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The good oil on Fats

Posted September 27, 2012

When talking weight loss and nutritional health, the topic of dietary fats tends to dominate and take center stage. It's not surprising when we consider that for the last decade or two we’ve been told by the food industry that for better health we should reduce fat intake. While we’ve taken this message onboard body fat levels and obesity related illnesses of the general population have soared. Instead of seeing improvements the situation is now worse than ever.

The news that we are now being made aware of is that adequate fat intake is in fact critical to our health, and instead of dropping it lower than low we should focus on including the right amounts. The most important point for us is to learn how to distinguish between two separate groups of fats. Those considered ‘Good Fats’ and essential for health, and those considered ‘Bad Fats’ which we can be better off without. Bad Fats can increase the risk for disease while Good Fats may LOWER this risk and may also help us LOSE weight. 

Good fats are described as Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs for short). Your body can’t manufacture these so they must be consumed through diet. To make matters difficult it’s also very hard to find these fats intact in the modern foods that are available to us. Due to todays processing techniques, preparation, and also the farming methods of our animals the foods that we eat do not generally provide the natural once high levels of the Essential Fatty Acids we need for health. For this reason many people are now turning to supplemental sources of good fats to insure themselves as best they can from nutritional deficiency.

One group of EFAs are called Omega-3s. This group has become highly regarded by the medical and nutrition authorities for the benefits they can offer. Mainly for protection from heart disease - but also for arthritis, diabetes, cancer, eye disease, brain function, and for managing depression.

Omega-3’s are found in plant oils (Flax Seed Oil being one of the better known) and fish oils. It’s often said that the oilier the fish the higher the Omega-3 content. You may have heard of the two Omega-3 fats found in fish, these are called EPA and DHA. The Omega-3 fat found in plant oils is called ALA. Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and DHA so it used to be assumed that eating foods containing ALA provided benefits equal to that of eating fish (since ALA can be converted to both of the Omega-3s found in fish). Studies have now uncovered that our bodies are not very efficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA. Also the research is not clear as to whether Omega-3 from plant foods (ALA) reduces heart disease risk as much as EPA and DHA do. It does appear that ALA may help provide a separate benefit by ‘balancing’ another group of fats called Omega-6. Omega-6 are a family of polyunsaturated fats. Most of us get more than enough of these in our diet - and an imbalance of too high Omega-6 to Omega-3 can lead to health problems. Whether you increase your fish oil consumption or not increasing sources of ALA is recommended to help counter the potential imbalance of Omega-6 to Omega-3, plus provide additional health benefits.

Although the topic of fat can be confusing what it boils down to is we are better off keeping saturated fats under control, eliminating trans fats, and including consistent amounts of good fats.

Tips for healthy fat intake

  1. Regularly eat servings of nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil, or supplement daily with flax seed oil. 
  2. Eat fish 2 - 3 times per week, or supplement daily with a fish oil supplement. 
  3. Never heat your good fats as heat damages their health properties. 
  4. Before cooking trim excess fat from meat, and remove skin from chicken. 
  5. Avoid commercially baked, processed, and take away foods (especially deep fried) as they probably contain dangerous trans fats.

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