Humans have a natural tendency throughout their history (from the Stone Age to exponential technologies) to oversimplify complex environments, and as a result they do not evaluate all risks in the best way (or some at all). The reasons for their actions are very complex, and I don’t want to go into all their forms in this series of blogs. However, I do want to address here one specific pattern of decision making and risk assessment that people are fond of (also) in the medical and dietary fields.
So what is the mythical problem? It is the matching of unknown inputs to known outputs, or in other words – confusing causality with correlation. Nassim Nicholas Taleb described this phenomenon very nicely in his book The Black Swan and called it the “narrative fallacy”, or translated as “the fallacy of narrative”. The narrative fallacy describes the tendency of a person to invent a story (input) that illusorily justifies the existence of a phenomenon (output), with the result that the person himself thinks that he understands the phenomenon well enough.
An observant individual has surely caught another individual afflicted with the narrative fallacy at least once in his or her lifetime. Whether it was when he saw an angry gentleman at a bus stop shouting that the cause of his bad financial situation was solely due to such and such a politician, or when a despondent lady at the physiotherapist’s complained that her bulging intervertebral discs were the result of genetics.
However, since this blog series is about nutrition, I’m going to relate the fallacy of narrative exclusively in the context of food.
In the series “Medicine under the guise of dietary narrative”, I want to cover four of the most essential nutrients that I believe are highly misperceived in our civilization, and as a result, many of them are wrongly damned, adored, or ignored, or dosed incorrectly. Or a little of everything.
This part (1) is just about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Why even care about omega-3s and omega-6s?
Eat lots of seeds! Pumpkin, sesame, or maybe even sunflower seeds. And, of course, lots of legumes, because they’re very good, low-fat, and they also lower cholesterol (I discussed the nonsense of this particular case in my last series on cholesterol).
We’ve all heard something like this from somewhere. Why I consider such advice from “experts” to be pure depravity and ignorance of reality, I will gradually explain throughout this blog. But first, let’s take a look at what omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids actually are and why we should care about them at all.
Well, first of all, the human body cannot synthesize omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on its own, so we need to get them from our diet. If you are avoiding fats in the name of the advice of all sorts of dieticians and medical pseudo-experts who claim that fats are yuck, you should wise up. Unless you are severely restricting fats, their deficiency will show up in some way. The critical group is usually women, young mothers, or people labeling themselves as athletes or fitness enthusiasts who emphasize a low-fat diet with lots of protein because after all, they want to be slim and fit.
Importantly, diets avoiding any form of fat can be very dangerous to the health and development of any sapient.
However, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids differ from other fats primarily because they are not used as a source of energy for the body and are not stored. They have an important role in many bodily processes.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are, among other things, important in regulating inflammatory processes in the body. They produce pro- and anti-inflammatory substances called eicosanoids. Omega-3s are important for the production of anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are important for the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Both are necessary for the human body. Without inflammation, the process of regeneration after physical exertion, wound healing, defence against infection and so on could not take place.
The problem arises, however, when there is an excess of omega-6 over omega-3 in the body’s diet over the long term. In such a scenario, the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids understandably start to dominate over the anti-inflammatory ones.
Chronic inflammation, incidentally, is precisely one of the major causes of the most serious modern diseases of civilisation, including heart and blood vessel disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, many cancers and other discomforts.
We must not forget the human brain, which is also not well served by an excess of omega-6s, as it is the brain that most needs enough omega-3 fatty acids – and not just any omega-3 fatty acids, either. The brain mainly consumes EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids that are unfortunately present exclusively in animal fats.
What do old monkeys eat and what do new monkeys eat?
In the past, our European ape hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed mostly terrestrial animals, and their ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 was 2:1. The Inuit, for example, ate mostly omega-3-rich seafood, and their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio was a nice 1:1 balance.
Although hunter-gatherer (and Inuit) populations had a lower life expectancy than today’s humans, since they did not have much health care, the diseases of modern civilization, such as the aforementioned heart disease and diabetes, were completely unknown to them. Not only did the population of that time get far less omega-6 from their diet, but they also got more exercise, ate fewer sugars, and had no access to modern junk food. But this is all a familiar story.
Well, now to fatty acids in the present day. The average omega-6 : omega-3 ratio is 12:1 for Europe and 23:1 for the US. Pretty harsh, isn’t it?
Of course, we clearly need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our diets, but it’s the ratio between the two that’s key – and the vast majority of people are at risk of an imbalance. And those who not only don’t supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, but fill up on junk food and don’t even bother with fish and flaxseed, can, in my opinion, easily have an imbalance with an omega-6 : omega-3 ratio in excess of 25:1.
