There are so many conflicting opinions on nutrition. What one camp finds healthy is considered unhealthy by others. The low carbers fight the high carbers. Paleo and vegetarians attack each other. Everywhere you go there is rampant disagreement. Every side has their PubMed Warriors ready to drop links to prove someone else is wrong.
If you are a hobbyist or a regular person just wishing to improve your health, it can be frustrating. It was frustrating for me too until I noticed there was a single point of agreement that spanned the different nutritional philosophies. The common enemy in nutrition is excess PUFA (polyunsaturated fats), specifically Omega 6 fats. The most common source is industrial seed oils.
Agreement Across the Board
One of the core principles of Paleo is to lower excess n-6 consumption by replacing vegetable oil with saturated fats. The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson does a good job alerting aspiring Paleo dieters on the dangers of excess n-6 in veggie oils.
The WAPF group supports traditional food and traditional food preparation and that meant using saturated animal fat and avoiding seed oils.
The most anti-PUFA camp is probably those that follow Ray Peat.
Matt Stone who works a lot with diet recovery and raising body temperature also warns against excess PUFA.
Even some top vegetarian doctors are now advising against vegetable oils. See the slides from Denise Minger’s AHS talk on How to Argue with a Vegetarian. Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, and Neal Barnard are all listed as either forbidding veggie oils or greatly restricting their use.
I don’t know of a single respected health writer or teacher that has defended high n-6 intake.
Photo by Jon Starbuck. Vegetable oil is good for diesel engines, not for humans.
Different Paths to Excellent Health
You can be high carb, low carb, pro-sugar, anti-GMO, vegetarian, gluten-free, or Paleo and still avoid excess PUFA. Avoiding excess PUFA is usually thrown as one of several ideas one can use to improve their health. But it is the only idea the smartest people in the nutritional field seem to agree about.
Ideas to Lower PUFA
Here are a collection of ideas that most of my readers probably already know about, but in the event that you are coming into this post with less knowledge on PUFA, here are some ways to reduce your intake in order of importance.
- Replace vegetable oils you use for cooking with saturated fats such as coconut oil, butter, ghee, palm oil, and tallow.
- Cook more meals at home. Most restaurants use vegetable oils. If you do go out to eat, select dishes that are either uncooked or cooked with no or minimal oils, such as soups. I really like pho.
- Minimize nut intake. See this article for a breakdown with more detail.
- Make your own salad dressing using olive oil. Avoid shelf-stable packaged food as almost all will have some industrial seed oil.
- More red meat, less white meat. Beef and lamb are better choices than chicken and pork. Whitefish and shrimp are great protein options as well that are low in fat.
- Grass-pastured animals have less PUFA than grain-fed. If you are on a budget, this would be most important when consuming cuts of meat with higher fat content.
- Toss the fish oil in the trash. The people who seem to get the most benefit from this supplement are athletes that engage in highly inflammatory sports such as mixed martial arts. For the rest of us, there are other ways to reduce inflammation, one being lowering PUFAs.
- More carbs, less fat. This is not me stepping into the carb wars arena, but really a mathematical observation. If one is following a low-carb version of either the Paleo or WAPF diets, then their total fat intake will be much higher. A percentage of that fat will be PUFA. This may or may not be a concern, but if one’s goal is to sharply lower PUFA then this needs to be mentioned.
I’ve wondered how much of a role reducing PUFA has in bringing one closer to optimal health. Meaning that if you did nothing else out of the ordinary in your diet, how much benefit would you get from just this one habit? I suspect it would be a lot.
Part 2: The Problem with PUFA