like mackerel, tuna, as well walnuts and flaxseed. Recent research shows that Omega-3s are also found in milk, butter and yogurt, if they come from organic, grass-fed cows. The problem is, in America at least, most of the meat we eat and the milk we drink comes from animals that were raised on grain diets, often involving soy and corn, and not grass-fed diets.
Research out of the University of Washington found that whole milk is actually much better for you than skim milk, but only if it comes from organically-raised, grass-fed cows. The whole milk from these cows contains a substantially increased amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. By comparison, cows that were raised on grain diets (such as corn) had much higher levels of Omega-6 in their milk. Other research found that meat from cows that were raised on grain diets had higher levels of Omega-6 fatty acids than meat from cows that were raised on grass-fed diets. Another really good example of “you are what you eat.”
So, it turns out that low-fat isn’t always best and that what’s important is what KIND of fat you’re eating. It is important to be sure that you are watching the calories you consume from fat as fat does have a higher number of calories than carbohydrates and proteins. The message I’m taking away from this, and of course this is highly individual, is that when I’m eating dairy, I’m going to avoid the low-fat, low-calorie option and instead opt for the organic-grass fed, full-fat option.
What do you think? Have you heard any other research comparing Omega-3 and Omega-6? Have you made any changes to incorporate more Omega-3s into your diet?