Not Such a New Idea, Perhaps

I’ve just had one of those interesting coincidences; you know, the kind where six friends from different areas of your life all mention kangaroos in the space of a week.  It makes you wonder.

In this case it’s a series of books on nutrition.  Once again, my wife picks them, and I pick them up because they look interesting.  (Thanks, Honey.)

The first was Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

I listened to the audio version of the book and found it very engaging.  The premise of the book is simple (and tangential to this post).  Pollan summarizes it thus:  “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  He also addresses the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in our diet and laments the fact the the vast majority of our calories are now derived directly or indirectly from corn and soy.

The second book was Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond, by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

I’m still to young to be reading this one, by the way.

This one is mostly about how important it is to get regular exercise, both endurance and strength. Their premise is that we are either growing or decaying.  Decay is inevitable, and we must fight it by promoting growth.  Oddly enough, growth is triggered by stress and damage, but only at higher levels than we get watching TV.

However, it also discusses nutrition and spends some time on the omega fats.  Omega-3 fats are dynamic and flexible.  Omega-6 fats are stiffer and promote inflammation.  We have so much omega-6 in our diet that our bodies are forced to use these fats for cell construction even when the blueprints call for omega-3.  This leads to brittle cell walls and inflammation.

The final coincidence was an article a co-worker sent me: The Vanishing Youth Nutrient.

In this article, Susan Allport also discusses the American omega-3/omega-6 imbalance.  She adds the concept of Spring vs. Fall fats.

Omega-3 fats are Spring Fats and are found mostly in the green leaves of plants (and in fish, because they eat plankton).

First, let’s start with omega-3s, what I’ll call the spring fats. These are likely the most abundant fats in the world, but they don’t originate in fish, as many believe. Rather, they are found in the green leaves of plants. Fish are full of omega-3s because they eat phytoplankton (the microscopic green plants of the ocean) and seaweed. In plants, these special fatty acids help turn sunlight into sugars, the basis of life on Earth. The spring fats speed up metabolism. They are fats that animals (humans included) use to get ready for times of activity, like the mating season. They’re found in the highest concentrations in all the most active tissues: brains, eyes, hearts, the tails of sperm, the flight muscles of hummingbirds. Because fish have so many of these fats in their diets, they can be active in cold, dark waters. These fats protect our brains from neurological disorders and enable our hearts to beat billions of times without incident. But they are vanishing from our diet, and you’ll soon understand why.

Omega-6 fats are Fall Fats.  They are found predominately in the seeds of plants.

Next up are the omega-6s, what I’ll call the fall fats. They originate in plants as well, but in the seeds of plants rather than the leaves. The fall fats are simply storage fats for plants. Animals require both—omega-3s and omega-6s—in their diets and their tissues. But omega-6s are slower and stiffer than omega-3s. Plus, they promote blood clotting and inflammation, the underlying causes of many diseases, including heart disease and arthritis.

I found it really interesting that information about the balance of Omega fats is coming at me from three sources.  They don’t all say the same thing, but they all agree.  Our traditional American diet has been systematically stripped of omega-3 fats and loaded up with omega-6 fats, largely as a result of misguided science and nutritionism, and it is killing us.  In addition to the direct effects the different fats have on, there are indirect effects that may be even more important.  Our sedentary lifestyles and the prevalence of omega-6 fat both send signals to our bodies that Winter is coming and we’d better prepare.  Preparation consists of putting on fat, slowing our metabolism, and accelerating the breakdown of expensive-to-maintain muscle tissue.

The thought that followed is the one that prompted me to write this article though.  It occurred to me that these revolutionary new ideas came from books. Books – not the newspaper or nightly news.  Not a weekly magazine.  Books take time to conceive, to write, to publish (and more time to get into the libraries, where I get mine).  These cutting edge ideas therefore can’t really be all that new then, can they.

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