Are you getting fat enough? Part Two

Uncategorized Mar 24, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about saturated fats and what I suggest you consider with regards to whether to include them in your diet.


Today I will explore unsaturated fatty acids and consider how to ensure we are getting the right proportion of healthy fat in our diet.


Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, nuts, sun flower seeds and oily fish such as salmon. They are usually liquid at room temperature.


The body can make all the fatty acids it needs except for two, known as alpha linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6) fatty acids. These are called the Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and must be supplied in the diet. From these fatty acids we can make others which are important for health.


Essential fatty acids support the immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, and central nervous systems. They normalise cholesterol which promotes heart health, they keep blood sugar levels constant, which means that you have more energy, better mood and memory, and you feel less stressed, and they’re anti-inflammatory.


Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fleshed, wild caught, cold water fish, like wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and black cod. Found in fish oil supplements, they’re found in flaxseed and walnuts. And then there are vegetarian, lab grown supplements that you may want to take if you are vegetarian to ensure you get the right amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.


Omega-6 fatty acids, are found in sunflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, peanuts, eggs and poultry.


Research undertaken a few years ago found that there is an increase in the risk of obesity as the level of omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio increase in the diet. Furthermore, it was found that high levels of omega-6 can lead to increased fat tissue and chronic inflammation, which both play a role in obesity and type 2 diabetes.


In the past three decades, total fat and saturated fat intake as a percentage of total calories has continuously decreased in our modern diets. This, along with the fact that we consume few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as the fat of cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, has led to a large increase in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from about 1:1 during evolution to 16:1 today, or even higher.


Also, as we’re starting to understand that saturated fat by itself is not harmful, but rather beneficial, there is concern that the naturally present high omega-6 profile of some cooking fats and foods high in saturated fat could promote imbalances in the omega-6 to omega-3 intake.


Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a decrease in the development of fatty tissue and weight loss, while high concentrations of omega-6 have been associated with an increased risk of weight gain. And hormones derived from the two classes of essential fatty acids also have opposite effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions.


Hence, the consensus is that both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimal health, because there are some omega-6 benefits. It is thought that foods with omega-6 may ease insulin resistance for people with diabetes. This suggests that bringing the fats into proper proportion, with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio which is less than about 5:1, and ideally as close to 1:1 as possible, may help relieve conditions and their comorbidities that stem from a dysregulation of fat metabolism and/or inflammation in the body.


To that end, the first step is to cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed oil, and the second is to supplement with omega-3 fats by taking eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in fish oils.


Vegetarian sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, are good too as they contain a precursor omega-3, known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), that the body eventually converts to EPA and DHA.


So, what fats should you be eating? Check out the list of healthiest fats and omega-3 sources below.


Healthiest Fats

  • Virgin olive oil
  • Unrefined hemp oil
  • Unrefined coconut oil
  • Almond oil
  • Macadamia oil
  • Pecan oil
  • Avocados and unrefined avocado oil
  • Unrefined/cold pressed flax oil
  • Unrefined hazelnut oil
  • Green or black olives

Foods High in Omega-3s

  • Hemp oil
  • Flax oil and seeds
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Algae
  • Chia seeds
  • Salmon
  • Scallops
  • Soy beans
  • Halibut
  • Prawns
  • Tofu (raw)
  • Butternut squash
  • Yellow fin tuna
  • Cod
  • Kidney beans

What about low fat/no fat and fat free foods?

Well, they are best avoided. It’s now well documented that when people switched to low fat, no fat foods in the 1980s and 1990s people gained weight, rather than lost weight from eating those foods. The reason being that when the fat was removed or reduced it had to be replaced with something and what most often replaced the fat was sugar. So, whilst the product may have been low in fat, it was high in refined carbohydrates, and as we know excess carbohydrate that is not used as energy by the body is converted to fat.


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