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October 2005 after the first frost and summer grasses had turned brown.  The growth of winter grasses was delayed by the drought.

Navigating the Minefield

Column #184

The Summary of Food Groups in the New Food Analysis Tables makes several food groups appear rather dismal because they are:
●    high glycemic
●    deficient in Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs)
●    high carbohydrate
●    loaded with sugar
●    nutritionally deficient

But within most groups there are some good selections hidden amongst the bad and ugly. If we steer around the worst foods, we can still eat a very healthy diet while nibbling in most food groups.

Every nutritionist agrees that vegetables are good. Most agree that fruit is good. Many like nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Yet all of these categories are minefields to varying degrees. So how do we tread safely through this fields?

There are very few land mines in the vegetable field. At worst even those with high Omega-6 to Omega-3 EFA ratios have very low Omega-3 deficits. That’s because the EFA weights in vegetables are very low. Also, the few vegetables that are high in sugar and carbohydrates are not foods one would normally eat in large quantities such as sweet pickles, leeks, and palm hearts. The dose is always a factor. A quarter ounce of a high glycemic food can be an insignificant dose compared to four ounces. The advantage of vegetables is that most are high in nutrients with the dark greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli and similar vegetables being the best across the board.

Fruit is slightly more dicey than vegetables. The average EFA balance for all fruits is worse than vegetables but once again the actual Omega-3 deficits are small. Exceptions are olives and avocados which are quite high in Omega-6. Consuming them in quantity will create an Omega-3 deficit. The biggest negative for fruit is sugar and net carbohydrates. (Net carbohydrates are carbohydrates minus fiber.) Dried fruit, dates, figs, mangos, and plantains are loaded with sugar. Fruit is also not as complete in the nutrient department as vegetables. By the numbers the best fruit selections are limes, lemons, papaya, and strawberries. When I eat strawberries, I also eat their small green leaves.

Grain is loaded with inferior selections. Most grains are Omega-3 deficient, high glycemic, high carb, and not well rounded in total nutrients. But, by the numbers alone the big surprise is that fresh corn on the cob is a relatively safer stepping stone in this minefield. Yes, that’s hard to believe.

Roots and tubers are very low in essential fats. Therefore, their EFA ratios are not meaningful. Where tubers disappoint is that many are high carb, high sugar, low fat, and low protein. In spite of that they theoretically have higher nutrient rankings than fruit. The best tubers are boiled turnips and radishes.

I split the legumes into two sections. The balanced group is Omega-3 friendly. Like tubers they are high carb and some are high glycemic. On the other hand all legumes are high in protein and above average in overall nutrients. The best appear to be green beans, green peas, lentils, mung beans, and . . . refried beans!

The Omega-6 legume group is a disaster. No one should attempt to enter that minefield.

The nut field is also loaded with land mines. Most nuts have very high Omega-6 loads resulting in extremely high EFA ratios. All nuts are rated low in overall nutrient ratings and most are high in carbs. Two nuts are obvious standouts: coconut and macadamia.

I also split the seeds into two categories. The Omega-3 seeds are great for offsetting foods high in Omega-6. They are recommended. The Omega-6 seeds should be avoided because they are nutritionally deficient and worse than nuts for creating an Omega-3 deficit.

The groups of Grass-Fed meats, Omega-3 meats, and Wild-Caught seafood are wide open for healthy selections. Everything works because none of the food items have serious flaws. Unlike typical grain-fed meats these meats do an excellent job of providing all nutrients properly balanced. They are also zero glycemic as are all meats. By and large, since nearly all members of the Chordata animal kingdom have basically the same nutritional needs and require the same essential nutrients for life as do humans, most are excellent as food for mankind. If the animals eat properly, eating them works for humans.

Of course a blanket recommendation for meat flies into the face of what many nutritional commentators claim. Most fear red meats because they do not understand the differences between conventional grain-fed meats versus grass-fed or Omega-3 meats. In addition some are very fearful of contaminants in even wild-caught seafood, so the pass on the finest source of Omega-3 thinking they have dodged the bullet–yet they step on a land mine in the process. The risk of brain damage from contaminants in seafood is minuscule compared to the brain damage from Omega-3 deficiencies.

When it comes to animal fats, the numbers really stand out in favor of the grass-fed and Omega-3 fats versus the many conventional selections. Knowing this difference is extremely important for selecting cooking fats and for making broths.

The Omega-3 oils are not good cooking oils. But they make great supplements for offsetting high Omega-6 foods. In the Omega-6 oil department, the only safe oils are Coconut Oil, Macadamia Oil, and possibly Sunflower, High Oleic, 70%+.

Spices are usually used in very small quantities. Therefore the assumed four-ounce serving in the Tables exaggerates the impact spices can have. Sweets are another matter. They are just variations of sugar and each selection is a land mine in and of itself. All are to be avoided except in the smallest doses. And that is usually quite difficult for most people.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

Food Analysis: EFA, Protein to Fat, Net Carbs, Sugar, and Nutrient Load by Ted Slanker

Introduction to the Chordata from Berkeley.edu

Animal Kingdom Classification from TutorVista.com

Is Red Meat Bad for You, or Good? An Objective Look from Healthline