Eat lots of healthy nuts and seeds instead of refined carbohydrates. Correct? Not necessarily!!
Oh no! More confusion with regards to what is healthy and unhealthy
Nuts and seeds ARE extremely good for you, but the right type and the right quantity is essential.
Nuts and seeds contain both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids, which means they cannot be made in the body and therefore have to be derived from food.
Omega 3 fatty acids:
You have no doubt heard of Omega 3 fatty acids and how good they are for you. They have many roles in the body, including being anti inflammatory, essential for brain health and normal growth and development. They are also essential for eye and reproductive health, they thin the blood to help stop clots from forming, they decrease triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, they help balance our immune system, and can be used to treat depression.
Omega 6 fatty acids:
Omega 6 fatty acids are also essential to the human body. They are anticarcinogenic, they decrease triglycerides, increase lean body mass, help to reduce insulin resistance, they are also essential for brain health, normal growth and development. They also help maintain bone and reproductive health.
They are both good for our health – so let’s eats lots of nuts and seeds!!
Not so fast.
Like everything in life, moderation is the key. Omega 3 and Omega 6 needs to be converted by enzymes in the body to an active form. These conversions take part along the same pathway, which means they “compete” against each other. These enzymes actually prefer to convert the Omega 3. So what happens to the excess Omega 6? It goes down another pathway, using different enzymes, and is converted in Arachidonic Acid which is very, very inflammatory.
Because of the conversion of excess Omega 6 to the inflammatory Arachidonic Acid, it is essential to ensure a good Omega 3:6 ratio.
There has been much research on the dietary habits of our ancestors, and the general consensus is that the ratio of Omega 3:6 used to be approximately between 1:1 and 1:3. There are differing statistics, but overall research has shown that the average modern diet supplies us with a ratio of anything up to 1:25, some research pointing to an even more imbalanced ratio.
Having the ratio out of balance with more Omega 6 can lead to diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and autoimmune diseases and any other condition where inflammation is involved (which is pretty much all disease).
A 2008 study published in Sage Journals stated that an Omega 3:6 ratio of 1:2.5 reduced cancer cells in patients with bowel cancer, whereas a ratio of 1:4 had no effect. A ratio of 1:4 “was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality” from cardiovascular disease. A higher ratio of Omega 3 is also associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer and suppresses inflammation in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A ratio of 1:5 had beneficial effects on patients with asthma, but a ratio of 1:10 had adverse effects.
This study shows that the optimal ratio varies, depending on which disease is being focused on.
The Solution? Get as close to the 1:1 ratio as possible.
A high ratio of Omega 6 is found in oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and soybeans so these oils should be avoided. Oils such as flaxseed, avocado, olive oil, organic butter, organic lard and coconut oil (although coconut oil does not contain Omega 3, it is an excellent oil for cooking) have a higher ratio of Omega 3 so should be used instead.
ARE WE GOING NUTS OVER NUTS??
I see a lot of people in my clinic who have started to adopt a healthier approach to eating. Part of this approach is to replace refined products like bread, cakes and biscuits with nuts. People often snack on a lot of nuts or use almond meal to bake with. While this is certainly more nutritious than eating refined, processed food, it still comes with risks – they are eating far too many Omega 6 foods and by cooking the nuts, they are oxidising them which is also not a good health choice.
This is not to say you should stop eating nuts and seeds, they are a very important part of our diet, providing plenty of essential nutrients. But you do need to be aware of which nuts and seeds have a high ratio of Omega 6 and minimise those ones. If you do eat a lot of the nuts with high Omega 6 content then it needs to be balanced with other Omega 3 food – wild caught fish being the best choice. You also need to eat them raw and preferably organic.
Below is a list of commonly eaten nuts and seeds and their Omega 3:6 ratio. These ratios vary, depending on where they were tested, so it is to be used as a guide only.
Nut or Seed
Omega 3 per 28 grams
Omega 6 per 28 grams
Omega 3:6 Ratio
|Almonds||Nil||3375 mg||N/A. Contains no Omega 3|
|Peanuts||0.8 mg||4393 mg||1 : 5491|
|Brazil Nuts||5 mg||5758 mg||1 : 1151|
|Sunflower seeds||20.7 mg||6454 mg||1 : 312|
|Pine Nuts||31.4 mg||9410 mg||1 : 300|
|Cashews||17.4 mg||2179 mg||1 : 125|
|Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)||50.7 mg||5797 mg||1 : 114|
|Poppy seeds||76 mg||7921 mg||1 : 104|
|Hazlenuts||24.4 mg||2193 mg||1 : 90|
|Sesame seeds||105 mg||5984 mg||1 : 57|
|Pistachios||71 mg||3696 mg||1 : 52|
|Pecans||276 mg||5777 mg||1 : 21|
|Walnuts||562 mg||9260 mg||1 : 16|
|Macadamias||57 mg||363 mg||1 : 6|
|Hemp seeds||2085 mg||6250 mg||1 : 3|
|Chia seeds||4915 mg||1620 mg||3 : 1|
|Flaxseeds||6608 mg||1655 mg||3 : 1|
So the take home message is this: Nuts and seeds are good for you but they need to be eaten in moderation. How many nuts and seeds you should eat depends on how much inflammation you have in your body and how many other inflammatory foods you consume. As always it is not a one size fits all. As a general rule, 30 grams per day is a good amount, raw and preferably organic. Go for the ones with a greater ratio of Omega 3:6 if possible and when you do eat nuts and seeds with a very high amount of Omega 6, make sure you balance it by eating other foods such as wild caught fish that have a high Omega 3 content.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist at Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705