Luckily, most of us have moved past the idea that ‘all fats are bad’. During the 1980s, the popularity of low-fat eating surged, with many dieters opting to go for a higher carbohydrate diet, based on the now-outdated fear that ‘fat makes you fat’. Despite the efforts to improve health markers during that time, obesity simply got worse! Instead of filling the plate with fresh foods, many people instead fell into the trap of ‘low fat’ marketing of packaged goods, that were instead heavily processed and high in sugar. We now know that fats play a pivotal role in hormonal health and overall wellbeing, including the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Don’t be afraid of a bit of olive oil in your salads!
Trans fats are the fats found in common processed foods, and what you’d consider the ultimate ‘bad fats’. It's these fats that we can blame inflammation and obesity on, thanks to their inclusion in the most hyper-palatable foods! Though they used to be used quite heavily, they are now banned in many countries. By eating foods rich in trans fats, you increase the amount of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduce the amount of healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Fat is a source of energy, and with the popularity of the Keto diet, many people are starting to understand the role of ketones. Ketones are a type of acid that your liver makes when you don’t have enough insulin to turn glucose into energy. In other words – when you stop supplying your body with sugar and carbohydrates, it turns to use fat as a fuel source instead. But you don’t have to go completely ‘Keto’ to enjoy the benefits of healthy fats in your diet!
Today you'll be learning more about the important Omegas. Let’s have a look at these health promoting fats in more detail:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two main types of Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), Omega-3s and Omega-6s. You’ve probably heard of the importance of Omega-3’s. The Omega-3 fatty acids supply the building blocks of a variety of powerful anti-inflammatory substances. Omega-3s aren’t as biologically active as the Omega-6 fatty acids, so you must increase the effort to have them in your food or supplementation. A good ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids would be 4:1 or less.
The parent fat of Omega-3s is Alpha-Linolenic-Acid (ALA), a plant-based essential fatty acid (EFA) that needs to be obtained through diet and supplementation. Some of the highest sources of ALA include flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and edamame. It plays an important role in energy production, healthy hearts and has potential applications for conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative conditions.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Deocosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
These are considered semi-essential, as you can make them in your body but only small amounts. The body can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, but only in very small amounts (less than 1% in adults). More potent Omega-3s, especially EPA are found in cold-water fish such as salmon and herring. Omega-3s encourage the body’s production of inflammation-suppressing compounds, such as prostaglandin E.
The most important Omega-3s are EPA and DHA. Much research has been done on these in regards to cardiovascular health, with links to reductions in related deaths such as heart attacks and strokes. Consuming Omega-3s may also lower the triglycerides that contribute to heart disease, and decrease blood clots and heart arrhythmias (heart palpitations). Those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have found some relief using these fatty acids, and there is increasing study into the effects of healthy fats on mental health.
Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include wild-caught fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. Plant-based sources include nuts and seeds, such as hemp seeds, chia or flaxseeds and walnuts. Omega-3 supplementation is popular due to convenience and ease, and you can find a range of these supplements and other healthy fat additions by browsing our site!
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Though Omega-6 fatty acids are good for health in the right amount, thanks to today’s diet, you probably already have an abundance of Omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. In fact, over time we have become imbalanced in the consumption of Omega-3 to Omega-6 intake, mainly due to the heavy consumption of processed vegetable oils. It’s a wise move to decrease heavily processed Omega-6 sources, focusing on minimally processed foods and ensuring your Omega-3 intake is up to scratch!
Linolenic acid is an Omega-6 that is one of only two fatty acids considered to be essential for humans. It is the parent fatty acid of Omega-6s and beneficial for heart health. It’s the most plentiful PUFA, so you can find it mainly in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is worth special mention. It is technically an omega 6 fatty acid, but it behaves more like an anti-inflammatory Omega-3. The body converts GLA to prostaglandin E. You’ll find GLAs in oils such as evening primrose, borage seed and hemp seed.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is an Omega-6 fatty acid which has been regularly used in the bodybuilding world, for its said benefits to losing fat and gaining muscle. Grass-fed butter is a source of CLA, and also contains vitamin K2, which is important for heart and bone health. You can also find CLA as a popular stand-alone in supplement form.
Omega-9 Fatty Acids
Omega-9s are not considered an essential fat, but still seen as one of the ‘good fats’, they are unsaturated fatty acids that your body loves. You may find them in some omega formulas because they work together with the Omega-3s as anti-inflammatory compounds.
The most researched and the heart of the Meditteranean diet is the Oleic acid, a prized Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (MUFA). MUFAs have been found to play a part in lowering the risk of heart disease, by decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL) and maintaining good cholesterol levels (HDL). They are also excellent for blood sugar management, by benefiting insulin levels. An excellent choice for health, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.
Find MUFAs in foods such as avocados, nuts, dark chocolate, and many kinds of oils, such as olive oil, sesame oil, safflower oil. Olive oil has the highest amount of Omega-9 fats, followed by cashew nut oil.
How much fat should you eat per day?
Depending on the type of diet you follow, it may be anywhere between roughly 20-70% fat! You need to consider what suits your lifestyle best, as well as your goals. If you love to eat fats and you feel energised by eating this way, perhaps a Keto style diet suits you best. Otherwise, a standard diet may involve approximately 30% of calories from fat. By using the family of unsaturated fats instead of processed trans fats and saturated fats, you’ll be doing your overall health a favour. Always listen to your body and when in doubt, consult with a professional who can guide you to make the best decisions.
By Paula Vargas Duran
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