Balancing Omegas on a Grain-free Diet

If you are on the GAPS Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or possibly Paleo or other grain-free diet, you might be eating a lot of nuts or nut products. When we give up grains, sometimes it hard to give up all those baked goods, too, so we use flour alternatives, which are usually almond or coconut flour. This is especially true for GAPS or SCD since there are no “safe starches” to work with.

But grains and nuts are not the same. There are the obvious differences, such as that nuts have a lot more fat and a lot fewer carbohydrates, and nuts don’t contain gluten or starch, making them more digestible for most people. What some people do not realize, however, is that most nuts are very high in omega-6 fatty acids–far more than grains contain. For example, 100 grams of raw almonds contain 12065 mg of omega-6 fatty acids, and just a measly 6 mg of omega-3, for a ratio of 2011:1. (The ideal ratio in the diet is between 1:1 and 4:1). Wheat, however, contains just 600 mg of omega-6 and 27 mg of omega-3, for a ratio of 22:1. In other words, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in almond flour is close to 100 times higher than in wheat flour. That doesn’t mean don’t eat almonds. Almonds are very nutritious, so definitely have some–and other nuts, too. Just don’t go crazy with it.

If you are eating a lot of nuts, you will want to balance your diet with foods containing sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. This includes fish, of course, as well as fish oil supplements. Fish oil is the best source of omega-3 for people with GAPS conditions because it is in the readily usable for of EPA and DHA.

Pastured and grass-fed animal products have a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (for example, grass-fed beef is about 3:1), while factory farm animal products have a ratio that heavily favors omega-6 (up to 20:1 or so). Being sure to eat animal products that were raised as naturally as possible will help keep your omega ratios in check. However, they do not contain sufficient amounts of omega-3 to balance a diet that is heavy on nuts or other foods high in omega-6.

Flax oil is a great source of omega-3, although it is the ALA form, which means it’s less efficient than the EPA and DHA of fish oil. However, it’s still a source, and can be added in small amounts to homemade salad dressing or smoothies. Personally, I don’t like the flavor. You can also use ground flax seeds, but whole flax will not be digested.

Even higher in omega-3 than flax is chia seed. 100 grams of chia seed contains 5785 mg of omega-6 and a fantastic 17550 mg of omega-3, for a ratio 1:3. It is also the ALA form of omega-3, so not the best, but if it can help you cut back on nuts and seeds high in omega-6, then it is worth it for that alone. Chia seeds have other wonderful qualities such as reducing LDL and total cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, and may slow tumor growth. I happen to really like them in things like chia kombucha and chia pudding (will post some chia recipes soon).

Another great idea is to simply eat a variety of nuts that don’t have as much omega-6. This would include walnuts (actually high in omega-6 but has a 4:1 ratio), macadamias and cashews. Almonds are actually not the worst when it comes to omega-6; they are beat by pecans, pistachios, and brazil nuts.

While walnuts are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, they have enough omega-3 to give it a relatively good 4:1 ratio.

Coconut contains a significant amount of omega-6 and no omega-3, so if you are using a lot of coconut, keep this in mind. However, it is still lower in omega-6 than almonds. In areas of the world where coconut grows, fish is also a staple of the diet. This is one of my favorite examples of how traditional cultures have a natural balance in their diet.

What this all boils down to is that we just need to eat sensibly. A handful of nuts a day is reasonable. Eating animal products that were raised as naturally is a normal way of eating (maybe not in our culture, but in human history it is). Eating fish is important. Taking a fish oil supplement daily is not hard to do. Eating a variety of types of foods, and eat a variety within those types makes a great deal of sense to me.

It’s not about food restriction or obsessively measuring everything. It’s just being aware, and finding a nice, comfortable balance.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing Omegas on a Grain-free Diet

  1. I read this before I almost think I’m having too many omega 3. I hardly eat nuts anymore I don’t really like them a lot. But I’m having grains now so probably I’m doing ok.

    1. From what I know about your diet I don’t think you would have been too heavy on omega-3, since you don’t eat fish often, you don’t take flax oil or other omega-3 supplements besides cod liver oil, and you cook with coconut oil, which is a source of omega-6 but not omega-3. I think you were probably fine before and fine now. (Unless there is something I don’t know?)

      I think people who tend to overdo omega-3 are the ones eating a lot of fish and flax but not enough of foods rich in omega-6. And the people who need to add omega-3 are the ones eating no fish/fish oil or flax/chia or eat a lot of food very high in omega-6 (like my nut-obsessed little boy). Oh, and I’ve been trying to add more to my diet to lower my cholesterol…maybe some people need a little more?

      I’m envious of your grains, by the way. I’m looking forward to M being able to have them so that he doesn’t obsess over the nuts so much. The more I learn about food and nutrition, the more I see value in grains, at least for some people.

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