Are Trans Fats really that bad?
Try typing trans fatty acids into Google and you’ll get a wealth of articles on the connection between these fats and obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer.
Many people also point out that the dramatic increase in the incidence of such diseases during the twentieth century coincided with the increased occurrence of trans fatty acids in our diet. Many studies uphold this observation
Yet there are many who still put the blame on animal fats and Ayurveda would say that they may have a point. It’s not just the type of oils we eat but the amount, and we are eating far more animal fat than at any time in human history.
What oils should we be eating?
If you look back into history it would be hard to find a culture that has not had both animal and vegetable oils in their diet. A good balance between different types of oils seems necessary for good health.
The quality of oil we consume is also very important.
When it comes to choosing fats and oils, one rule that Ayurveda would insist on is that they should be as close to their natural state as possible. When it comes to vegetable oils, this means organic and cold-pressed. With animal fats, such as lard and butter, the animals should be organically reared. Cattle should be grass-fed.
Do I really need to go organic?
If you are truly health-conscious and are a meat-eater, eating organically reared animals is essential.
Animals are at the top of the food chain. During their lives, they incorporate a large amount of vegetable protein and other nutrients into their bodies. We obtain concentrated and highly bio-available nutrition by eating meat, milk and milk products.
But if these animals are also taking in pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics and other agricultural chemicals, the residues and by-products become concentrated in the animal products that we eat.
So, buying organic meat, milk products and ghee is a wise choice.
The Omega-3 and Omega-6 connection
Another way to classify oils is by their relative ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. These are essential fats that our body needs but can’t produce itself. We must obtain them from our food.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 play a crucial role in brain function and in the normal growth and development of our body, but their proportion must be right. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats is sometimes cited as 1:1, sometimes as 4:1. Yet the typical Western diet is between 20:1 and 50:1.
This imbalance has the effect of over-stimulate the inflammatory processes in our body. In Ayurvedic terms, the Pitta or fire element becomes over-stimulated.
Historically our diets were abundant in seafood and other sources of Omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA), and relatively low in Omega-6 seed oils.
Research suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats in a ratio of about 1:1. The same research also indicates that both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers were free of inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, all of which have reached almost epidemic proportions during the last century and into this.
Over the last 100 years there has occurred a marked shift in the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats in our diet. We gradually started consuming a greater proportion of Omega-6 fats.
The modern vegetable oil industry has had a great deal to do with this change. Most vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fat – mainly of the Omega-6 variety. If our fat intake comes mostly from vegetable oil, this can create an imbalance between our body’s Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
This shift has also resulted from the way we feed our livestock.
We changed the way we kept and fed our cows
For thousands of years cows got the bulk of their nutrition from grass, which is their natural diet.
During the twentieth century, in order to quickly ‘bulk up’ cows for meat production as well as to increase dairy production, high-starch, high-protein, high-energy grains and pulses, such as maize and soy, have been introduced into their diet.
Since cows’ digestive system is designed for grass, a diet consisting mainly of maize and soy wreaks havoc with their health. The result is that regular rations of antibiotics and chemicals must be used to keep disease in check.
More and more cows have been confined to feedlots instead of going out to pasture. As with most farming ‘innovations’, the feedlot system was first pioneered in America. Now about 90% of the beef and milk consumed in the United States comes from such feedlots.
In both Europe and North America, the general practice is after six months on pasture and grass, beef cattle are taken to feedlots for the remaining six months or so of their lives and given a diet of soy, maize and other grains. Much of this feed is now genetically modified (GM).
US-style feedlots are appearing in Europe and the UK. In the Netherlands, one of the world’s largest milk producers, one-third of dairy cows are confined indoors. During the last decade, Denmark has seen the number of cows kept in feedlots rise from 16% to 67%.
What are the results of this intensification?
Udder infections, infertility and lameness are rampant in this new type of dairy farm.
Large amounts of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals have to be used to keep the cows healthy and productive. Many of these chemicals appear in our milk.
Why not just leave cows in the fields eating grass?
There is strong evidence that cows that feed off clover-rich grass produce meat and milk that has a wide range of health-promoting nutrients.
Grain-fed beef can have an Omega 6:3 ratio higher than 20:1.
When you eat food that goes beyond the 4:1 ratio, the essential fat imbalance can lead to health problems. Grain-fed beef can also have over 50% of its total fat as the less healthy saturated fat.
The same studies show that grass-fed beef can have an Omega 6:3 ratio of 0.16:1.
This is similar to the Omega 6:3 ratio of fish, which scientists suggest is ideal for our diet.
Meat and dairy from these grass-fed animals will give you plenty of Omega-3 and help balance the high Omega-6 content in other parts of our diet.
If pregnant or breast-feeding women were to eat grass-fed beef or dairy produce, the extra Omega-3 they absorb would provide ideal nutrition for their child.
Grass-fed beef usually has less than 10% of its fat as saturated.