Diet & Exercise: Get to know the ‘good guys’ of fat

Published 8:00 am Friday, August 10, 2018

In last week’s column, we learned the detrimental role “bad” fats like saturated and trans fats play in our diets. 

First, we all need some fat in our diet to maintain health. Fats are necessary for the formation of cell membranes, which make up the vital exterior of all our body’s cells.

They are necessary in the manufacturing of protective sheaths that surround nerves. Fats are needed to absorb certain nutrients like vitamins A, E, D and K, plus they provide our bodies energy they need to work properly. In addition to “bad” fats like saturated fat and trans fats, there are unsaturated or “good” fats like polyunsaturated fats.

Our bodies can synthesize most of the fat we need, from our diet. However, two essential fats or “fatty acids,” omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, cannot, and must be obtained from what we eat.

Both omega-6 and 3 fats are considered “polyunsaturated” fats. They are liquid at both refrigerated and room temperatures.

These fats are different from most other fats, in that they are not simply used for energy, but rather are biologically active and play important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation. In their proper portion, these are the “good guys” of fats.

Research has shown omega-6 fatty acids to be a potent ally in combating cancers, including breast, colorectal, lung, skin and stomach cancers, fighting asthma, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood), and osteoporosis. Omega-6 improve insulin action which reduces blood glucose in individuals with type 2 diabetes, and those who are insulin resistant.

Good sources of omega-6 are grass fed beef, poultry, eggs, nuts, cereals, durum wheat, whole-grain bread and most vegetable oils.

Omega-3 fatty acid is another polyunsaturated fat with many healthful benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent and treat diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). 

Omega-3 is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, diabetes, renal disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, migraine headache, skin cancer, depression, and allergic and inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

There are two types of omega-3 fats. Long chain omega-3 fats are plentiful in salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, oysters, sea bass, cod, tuna, fish and krill oils (fish omega 3s have to be liquid at refrigerated temperatures, or cold water fish’s blood couldn’t flow).

These fats contain EPA (eicosapentnoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and are more healthful. Short chain omega-3 fatty acids, while healthful, have less potent benefits, and come from plant sources like flax seed, flax seed oil, chia seed, soybean oil, walnuts and canola oil. These fats are known as alph-linoleic acid (ALA), but don’t contain EPA or DHA which is desirable.

The problem with folks who eat a modern Western diet is they typically eat way too much, in the way of omega-6 fatty acids, related to portions of omega-3 fatty acids.

One major problem is Western populations eat large amounts of processed seed and vegetable oils, like safflower, grape seed, soybean and corn oils, which provide too much omega-6, comparatively. The average American eats a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 omega-6 to omega-3.

Why is that a problem? Omega-6 fats, while necessary to our diets, are not nearly as beneficial as omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are important for muscle growth , brain function and hormone production. However, omega-6 fats cause inflammation in the body. Now, inflammation in small quantities is necessary in the healing process.

It helps protect your body from infection and injury, but chronic inflammation from omega-6 fats can elevate blood pressure, lead to premature clots that can cause heart attack and stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, many types of cancer, arthritis, and even cause your body to retain water.

Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. In fact, some studies show having enough omega-3 fats in your body helps stop inflammation as soon as it’s triggered.

Contact David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or text him at 864-494-6215.