Why Grains Are Bad–Part 2, Omega 3 vs. 6 Fats

December 2, 2011 in Categories: , , by

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Two important facets of the Paleo diet are to avoid foods that irritate our gut and to eat a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (aiming for 1:1 to 1:2). We’ve already looked at how lectins in grains can affect our gut health in Why Grains Are Bad–Part 1,Lectins and the Gut, so now, let’s take a look at how they can skew this very important ratio of fatty acids!

Not only do grains contain “toxic” lectins (like gluten) that damage the cells that line our gut, but they are also very high in omega-6 fatty acids. Grains (including corn) and legumes are high in linoleic acid, the omega-6 fatty acid that seems to be at the root of many modern diseases. Omega-6 fatty acids contribute to pro-inflammatory pathways in our body, and the huge increase in the proportion of our dietary fat that now comes from omega-6s (instead of omega-3s) is a major player in a wide range of health problems (see What About Fat?).

But it gets worse! These omega-6 fatty acids are concentrated in modern vegetable oils, which we’ve been encouraged to consume in place of natural animal fats (due to fears surrounding saturated fat and cholesterol). Oils derived from grains and legumes (soy, canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut, corn, etc.) didn’t exist until the process of mechanical extraction was invented. So, not only are we consuming omega-6 fatty acids directly from grain-containing foods, but also from the vegetable oils that they are cooked in.

Another insidious way that omega-6-rich grains have negatively impacted human health is with farmed meat. Cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and even some farmed fish are fed grains (instead of their more diverse, biologically appropriate diets). The meat from these animals no longer contains a balanced 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (which they did prior to agriculture). Instead, it is typically closer to 1:10! It’s not enough just to avoid grains in our diet; we need to be mindful of what we eat that eats grains too. In a perfect world, we would all eat pasture-fed beef, free-range poultry, wild-caught fish, and wild game meat, while also avoiding all grains, legumes, and modern vegetable oils.

When budget becomes an important consideration, I suggest removing sources of omega-6 where affordable, but also focusing more on increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids. One inexpensive way to do this is by eating omega-3 eggs or pasture-raised eggs (which typically have a 1:1.5 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio). Another way to increase omega-3 intake diet is to eat more wild-caught fish (canned salmon and sardines are a great inexpensive option).  (For more budget tips, see Budget Paleo: Priorities and Strategies, Managing Time and Budget, “If I Can’t Always Afford Grass-Fed Beef, What Should I Buy?”, and Paleo FAQ: “Can I still do paleo if I can’t afford or source grass-fed beef and organic produce?”).

Regardless of how we increase our omega-3 consumption, omitting grains from our diet is critical. There are no mammals in the wild that have grains as part of their diet. The only group of animals that do well eating grains is birds, which we are not!

why grains are bad part2








Hi. I love your site. What is your opinion on hemp oil? I have been taking this as my Omega supplement. This is some information I’ve copied from the website of my supplier.

Excellent source of “Pure Active Protein”.
Provides a well balance array of the 10 essential amino acids for humans.
Wonderful food source, add to salads, smoothies, fruit or take by itself.
Hempseed is an excellent dietary source of easily digestible gluten free protein.
Overall protein content of 34.6 grams/100 grams is comparable to that of Soy beans and better than that found in nuts, other seeds, dairy products, meat, fish or poultry.
An important aspect of Hempseed protein is a high content of arginine and histidine both of which are important for growth during childhood.
Also contains amino acids methionine and cysteine which are needed for proper enzyme formation.
Hemp protein also contains relatively high levels of the branched-chain amino acids that are important for metabolism of exercising muscle.

I would very much appreciate your response.

I am new to paleo and have about 40 lbs to lose. Other than being overweight I believe I’m currently very healthy and do not need to take any medications.

Thank you

Hemp oil is a source of ALA omega-3 fats but these have to be converted into DHA or EPA fats by your body before they can be used and conversion is not very efficient. I would suggest fish or krill oil as an omega-e supplement instead. The best is to simply include fresh wild-caught oily fish in your diet. Also, there is no more complete source of amino acids than meat and fish, especially if you include organ meat in your diet.

What about wild rice? I love your blog and just bought your book 🙂 I have been off gluten for 5 years but still have some symptoms so I am slowly introducing paleo to my diet. Still eating rice

Wild rice is considered a grain and is not part of the “traditional” Paleo diet or the AIP. Sarah recommends you follow the strictest version of the AIP for at least thirty days before reintroducing any foods (you can read more about this in the book). A recent episode of The Paleo View discussed rice and other starchy carbs, you can read show notes/listen to the show here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2014/02/tpv-podcast-episode-78-domestic-man.html You may also want to join our new The Paleo Approach Community group on Facebook and ask for support there. You can request to join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TPACommunity/ — Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

Do you have lists of true grains, legumes, nuts and seeds? I am so confused when you mention soy, canola and soy together. I understand when you say grains are bad for specific reasons, but it makes sense to me that humans would have eaten whole versions of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, seasonally. And surely grazing animals eat grain seeds directly off the stalk in the fall, to prepare for winter? Deer eat grain out of the farmer’s fields near me all the time.

Hi there! So is the important thing here with Omega 3s to BALANCE the quantity with Omega 6s?

And so then is it safe to assume that by not eating any grains, nuts or legumes, or using any vegetable oils (other than the good oils like olive oil and avocado oil UNcooked) and adding a fish oil supplement, and eating about half of my meats that are grass-fed or organic that I’d be getting a good ratio?

Also a question regarding fish oil. I’ve seen liquid with a concentration as high as 2325mg of Omega 3s. Is it possible to get TOO much??

Thank you!

Thank you so much Sarah! Love both part 1 and part 2 – We’ve been Paleo since January for the health of my daughter’s colon (and mine certainly) – she was diagnosed with UC last summer and we knew based of some of her health concerns when she was younger that going off grains would help her out. Understanding the science behind it helps me to better explain why it works when people look at me all funny when I tell them how we’ve helped her body out. She’s a very happy, healthy, thriving and beautiful 19 year old college girl now. Which is a far cry from where she was right after High School graduation, miserable in in the hospital and always in pain. I’ve gotten used to the eye rolling ~ but eyecarumba, I’m sure we get talked about later. It takes getting some tough skin…as I’m sure you know! My husband joined us in going Paleo in June (he also has UC) and he’s feeling so much better, inside and out! I’m convinced that when people are all irritated on the inside…they’re kinda grumpy on the outside too! Just a theory I have, but I really feel like there’s truth to it! Anyways Sarah…thank you so much! I must get your book and dive into it, my mind likes to understand things and you do a wonderful job! Happy Sunday to you! ~Michelle

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