Last week I promised to share some of the amazingness that was the Ancestral Health Symposium 2013. My *plan* is to share a little with you every day this week, all the while being aware that the best laid plans often go astray.
One of the hottest presentations was delivered Thursday by Will Lassek, M.D. Lassek is a former assistant Surgeon General and currently assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of [amazon_link id=”1594630852″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Why Women Need Fat : How “Healthy” Food Makes Us Gain Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing it Forever[/amazon_link].
Lassek walked us through the biological underpinnings of why men generally prefer a particular body type in women. In sum, he argues that men are biologically drawn to women with a smaller waist and a lower BMI because a woman with that body type is more likely to deliver a baby with a smaller head and therefore face less risk of maternal and fetal mortality. However, women accumulate more fat after the birth of their first child and much of it tends to be in the waist. Lassek posits that the woman’s pelvis has now enlarged and she can bear a bigger baby with her subsequent deliveries.
There were actually a number of factual assertions Lassek made in this part of the presentation that made me scratch my head a bit, but the really exciting stuff came next. Let me walk you through it in a layperson’s phrasing:
- Brains need DHA. (Another presenter, Dr. Georgia Ede shared a statistic that the human brain is 57% fat.)
- Human babies are born with small heads to pass through the birth canal of a person who walks upright. Therefore, much of the human brain development and growth occurs in the first few years after delivery and not in utero.
- Human babies need DHA from their source of nutrition.
- Eighty-percent of DHA in a mother’s milk comes from her own body’s fat stores – not her current diet – and notably in her lower body, i.e., the hips and thighs.
- Obesity is negatively correlated with the DHA in a mother’s milk.
- Therefore, one can argue that if a woman has low DHA stores in her body fat, her body will continue to accumulate fat and store it in the lower body until it has a sufficient amount of DHA for the baby’s DHA-hungry brain.
Here’s a blurb from Lassek in a 2012 Chicago Tribune article on the same idea:
Dr. William Lassek, co-author of the book “Why Women Need Fat,” said another big contributor to our country’s weight gain is the overconsumption of foods rich in omega 6, such as fried foods or bakery goods, which make it harder for a person to store healthy fats like omega 3. His research found women in Japan eat foods rich in omega 3 and low in omega 6, while Americans have done just the opposite.
“Back in the early ’70s only one American woman in seven was considered obese,” Lassek said. “Now twice as many fall into that group. If you compare that to Japan, only one in 20 is obese. Our chickens and cows are now being fed corn, which has 20 times more omega 6 than omega 3. If we had a balanced diet of omega 6 and omega 3 it would be OK, but we are way off balance.”
My takeaway from this presentation and one of the most salient messages I took from AHS 2013 overall:
I need to consume more Omega 3 fatty acids.
If you are a nursing mother, and most especially if you have had trouble losing weight after delivery, consider that you might not be consuming sufficient fat in your diet, notably Omega 3. Beyond consuming fatty fish, try to get your hands on grassfed beef as it has two to four times the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids as does grain-fed beef.
Note that ALA – found in things like seeds and nuts – is not a reliable source for your Omega 3 needs:
“The parent fatty acid ALA (18:3n-3), found in vegetable oils such as flaxseed or rapeseed oil, is used by the human organism partly as a source of energy, partly as a precursor of the metabolites, but the degree of conversion appears to be unreliable and restricted. More specifically, most studies in humans have shown that whereas a certain, though restricted, conversion of high doses of ALA to EPA occurs, conversion to DHA is severely restricted.”
Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998;68(3):159-73.
Vitamin Research Department, F. Hoffman-Roche Ltd, Basel, Switzerland.
If you are a woman who is thinking about having a baby or if you are currently pregnant, you need to be mindful of your Omega 3 consumption as well. Worried about fish and mercury? This podcast from Chris Kresser featuring Dr. Nicholas Ralston allayed any fears that I had about eating wild, ocean-based fish.
Beyond upping your Omega 3 consumption, you also want to be mindful of keeping your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio closer to 4:1 or 2:1 and not the 20:1 of the Standard American Diet. You can do that by eliminating oils from nuts and seeds. Wikipedia actually has a terrific list of foods heavy in Omega-6. (Canola, most vegetable oils, soybean oil, flaxseed oil … to name a few.)
You may note that poultry is high in Omega 6 fatty acids. If you worry about your 6:3 ratio and you consume a lot of chicken, you may want to sub in other sorts of animal protein*.
I’ve been pretty lax about including fish in my kids’ diet. They don’t like it and I figure they eat well enough. Plus, they take their fermented cod liver oil / butter oil blend without complaint. After AHS 2013, I am complacent no more! We’re going to be consuming fish as a family far more frequently.
Besides, according to my now five-year-old who ate salmon for the first time this weekend, if you put enough ketchup on it, anything tastes good!
(*According to Lassek, vegan moms need to supplement with algae-based Omega 3 products to obtain ample supply.)