Get An Oil Change – Part III: What If You’re a Vegan?

Studies show that typical vegans eat almost twice as much pro-inflammatory omega 6 than typical meat eaters relative to the amount of omega 3 they consume.  Why is this?  First, there is a bit more omega 3 in even commercial meats, eggs and dairy products than in grains and beans.  But, the main culprit is vegetable oils.  Is your diet rich in fried, sautéed or wok cooked meals using vegetable oil?  Do you drown your salads in oily dressing?  Do you snack on tortilla chips and roasted peanuts?  Do you eat lots of commercial vegan meat and dairy substitutes, such as tofu hotdogs and soy burgers?  How about soy ice cream and greasy dishes like falafel and tempura?  If this describes your diet, then you have basically substituted a (saturated) fatty meat diet for a (polyunsaturated) greasy vegetarian diet.  This is not a good move.

All of these products will throw your omega6/omega 3 ratio way out of whack, and create additional health problems as well.  Eliminating or greatly reducing the addition of refined vegetable oils (and most vegetable oils are refined, even the ones that claim to be unrefined or cold pressed) in your diet is one of the most important steps you can take as a vegetarian toward improving your fatty acid profile and your health.

There are very few vegan foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids.  The best sources are whole flax and chia seeds.  These seeds are rich in ALA, a precursor to EPA/DHA.  Flax seeds have a nutty taste and are delicious on top of salads or cereal.  Dark green leafy greens and beans also contain small amounts of ALA.  By eating a vegan diet that is low in fat, high in beans and leafy greens, plus adding one or two tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds to your daily dietary regimen, you will tip your balance of omega 6/omega 3 toward the healthy range.

Some “vegans” also supplement their diet with Omega 3 rich eggs, a teaspoon or two of organic ghee or butter and small fatty fish.  I highly recommend this strategy to those who are eating vegan for health, as opposed to religious or moral reasons.  It will improve your fatty acid profile, and reduce your cravings for vegan “junk food”.

Low-fat vegan diets similar to the one proposed by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn  improve the profile of omega 6/omega 3 by reducing total fat intake and eliminating vegetarian junk foods, which are rich in refined vegetable oils.  The majority of your calories on these diets come from carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans, tubers (like sweet potatoes), and minimally processed whole grains.  The low fat vegan diet has reversed heart disease and radically improved the health of many patients, such as former president Bill Clinton.  However, most vegans have a hard time giving up their craving for fat and richness, and have difficulty sticking to these very low fat vegan diets without cheating.   A Kapha body type (see my blog series on Ayurvedic nutrition) would have an easier time on this diet.  A Vata constitution would have the most difficulty.  Experiment to see what works for you, or come see me for a consultation.  I’ll make some personalized recommendations.

If you are a vegan who needs or craves more fat in your diet, my recommendations are:

  1. Grind chia and flax seeds with chick peas to make your own chick pea hummus.  Put chia and flax seeds in smoothies.  Use them as a base for raw dressings and sauces.  Use the fresh raw seeds, not flax oil, which is very unstable, and goes rancid quickly.
  2. Other fresh and raw nuts and seeds are not good sources of omega 3.  So, if you rely on nuts and seeds for most of your caloric intake (as do some raw vegans), your essential fatty acid profile will be skewed in the unhealthy direction.  However, nuts and seeds are nutritious whole foods which have many other beneficial vitamins, minerals, protein, etc.  They are a much healthier source of dietary fats than refined vegetable oils.  If you want to maximize the nutrients you get from nuts, soak them in water overnight.  This helps neutralize enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid, both of which inhibit digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the seeds and nuts.  If you don’t like to eat soggy nuts, lay them on a tray and bake them in your oven at its lowest heat setting until the nuts have dried.  Try to limit your intake of nuts and seeds to ¼ to ½ cup per day, depending on your caloric needs.
  3. Use extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and fresh avocados.

More on this in my next article in this series.

Get An Oil Change to Radically Improve Your Life – Part II

So, to follow up on my previous blog on this topic, how do you get your ratio of omega 6/omega 3 fatty acids back in balance in order to stop the pro-inflammatory disease process and heal your body and mind?

