Our Dietary Fats Have Changed for the Worse

March 13, 2022

The Fat We Eat Has Changed for the Worse

Fat isn't just fat. There are important differences between types of fat. Last week we learned that humans were apex predators by measuring Paleolithic bones and finding very high levels of Nitrogen-15, an isotope that gets concentrated up the food chain. And the review of "primitive" diets found in residual "First Peoples" reveals that fat has always been the food of choice. Animal organs, brains, and fat stores were the prized food items in virtually every prehistoric food chain. Just what were those fats? What did our paleo-grandparents eat?

What we know they didn't eat was corn, soy, peanut, or any other vegetable oil. Those oils, by and large, require industrial equipment to separate and harvest. We now also know that those oils are rich mixtures of omega-6 fats.

When you examine a grass-raised animal (including cows), you will find that their fat tissues are composed predominantly of omega-3 fats. Wild game is usually around 6-8% omega-3 fats. As soon as an animal (including humans) is fed large amounts of concentrated carbohydrates (corn and beans on a feedlot - or donuts and ice cream at a coffee shop), the mammalian organism will make saturated fat and store that. Humans do it. Cows do it. We like our steaks juicy and tender, and the saturated fat of marbled beef is just that concentrated saturated fat. And it's inflammatory. It's not natural to be in the cow. Nor is it natural to be in us. We never had it in our food chain before.

We now know that the human brain should have a substantial proportion of omega-three fats in it to manufacture plasmalogens, thereby building the axons and synapses to construct a healthy brain. Plasmalogens are the lipids without which a central nervous system could not exist, and DHA, the apex omega-3 fatty acid resides in plasmalogens. It is the fluidity of DHA and plasmalogens that allows our brain to shapeshift and thereby fuse membranes, allowing neurotransmitters to be secreted. It is plasmalogens that allow embedded proteins in the brain and mitochondria to function rapidly. It is no wonder that a mother's milk is one of the richest sources of DHA as a baby's brain is rapidly growing and needs those building blocks.

And we don't have omega-three fats in our food chain. Paleo man did. His/her grass-raised mammoth/deer/moose/rabbit was 6-8% omega-three fats. His walrus, whale, seal were 50-60% omega-three fats in their blubber. We can't compare exactly, but one clue as to changes of DHA in the food chain in just the last 100 years is to compare mother's milk in America to women's milk (0.2%)in more pastoral societies that have more grass raised exposure (0.32%). Close to a 40% drop.

Another means of comparison is to look at the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. That is the ratio of anti-inflammatory building blocks to inflammatory building blocks. Paleo man probably had a 1:1 ratio. Today, our urban societies have a 10:1 ratio and our inner-city folks with little access to grass-raised animals have a 20-50:1 ratio. That change is largely driven by the seduction of fried foods and fast foods which use large amounts of vegetable oils, these supply huge amounts of omega-6 fats.

We still don't know the full scope of damage caused by the change in ratio. The hints we are getting with the discovery of Alzheimer's and plasmalogens are filling some of the cracks. The impact of omega-3 fatty acids on many mental health measures suggests that our brains are just crying out for more omega-3s. It is no wonder that that nation with the highest omega-three consumption has the least depression, Iceland.

Feedlot-raised animals have their fats change. Those changes are not to our benefit. Their fat becomes largely saturated with little residual omega-3s. It takes about a month to lose half of an animal's omega -3 fats, to be replaced with saturated fat. We can't eat a Paleo diet, where fat is what we are seeking when we pick up steaks at our local grocery. And our expanding bellies have that same, inflammatory, saturated fat in them.

www. What will Work for me? Bummer. I'm trying to find grass-raised animal foods and it's no mean feat. Even a local butcher that claims to have all grass-raised animals has a suspicious amount of marbling in their steaks. My conclusion is to take a tablespoon of fish oil every day. I'm not permitted to shoot the deer in my suburb, and their meat is likely highly contaminated with pesticides. I can buy wild-caught sardines, but not forever. When I measured my Omega 3 to omega 6 ratios, I was ostensibly in the healthy range. I suspect my occasional ocean-caught fish and supplementing will have to be what I can muster. I can monitor my plasmalogens and make sure my brain has enough building blocks.

References: Nutrients, Arterio Thrombos. BMC Research Notes, Front Neuro, ScienceDirect, Iceland Magazine, J Animal Sci, Inter. Jr Food Sci,

Pop Quiz

1. Where do omega-3 fats come from? Answer: Green plants on land or in the sea.

2. Our bodies use omega 3 fats for what purposes? Answer: To make anti-inflammatory messengers/hormones and as building blocks for our central nervous system.

3. Paleo humans preferred fat in their diet. What percent of a Paleo deer would have been omega-3 fats? Answer: Probably around 8%. How about a seal or walrus? Answer: Their blubber was likely 60% omega-three fats.

4. A feedlot-raised animal has how much omega -3 fat in them? Answer: Usually less than 1%. It's all been swapped out for saturated fat. And comes in around 30% of modern meat.

5. How much saturated fat was present in Paleo game? Answer: Zero.

6. And the vegetable oils that are so prevalent today are composed of what? Answer: Rich mixes of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.


This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD,Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI (262-784-5300)