Before we get started, I want to clarify that I think almonds are great. They make a wonderful flour substitute for grain-free baking and cooking. They’re full of vitamin E which is great for your skin, and they contain unprocessed, unrefined fats that keep you full while protecting your nerve endings. And they’re not even really “bad” for you, per say – but it turns out that even some “superfoods” should be eaten in moderation…
Understanding The Essentials
You see, some of the healthy fats that almonds contain can become unhealthy when you eat too many of them. The healthy fats in almonds are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are considered to be “essential” fatty acids, which means you need them, but your body can’t produce them – so you get them from your diet.
Both omega-3s and omega-6s play a crucial role in brain function and normal growth and development. They help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.Diets rich in balanced omega acids fight inflammation and slow skin aging – they’ve even been shown to reduce UV light sensitivity in the skin.
Without enough of these essential fatty acids our bodies start to “dry out” – from our hair to our fingernails. Our joints can get stiff and painful, and we may develop skin irritations like psoriasis. We develop inflammation because these fats are key to supporting our built-in anti-inflammatory process.
Omega-3s have been in the public eye for a while now because of their heart-healthy benefits and anti-inflammatory properties, but omega-6s are less heard of. When consumed in excess, some fatty acids found in omega-6s have been shown to cause inflammation throughout the body and especially in your arteries.
But wait, we need omega-6s… But they cause inflammation – so what should we do?
Finding The Balance For Reduced Inflammation
In order to maintain low levels of inflammation, it’s important to create a balance of these fatty acids within your nutrition plan. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, while the recommended ratio is 2:1 – 4:1 more omega-3s.
Instead of just supplementing with fish or krill oil (which is still a great idea), pay attention to including plenty of omega-3 rich foods in your diet and moderate your intake of foods that contain higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
The omega-3s found in animal-based foods are called DHA and EPA. Here’s a chart of animal foods with the highest omega-3 content per 3 oz serving (a standard serving of these foods is about the size of a checkbook):
When it comes to consuming omega-3s, cooking style is important to make sure the food you end up eating has the same nutritional value as it when it started out. Poaching and baking are two of the best ways to prepare foods with delicate fats like omega-3 without damaging the fatty acids or reducing the omega-3 content in the food.
Bake your salmon fillets in a 300º oven for 10-15 minutes (or longer for thicker cuts). They should be a light pink color and flake easily when they’re ready.
The omega-3 acid found in plants is called ALA (short for “alpha-linolenic acid”). Here are some plant sources with a high ALA contents per ounce:
*Walnuts have the highest amount of omega-3 acids of the nuts we eat. Nuts generally tend to have higher amounts of omega-6s than omega-3s (including walnuts), so it’s best to eat them in moderation (think about keeping it to 1 small handful of nuts a day – this includes your almond butter and almond flour, too).
† It’s important to note that raw seeds like flax, chia, and hemp are good sources of omega-3s when raw. Once you begin to heat these foods the omega-3 fats start to oxidize, which turns them into free radicals that can actually cause inflammation in the body. Stick with raw (not toasted) flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
Here is a list of some omega-6 heavy foods that you should eliminate or moderate your intake of, along with ideas for alternatives you can eat:
When you do find yourself eating more nuts or omega-6 rich foods (like vegetable oil, peanuts, chicken, or conventionally raised beef), try to balance it out with these foods…
Eggs from pasture-raised chickens tend to have higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, as well as grass-fed beef and seaweed (which is where fish get their high omega-3 content from – cows get it from the grass they eat). And of course, include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet to keep you full and boost your antioxidant intake so you can counterbalance the inflammatory foods you may eat.
The World Health Organization recommends that adults consume 0.3-0.5 grams of EPA plus DHA and 0.8-1.1 grams of alpha-linolenic acid daily. You can see that it’s easy to get that amount and then some by including any of these foods listed above in your diet.
It’s important for your heart (and brain!) to consider which foods you’re eating right now that may be high in omega-6s. Add at least 1 serving of an omega-3 rich food to your current nutrition plan each day for the next 2 weeks and see what a difference it makes!