If You Are a Meat Eater

Get off factory-farmed commercial meats.  Do not support the commercial meat industry.  It is toxic for you, cruel to the animals and bad for our planet.  How to do this?

  1. If you buy meat at Whole Foods Market, it should have an animal welfare rating of 4 or higher (it’s a green color sticker).  (All the meats at Whole Foods have a posted rating of #1-5.  If you don’t see this on the meat package, ask an employee to help you.
  2. Kosher meat is neither pasture/grass fed, nor organic, unless it specifically says so on the label.
  3. If you have sufficient freezer storage, consider patronizing a local farm that raises pasture-fed animals and stock up.  Here are two useful links:  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/659472 and http://www.beefdirect2you.com/beef-MA.aspx
  4. Aim for two servings of fatty fish per week.  Small fish like sardines, herring, Atlantic mackerel and anchovies are lower in mercury than larger fish.  Wild Alaskan salmon is higher in omega 3 than Atlantic salmon, which is farmed, and is relatively low in mercury.  Tuna is high in omega 3, but also relatively high in mercury.
  5. There are many good reasons to avoid commercial milk, yogurt and cheese, even if you are not vegan.  I will discuss this in a future article.  From the standpoint of increasing your EPA/DHA, high omega 3 dairy products are available.
  6. Egg yolks from pasture fed chickens are an excellent source of omega 3.
  7. Remember that 99% of restaurants serve factory farmed, high omega 6 meat and poultry, farmed fish, and also use excessive amounts of vegetable oil in their cooking.  If you take your health seriously, you need to limit restaurant eating to special occasions, and prepare more of your food at home.  Consider being vegan when you eat out, and prepare your meat meals at home.
  8. Organic, grass fed butter and ghee (clarified butter) are good sources of omega 3, as well as CLA (conjugated fatty acids), which have many health benefits, including lower body fat while preserving muscle tissue, reducing insulin resistance, and preventing inflammation.

Stay tuned for Part III where I’ll describe how to do this if you a vegetarian. You may be surprised to learn that vegetarians (especially vegans) have been shown in various studies to have an even worse ratio of omega 6/omega 3 in their diets than meat eaters and need to take extra care to achieve a better balance of the omegas.

How to Stay Healthy This Autumn

In autumn, the yang/warmth of the sun decreases, giving way to the yin/cooler season of winter.  In the Fall, one must begin to store vital energy in order to make it through the winter in a healthy state.  People who feel poorly during the winter benefit greatly from receiving acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the Fall.  Acupuncture and herbal therapy can help stoke the metabolism, increase immunity, circulate warmth and vitality throughout the body, balance circadian rhythms and improve one’s mood.

Conditions such as frequent winter colds, bronchitis and asthma, seasonal affective disorder, winter holiday depression, binge eating, and arthritic conditions which worsen in cold and damp weather can all be resolved if they are effectively treated in the Fall, by helping the body to store the vital energy it accumulated during the warmer months.

Here are my suggestions for a healthy Fall and Winter season:

  • Increase your intake of root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, burdock root, and winter squash.  A good guideline about what to eat during the autumn is to locate what is available at your local farmer’s market and use that as a template for building a meal that is appropriate to the Fall season. This goes for every other season as well.
  • Eat more soups.  They are warming and nourishing.  Soup helps keep you hydrated during this cool, dry season.
  • Also, drink warm tea and plenty of warm or room temperature water throughout the day.  Avoid cold drinks, large raw salads, and icy desserts. 
  • Adjust your schedule to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.  Take walks outside to soak in the warming rays of the sun.  Sleep more during the dark, chilly nights.
  • Carry an extra layer (thermal undershirt or sweater) even if it feels warm outside.  Autumn is cold in the shade and warm in the sun.  Autumn temperatures can change drastically during the course of the day.  Try not to get chilled, and change your clothing immediately if you get sweaty.
  • See your acupuncturist.  Even if you are not sick now, receiving preventative acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine now can shore up your protective qi and help you have a healthy and happy winter

Get An Oil Change to Radically Improve Your Health

There are three types of fats: saturated (solid at room temperature), monounsaturated (liquid at room temperature and semi-solid in the fridge) and polyunsaturated (liquid at both room and fridge temperature).  Polyunsaturated fats are comprised of two types of fatty acids:  omega 6 and omega 3.