Cause of omega imbalance
One of the main reasons we have gotten to this catastrophic state is that our civilization has fetishized extracting oils from different types of plants and seeds. Seed fats have been domesticated and scavenged by ape civilization. Well, these domesticated fats, rich in omega-6 fatty acids, gradually replaced animal fats, which in their original form were very balanced sources of omega-3 and omega-6.
The extraction of such oils is now much cheaper than it used to be. Or, more precisely, the sloppy extraction (using chemicals – solvents, high pressure, etc.) that 99% of products in mainstream supermarkets undergo. Honest extraction, which doesn’t damage the oil, is already quite a bit more expensive and rare.
Another reason for this imbalance is simply the lack of omega-3s in the foods we commonly consume today. This is particularly the case with meat and eggs. Something like this has come about because the way in which animals are reared has changed radically. For example, the fact that cows are fed wheat-corn-soya muck instead of grass has automatically radically changed the fatty acid content of their meat. Similarly, fish, which are now mostly raised on fish farms, have had their omega-3 and omega-6 ratios changed for the worse.
But beyond the fatty acids in meat, we cannot forget the residual content of toxins from the diet and environment of farmed animals (mycotoxins, pesticides, antibiotics, etc.). Who knows what else might be there if the animals cannot stand up, are lying in the moist muck and their own excrements, and are happily catching all sorts of infections. And most people voluntarily buy such meat and ideally complete their existential masochism by roasting the meat with carcinogenic treatment in oxidised sunflower oil full of omega-6 acids. Yum.
How to repair the imbalance
1. Reduce omega-6 intake
If you want to hack civilization’s cruel omega-6 habit, first and foremost you need to avoid foods that are highest in sixes. These are mostly very non-nutritious wanna-be-foods that the human body is unlikely to miss. These are mainly cheap vegetable oils and all foods that contain them and are prepared with them (this is probably over 90% of processed foods as well). We’re talking about sunflower, canola, corn, soybean oil and other crap.
Another cool step leading to a reduction in omega-6 consumption is, of course, limiting nuts (except cashews!). Even though nuts are nutritionally very pumped up and more than one Dr. Bukovsky (a well-known Slovak ezoteric dick and dietician) would kill for them, most of them are heavily dominated by omega-6. Even walnuts, which everyone recommends as a great source for omega-3s, still have more omega-6 than omega-3.
Nuts also contain many antinutrients that require appropriate treatment, such as soaking in water.
The most disgusting nuts, which are not even nuts but legumes, and which are promoted by the vast majority of militant vegans and admirers of Indian cuisine, are undoubtedly peanuts. Peanuts contain pro-inflammatory protein lectins (like classic potatoes), have a high risk of contamination with the potent carcinogen aflatoxin, and needless to say, many nuts (and not just peanuts) are already spoiled before purchase, as they contain oxidised fats, or worse still, are loaded with other vegetable oxidised oils or sulphur oxides. This last brutal combo refers mainly to all sorts of “nut mixes”, ideally with raisins as well.
2. Eat foods with the right ratio of omegas
Once your omega-6 intake is reduced, the next step is to improve your sources of animal food intake. That is, foods that originally had a balanced ratio, such as domestic meats and eggs.
As mentioned above, eggs and meat from animals raised on soy, wheat, and corn, which is at least 90% of all available, contain horrible ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 (as does meat from humans raised on soy, wheat, and corn). That is why it is absolutely essential to buy meat and eggs from honest farmers who are not ashamed of what they feed their animals.
3. Increase omega-3 intake
And of course, the most ideal way to complete this list is to eat foods that are rich in high quality omega-3 fats. However, we are not talking about easily oxidised linseed oil and other vegetable fats. These contain omega-3 fatty acids only in the form of ALA, which is very difficult for most people to convert to DHA and EPA (which are essential for the brain, for example, as mentioned in the chapter “Why even care about omega-3s and omega-6s?”). Unfortunately for vegans, if we want to substitute omega-3s so that none of our organs are wasting away, we can’t avoid animals. And the most ideal choice is just krill oil, which contains the amazing antioxidant (carotenoid) astaxanthin, in addition to the more digestible omega-3s in the form of phospholipids.
Of the animal food sources of omegathrees, marine fish in particular stands out, but even here it’s not entirely straightforward. In fact, most fish soak up huge amounts of contaminants from the ocean, such as heavy metals, dioxins, and other junk like that. It is therefore advisable to eat small fish (e.g. sardines) that have been wild caught. Basically (not always), the bigger the fish, the bigger the crap. For example, such tuna is a disaster in terms of heavy metals.