Although Hippocrates uttered these famous words 2,500 years ago, they seem more relevant than ever as we search the past and present for strategies to address our current health crisis.
As a dietitian and nutrition expert, I often get asked “what’s the SINGLE most important thing I should be eating or avoiding in my diet”? For over a decade my response has been to include one of the best silver bullets there is: “Add more fruits and vegetables to your plate”.
However, my tip is about to change
After hearing the sessions at today’s “Healthy Agriculture, Healthy Nutrition, Healthy People” conference in Olympia, Greece (sponsored by Stonyfield), here is my new response:
“Increase your Omega-3 intake, and decrease Omega-6 as much as you can.”
Here’s why: Humans evolved eating a diet which had a 1:1 – 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. As our diet moved away from traditional, whole foods and become flooded with fast food, modern agricultural practices and agribusiness products, it has dramatically shifted the type of fat in our diet. Today, western diets have a ratio of 10:1-25:1 depending on the country-even the modern Greek diet has even lost its health halo, with a ratio of about 10:1 (US is about 17:1).
Bringing this ratio back into where it has historically been, the research strongly suggests, will have dramatic implications: reducing cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, pro inflammatory diseases (such as arthritis, IBD, asthma and lupus),depression and even improving cognitive decline. Dr. Birgitta Strandvik stressed that in addition to BMI, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio is an extremely important indicator for overall health in children.
To be sure, there issue of the optimal ratio of omega 6 to omega-3 fats in the diet has been a topic of considerable debate, and many experts at the Conference agreed that for ideal health, humans need to return as close to our original 2:1 as possible, which lowers all biochemical markers for inflammation. What was really new for me was the emphasis on absolutely limiting as much as possible your intake of the omega-6 PUFAS (especially one called linoleic acid) as a critical strategy for creating optimal health.
So what’s the takeaway for consumers?
-Minimize consumption of any linoleic omega 6 fats such as corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, margarines and other food products which contain these (check the food label).
-Be sure to consume at least 2 servings of omega-3 rich fish weekly.
-Walnuts and flaxseed oil can also contribute in a positive way to omega-3 intake.
Of course, since many other sessions today highlighted vegetables and fruits (Mediterranean diet, Greek & Okinawa Diets), I think I’m still going to tell people to eat those too.
What single tip do YOU think is most important when it comes to using food as medicine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.