After the big ‘fat is bad’ push of the 1980s and 1990s, we are finally coming around to the idea that some fats are good for us.
But which ones?
The good ones are Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).
Omega 3 and 6 fats are PUFAs and are classed as essential.
Our bodies cannot manufacture these so we need to make sure we are eating foods which contain them.
It seems like every day we hear about something else that we should be eating or drinking. So what makes Omega 3 special?
We need good fats for a whole host of things – every cell in your body relies on fat to survive. They are essential for nerve, heart and brain health and for nearly all of the body’s basic functions.
We seem to have no problem getting enough Omega 6 fat but there is one big catch – Omega 6 fats are dependent on Omega 3 to produce optimal health benefits and are only considered good fats when consumed in moderation.
Omega 3 fats have an amazing role in your body as an anti-imflammatory. Consuming them reduces your risks of developing heart disease, arthritis and cancer. It is widely acknowledged to have a pivotal role in the prevention of heart disease.
Omega 6 fats, while helpful in reducing bad cholesterol, can promote inflammation within our bodies when too much is consumed – a very undesirable quality. The developed world, as a whole, is extremely inflamed.
In the US, diets tend to contain up to 25 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3 fats.
Mediterranean diets have long been studied to identify exactly what promotes heart health and longevity. These studies have indicated that it is the healthy balance between Omega 3 and 6 fatswhich leads to a longer and healthier life.
People who follow such a diet are much less likely to develop heart disease. The mediterranean diet traditionally contains much reduced levels of meat consumption, which is a major source of omega 6 fats. It focuses on foods rich in omega 3 fats, including wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables, garlic, fish and olive oil. Moderate intake of wine also adds something to the balance.
If you only take one supplement a day, health professionals are almost all in agreement that it should be a fish oil supplement.
Clinical evidence suggests that EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Fish oil has been shown to lower levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood), and to lower risk of death, heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack.
If you are sceptical about the importance of these fats, consider the symptoms of someone suffering from a defiency in Omega 3; tiredness, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, depression and poor circulation.
Omega 3 fats are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. So if you feel like you need a memory or energy boost, you could find your answer in changing your diet just a little bit.
If you are on blood thinners or diabetes medication, you should consult your GP before starting to take fish oil supplements.
Later this week we will be examining a sinner of the fat world – Trans fats.