Why Nutrition Today is a Lot Like Online Dating | A Story about Nuts

Posted on March 3, 2012


This blog post came out of a conversation I had with a client who’s learning more about nutrition in order to perform their best. (Frankly, if you’re not doing that to some degree in your life, what are you doing?)

I asked, “what’s going on in your diet for protein?”

You're not a squirrel. Stop eating so many of these.

They replied, “I have my nuts as of right now.”

STOP! Stop right there! Ok, let’s review this – don’t worry – marketing campaigns for food have screwed up everyone’s understanding of everything we put in our mouths, so don’t worry if you don’t see the immediate problem with considering nuts as your protein source.

As this client learned – nuts are primarily a fat. Not a source of protein. To equal the protein in 3oz of meat – which is the standard, albeit teeny-tiny sized portion most RDs look at as a serving size – you’d need to eat 2/3 of a cup of almonds. Picture that in your head? Got it? You may be thinking, “ummm…I routinely eat that amount of nuts, I possibly eat that amount of nuts several times per day….is there a problem with that?” To which I reply – “umm, yes.” Along with the approximate 18g of protein in that 2/3 cup of almonds, you’re also getting 550 calories (I struggle to eat 550 cals in a meal, as most folks would) and you’re getting almost 50g of fat (fat is good for you, but this much fat, mostly from highly inflammatory omega-6’s…is not nutritious).

In case that whole omega-6/omega-3 thing is confusing, here’s the skinny: Omega-3’s do good things for the heart and other parts of the body, when in the body in the right amount…even too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Omega-3’s are found

I stink compared to coconut oil, lard, tallow, ghee, or butter for cooking.

commonly in fish & grass-fed (grass-finished!! not so much in grain-finished) beef. Omega-6’s on the other hand are highly unstable when used in cooking, are usually rancid right off the shelf, & is easily oxidized in the body. Think of when you bite an apple & it turns brown if you just leave it sit there. Oxidation. Not what you want highly unstable, inflammatory things doing in your body. They wreak havoc when found in excess in the body – ahem, heart disease & any other disease that occurs when you have excess inflammation in your body.

The vast majority of us have WAY too many omega-6’s and way too few omega-3’s. Omega 6’s are found in the cooking oils most folks think are healthy – sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, soybean, peanut & cottonseed oils are at the top of the ‘nasty’ list. Omega 6’s are also found in processed foods, most things that come in a box, nuts, and chicken. Did I surprise you with that last one? Surprised me too, although I dislike chicken so I try to eat it as little as possible – keeping my intake of protein to beef, fish, & pork. Assume anything you eat out – even Chipotle which can be a decent place to get a gluten free/paleo/healthy meal otherwise – is cooked in high omega-6 oils.

So what’s your take-away on this side-track about omega-6’s? Eliminate all the ‘easy’ sources and consider eating more fish and/or taking fish oil. Fish oil and fish is a whole other topic to get into, and I’m happy to if the audience is interested. But suffice to say – you may not be able to avoid omega-6’s because you’ve got a work dinner out – but you definitely can avoid them by not eating gobs of nuts, cooking in the oils listed above, or eating grain-fed conventional beef. Oh! I just thought of another thing – farmed fish, like salmon, are increasingly being fed grains which are high in omega-6’s, thereby increasing the omega-6 content of the fish, and thus decreasing the omega-3 content of it. yeah…fish…eating grains…stupid. I don’t know why anyone thinks a fish could/should eat grains. Look at a fish’s fins, when on God’s Green Earth would a fish saddle up to a stalk of wheat waving in a field and start chomping on it?? It wouldn’t. Only in the seriously screwed up world of factory-farming and GMO food would that happen. Don’t eat farmed fish! From what Whole Foods tells me though, tilapia MUST be farmed, something about catching those slippery little buggers out in the ocean being a problem, so make sure when you DO buy tilapia that it comes from a responsible source. If the fish monger (oh, your store doesn’t have a fish monger? well how bout your butcher?…no butcher either? you’re probably not going to get good protein from a place with neither of those. walk away from the meat counter before anyone gets harmed) Well, when you can find a butcher/fish monger, ask them where the fish came from and what it’s back story is.

So what gives? Why does it seem like the big marketing push for nuts is “they have protein! so they are good!” Well, you know those match.com commercials that are of the happy couples who found love on that site and are now buying a house/getting married/in unending bliss? I totally fell for those and thought, ‘wow! online dating seems to really work!’ Until I had dinner with my best friend whose a PR genius in a big agency downtown and she reminded me that “every thing that can be purchased by a consumer needs some spin and PR.” (Maybe online dating really works as well as the commercials show it to, but I’m less certain now that I realize it may just be is PR and marketing in those commercials making me think that….that, and the ever-growing number of stories I’ve laughed at & been horrified by as told by my friends who’ve tried online dating.)

Ok, let’s bring it home! We’ve traveled down quite a few paths since starting with nuts! What’s the moral(s) of the story(ies)??

– Get a background check on your fish like you’re taking it on a date. I bet the people on match.com do it. What goes in your mouth is as/more important than the person you meet online – run your background checks.

– Speaking of online dating…they may all be liars. Just about every company that has a savvy marketing campaign is a liar to some degree. The good food producers won’t be lying to you, necessarily, they’ll just be further glamourizing something that’s already awesome…like the guy online who’s seriously perfect for you but maaaaay just be an inch (or 3) shorter than what he says he is.

– Omega-6’s are in lots of things, including you. Reduce your consumption. Use your industrial seed oils for something they’re actually good for – greasing your door hinges.

– And finally, nuts are not primarily protein. They are primarily fat. And while we like fat, nothing good can come from eating gobs of nuts. How to know you’re eating too many? If you have to question yourself, you may already have a problem. 😉