Our bodies require both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids in a one to one ratio.  Cross culturally, and throughout history humans ate diets containing omega 6/omega 3 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:1 (or, at most 2:1).  Today, that ratio has changed for most people to around 15:1!

Less than one hundred years ago, our diets underwent a dramatic change.  Industrial cooking oils were developed.  These oils: “vegetable oil”, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, etc. are extremely high in omega 6.

Something else occurred during the last one hundred years:  the factory farming of animals.  After World War II farmers were producing more corn than the American population was consuming.  So, they started to feed the surplus corn to livestock. They discovered that cows eating corn fattened up much quicker than cows eating grass.  Seventy-five years ago it took a cow four to five years to reach a slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds. Today it takes 13 months, thanks to corn, antibiotics, growth hormones and protein supplements.   Similar results were attained with other livestock, so now cows, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, and even fish are raised on corn and soy.

Cows and other grazing animals are ruminants:  they are able to digest the cellulose in grass because of their multi-chambered digestive tracts.  Corn consumption in cattle causes many problems (liver abscesses, bloat, sudden death syndrome, acidosis), because quite simply, cattle were never meant to eat corn.  Pasture fed cattle have a healthy neutral pH of 7 in their stomach.  A corn diet dangerously raises the acid level in the cow’s stomach creating disease states in the animal.  Sick animals are now the norm, so all commercial livestock are routinely given high doses of medications and antibiotics.  Diseased animals harbor pathogens, especially E coli.  Eating commercially raised meats routinely exposes your gut and immune system to a toxic soup of harmful bacteria, pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids and drugs.

Feeding livestock corn fundamentally changes the meat they produce, greatly increasing levels of unhealthy Omega-6 fatty acids and decreasing levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Wild or pasture raised meats have an omega 3/omega 6 fatty acid ratio that is close to 1:2.  The ratio in commercial meats is closer to 1:5.

So, what’s so important about getting the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids right?  When we consume omega 6/omega 3 fatty acids in a ratio close to 1:1, our body uses the omega 3 preferentially to produce lots of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  These substances are anti inflammatory.  Preventing inflammation halts many diseases in their tracks.  For example, here’s the sequence of changes the leads to a heart attack or stroke:  First, there is inflammation in our arteries.  The inflammation leads to a buildup of oxidized cholesterol or plaque.  This plaque can burst and form a clot, cutting off the blood supply to a region of the heart or brain, leading to death. 

What is the major cause of this inflammation?  Omega 6 fatty acids!  Just as our body converts omega 3 to beneficial EPA/DHA via enzymatic action, our body converts omega 6 to AA (arachidonic acid).  AA is harmful, and causes inflammation, when produced in excessive amounts.  Western doctors prescribe taking an aspirin a day to their cardiac patients, because aspirin blocks the body’s ability to produce inflammation from all that extra omega 6 we consume in our diet.  However, aspirin alone cannot undo all the damage caused in our bodies by the overconsumption of omega 6. 

Some diseases known to be caused, at least in part, by systemic inflammation and EPA/DHA deficiency include: heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis, joint pains in general, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, brain fog and cognitive decline, inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), asthma, macular degeneration, menstrual pain, breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Interestingly, vegetarians (especially vegans) have been shown in various studies to have an even worse ratio of omega 6/omega 3 in their diets than meat eaters.  If you are vegetarian or vegan, you need to take some special precautions to ensure you are not undermining your health by eating a pro-inflammatory diet.

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, which I plan to send out in two weeks.  In Part II, I will discuss exactly what you should eat if you are a meat eater or a vegetarian in order to improve your fatty acid profile and reduce inflammation in your body.