Low-fat diets are outdated fad diets, which could be harming you more than helping you. The myth “fat makes you fat” is one to be challenged – and it has been by numerous studies proving its falsehood.
The “low-fat” motto has been plastered on products such as dairy, salad dressings, and more. But these products end up taking out essential fats and replacing it with processed sugar and salt. This exchange for nutrients can be harming your body since it needs healthy fats for proper growth and development.
The right balance of healthy fats such as omega-3, 6, and 9 promote proper absorption of minerals and nutrients, as well as supporting good heart health and weight management. Studies show that a high-fat dairy intake among women actually lowered their risk of diabetes and obesity.
However, not all fat is created equal, which is why we will discuss the importance and balance of the essential and non-essential omega fatty acids.
Why You Should Get Your Daily Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) needed for vital human functions. These fatty acids play an integral part in every human cell membrane in your body and have major anti-inflammatory effects.
Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Improving cognitive development and learning
- Enhancing visual development
- Boosting Immune strength
- Fighting Inflammation
- Supporting fetal development
- Improving cardiovascular function
- Lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Supporting mental health
- Promoting bone health
- Maintaining blood sugar
Despite what people might think of “fat”, the essential healthy fats of omega-3s can benefit you by helping you lose weight. With regular exercise and consuming a diet filled with omega-3’s, studies show you can reduce your weight and waist size.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight inflammation, which is the precursor to multiple diseases including cancer. Omega-3s can also help reduce inflammation in patients with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). This is because omega-3s suppress inflammatory cytokines in MCAS patients.
Linoleic acid (LA), is an omega-6 fatty acid and ⍺-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. These are considered to be essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they can’t be synthesized by our bodies. Through a series of desaturations and elongations, our bodies are able to synthesize longer omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids from the EFAs, LA, and ALA. A couple of longer chain omega-3s, which you may be more familiar with, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are synthesized from ALA. However, due to low conversion efficiency (which occurs primarily in the liver and reported rates of <15%), it’s still recommended to also obtain EPA and DHA from additional sources.
Unfortunately, if you’re an American following the westernized diet, chances are high you aren’t getting enough of these healthy omega-3s in your food. So making sure you load up on the following omega-3 foods can benefit your overall health.
ALA is present in plant oils, which include flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are present in fish, fish oils, and krill oils, but these fatty acids are originally synthesized by microalgae, not by the fish. When fish consume phytoplankton that consumed microalgae, the fish accumulate the omega-3s in their tissues.
Foods high in omega-3’s include:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Wild caught Alaskan salmon
- Canola oil
- Chia and flax seeds
- Albacore tuna
- Green leafy vegetables
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average recommended daily dose of omega-3s is approximately 1500 mg.
The recommended daily dose for omega-3s varies depending on certain health conditions. You’ll need to consume more omega-3s or consider a supplement if you struggle with conditions such as chronic inflammation, heart conditions, cognitive impairment and/or depression.
An Overabundance of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
As mentioned earlier, LA is an essential omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid. Your body doesn’t produce this essential fatty acid and you need to get it from your diet. Food sources of LA include vegetable oils and safflower oils. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA), are omega-6 fatty acids, which are produced from LA through a process of desaturation and elongation. Sources of GLA include hemp seeds, spirulina, evening primrose oil, borage oil and sources of AA include meat, poultry, and eggs.
Omega-6 fatty acids are needed for growth and development. However, an excess amount of omega-6 fatty acids can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. That’s why it’s important to keep a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Western diets have an average 15:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in their diet. Processed seed and vegetable oil, along with endless amounts of processed food, have had a major impact of this fatty acid imbalance.
A 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is recommended to have optimal benefit for your health.
This imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 promotes chronic inflammation and promotes the pathogenesis of many diseases such as:
- Autoimmune disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
How to Balance Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
You’re bombarded with omega-6s in the American world today. Try to increase your daily intake of foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (listed above) to help even out the playing field.
Also, consume less unhealthy omega-6s such as:
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Soy oil
- Peanut oil
- Vegetable oil
Reducing the amount of processed and packaged foods such as snack foods, cookies, fast foods, and sweets is important. These modern days foods are normally high in unhealthy omega-6s.
Make smarter choices for omega-6s such as:
- Flaxseed oil
- Borage oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Pumpkin seeds
Studies show a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes better health and reduces many chronic diseases, which are high in prevalence in Western societies.
Don’t Forget Your Omega-9 Benefits
Omega-9 fatty acids are different from your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids because these are non-essential monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fatty acids contain a single double bond (in contrast to PUFAs which contain two or more double bonds and saturated fatty acids (SFA) are without double bonds). They are produced naturally by the body. Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid.
Foods high in omega-9s include:
- Chia seed oil
- Olive oil
Functional Medicine Doctors in the Kansas City Area
Making sure you are getting the correct balance of your omegas can naturally help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. If you’re in the Kansas City area and struggling with inflammatory issues request an appointment with Dr. Jessica Jellison or Dr. Paul Reicherter today or call (913) 568-0608.