Fast facts on fats

Good fat?  Bad fat?  Trans fat?  Or how about fish fat…I mean “fish oil supplements?”  In the 1980s we Americans tried to rid our diets of all fat in hopes of eliminating bodyfat – and we found that our bodies are quite efficient at making fat from carbs as well.  Now fats are back in the news and back in vogue.  We are eating fatty fish, choosing the Mediterranean or South Beach diets that emphasize healthy fats, and filling our vitamin cabinets with omega-3 fatty acids, often from fish oil. 

The truth is that our body needs certain types of fats, alpha-linolelenic (ALA) and linoleic acids to be exact, in order for our immune system, brain, and even skin cells to function properly.  EPA and DHA are the omega 3’s that are found in fish oil; ALA is a precursor to these healthy fats.   These are the “essential” fatty acids, meaning that our body cannot make them.  These are found in most oils, nuts, and seeds, along with many other types of fatty acids.  Other fats, such as the saturated fat in many animal products, are made by our livers, so technically we do not need to eat them to survive.  Artificial trans fat is worse for you than saturated and should be kept to an absolute minimum. 

The problem with the typical American diet is that we eat too much of the saturated and some polyunsaturated fats such as linoleic, and too little of the ALA and other omega-3 fats.    This can lead to cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and possibly even skin conditions such as eczema.  

 A few substitutions can get your fat balance back on track, making you feel better, your skin look younger, and help prevent heart disease as well:

1)  Substitute canola (for cooking) or olive oil (on veggies or salad) for regular vegetable oil and butter.

2)   Snack on nuts, specifically walnuts and almonds, rather than chips.

3)  Eat salmon, trout, or low-mercury tuna twice a week.  Keep in mind that cod, catfish, and many other farmed white fishes do not have the DHA and EPA that you need, even though they are a low-fat choice.

4)   Sprinkle one Tbsp ground flaxseed on your cereal in the morning for an extra dose of ALA.

5)  If you do choose to take a fish oil supplement, make sure that it is either certified by the USP (you’ll see the symbol on the bottle) or it passed the consumerlab test.

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