When it came to eating dairy, however, it was a different story. Dairy has always been good in our household and most others. It’s full of calcium and important for growing bones, my mother told me. But after watching Forks Over Knives this past week, a documentary about eating a plant-based diet that forgoes animal and dairy products to reduce disease, it made me wonder if I should forego those food groups. Below I will outline my thoughts and why I ultimately have decided to keep animal products and dairy in my diet.
No. Not necessarily. I think the science is not presented well and we are missing some crucial pieces in our assessment of what’s “healthy” and going to cause the least amount of disease. The most important thing I want to stress is that eating animal products is GOOD, IF they come from the right sources. Today the problem is that we are eating a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 and omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) meaning they have many double bonds and kinks, which makes them more unstable, especially when cooked at a higher heat. This means they will break down more easily when cooked which is bad because they become oxidized. Oxidation in our bodies is a normal process occurring everyday, but in excess levels from intake from foods and environmental toxins, it can speed up rates of diseases. This is why we often hear ads telling us to supplement with ANTIoxidants.
The problem today though, is that most of us cook with corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil which are mostly made of omega-6s. In addition, most of the meat we eat come from cows that are corn-fed, which is again, high in omega-6s and makes the fat content of the cow high in omega-6s. When we eat the cow, this omega-6 PUFA is incorporated into our body and increases inflammation. When we drink the milk from the corn-fed cows this omega-6 PUFA increases inflammation. See where I’m going? Omega-6 PUFA are therefore pro-inflammatory. Omega-3 PUFA, however, are anti-inflammatory when ingested. In the olden days, when cows could graze on grass and fish weren’t fed corn diets, meat contained these anti-inflammatory omega-3 PUFA (2). It is estimated that our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of intake from foods was around 1:1.
Today in the U.S. however, our levels are more like 17:1! This highly skewed ratio is linked to increased rates of inflammation in our body and subsequent higher rates of disease such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and autoimmune diseases (3). Omega-3 PUFA on the other hand, exert suppressive effects: it decreases the risk of dying from a second heart attack by 70%, decreases the risk for breast cancer, decreases inflammation for arthritis patients, and benefitted asthma patients (3,4). The importance here is the ratio between the two fatty acids (or the difference in intake). The lower the ratio, the lower the rates of these diseases.
So in conclusion? My overarching point here is not that we should forego the meat and dairy products, just that we should forego the meat, dairy, and even fish products that come from corn-fed cows or even fish nowadays that aren’t allowed to graze or swim freely. Instead, choose to buy grass-fed meat and dairy that will have the fat content it should. Buy wild salmon instead of farm-raised to get a high dose of omega-3 PUFA. And if you think you can’t afford to purchase the better options, I would suggest looking for grass-fed meat locally at a farmers’ market where prices are less, SuperTarget, or some Walmarts which are starting to carry these products. If you are worried about your high ratio of omega-6 intake and still can’t afford the better meat, make sure you supplement with a good fish-oil pill such as Nordic Naturals to keep your omega-3 intake up! And for anyone still not convinced that we should be eating meat, below is a chart highlighting the foods with the highest amounts of omega-3:
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Source 1: Kroenke, C. H., Kwan, M. L., Sweeney, C., Castillo, A., & Caan, B. J. (2013). High-and low-fat dairy intake, recurrence, and mortality after breast cancer diagnosis. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 105(9), 616-623.
Source 2: Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9, 10. http://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-9-10
Source 3: Simopoulos, A. P. (2008). The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 233(6), 674-688.
Source 4: Mozaffarian, D., & Wu, J. H. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events.Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 58(20), 2047-2067.