Over the last 20 years, America has become a fat-conscious society. No fried foods, fat-free, low fat, reduced fat; we are inundated with messages about fat and how to avoid it.
The truth is that fat plays many important roles in healthy metabolic and hormonal function, as well as athletic performance. Current recommendations allow 20-35 percent of total daily caloric intake to consist of fat, 10 percent being saturated. It is pretty easy to consume that amount and more in one sitting at a favorite fast food restaurant. But if you are like me, you want to put the highest quality of nutrients from the freshest sources in your body to give you every advantage in fighting disease.
So, with all of the conflicting media surrounding “bad fats” and “good fats,” how can you be sure you are eating the right kind of fat? What do you need to know about “good fats” and how can you include it in your diet to restore, repair and regulate optimal performance? Allow me to introduce you to the mighty omegas.
What are omegas?
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are nutrients that the body needs but cannot produce. Therefore, we must obtain these fats from the foods we eat. These essential fats fall into two groups, omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs. Your body uses fat as a source of energy and for proper hormone function. Fat also insulates you from the cold and protects vital organs.
Essential fatty acids are responsible for maintaining a healthy nervous system, healthy skin and proper vision. They regulate blood pressure, and act as an anticoagulant for blood clotting and the body’s inflammatory response--thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. There are a number of learning and behavioral disorders and diseases that are associated with deficiencies in omega-3 consumption including lupus, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and chronic inflammatory disorder.
Where can you find omegas?
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are found in seaweeds, green leafy vegetables and oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and herring. Smaller quantities are found in eggs, animal meats and nuts such as pine nuts, walnuts and flaxseed.
Omega-6 EFAs are found in common cooking oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean. They can also be found in grain products and walnuts.
How much omega should you eat?
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week to lower the risk of death from coronary artery disease. Two to four daily servings of nuts, grains and leafy green vegetables is recommended. Serving sizes are approximately six to eight oz of fish; two tablespoons of nuts, half teaspoon of oil and greens can be eaten liberally.
Omega and the Sexes
For women, flaxseed has shown beneficial in breast cancer prevention. Flax is converted inside the body to a weak anti-estrogen. They may be useful in preventing or treating estrogen-responsive tumors.
Omega-3 EFAs are important in an adult for maintenance and repair of the nervous system and brain. Additionally, they are required for proper development of a child’s nervous system and brain. Therefore, omega-3 is highly regarded and recommended to pregnant and nursing women.
For men, high intakes of omega-3 EFAs, specifically those from fish, have shown to reduce prostate cancer growth in mice. The same studies have not been duplicated for omega-6. Instead, the omega-6 may inhibit growth of cancerous cells in mice, according to research published by the Journal of Investigations. Until more is known, men who are not vegetarians are advised to include a fish source for omega-3, a minimum of two times weekly.
- Always choose organic foods when possible.
- Omega essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated which means they remain liquid even when refrigerated, they can go rancid easily and they should not be heated to high temperatures.
- Avoid farm-raised fish. These fish are often fed grains and given a wide variety of antibiotics. Choose fresh-ocean or wild fish when possible.
- Avoid hydrogenated fats, these are chemically altered, have been linked to cancer and are more difficult for your body to process.
All fats are vital for function of the body’s metabolic and hormonal processes and for prevention of disease and disorders of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Omega fatty acids are mighty in prevention, restoration and anti-inflammation.
“Good fat” is no longer an oxymoron and not just a media buzz word. It can be found in its purest form in fish, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables and combined to comprise a healthy and balanced diet.
Resources: “How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!” Paul Chek, “The Skinny on Fats”, Mary Enig, PhD, Sally Fallon, Journal of Investigations, Jul 2007; 117: 1866 – 1875, www.healthcastle.com, www.americanheart.org.