For years the American public has been hearing about how fat makes us gain weight, leads to elevated cholesterol, and is correlated with heart attacks and stroke. This led to wave after wave of low-fat, reduced-fat, and fat-free products on grocery shelves. Recently, though, it seems as if every talk show and magazine is talking about the wondrous virtues of Omega-3 fatty acids. If fats are supposed to be so bad, what’s so great about the Omega-3 fatty acids?
Part of the confusion is because not all fats are created equal. There are saturated fats, which include butter, lard, full fat dairy, and meat. The fats in these foods have been implicated in elevated cholesterol and an increased risk for heart disease. Saturated fats should be eaten in moderation. There are also trans fats which include hydrogenated or processed fat. These fats should be avoided altogether. Another group of fats are the unsaturated fats, which include olive oil, salmon, and flax seeds. What gets more confusing is these fats can be further broken down to Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
The Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are essential fatty acids, meaning our body can’t make them on its own, we have to get them from our diet. Scientists believe humans have always had a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 1-to-1 until recently. Researchers now believe that this ratio has changed dramatically in recent years and is closer to 25-to-1! Why has there been such a shift?
The American diet has changed to a predominately Omega-6 fatty acid diet because these fats are in processed snacks, cookies, crackers, and fast food. These fats include soybean and vegetable oils. Soybean oil is so ubiquitous in fast and processed foods it accounts for 20 percent of the calories in a typical American diet from this one source! Having too many Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet has led to an imbalance in fats. It is not the fats themselves that are bad, but we eat too much of them. We know this imbalance leads to inflammation and heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes all stem from inflammation.
Because we eat so many meals on the run and fill up with processed foods there are few sources of Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet today. The Omega-3 fats include cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring as well as walnuts, flax seed, and olive oil. These fats are essential for your brain and nervous system as well as reducing inflammation. The reason Omega-3 fatty acids are such a hot topic is because research is validating the wonderful health effects of these fats. Studies have consistently found that people who increase their Omega-3 fatty acids have a reduced risk of heart disease, reduced triglyceride levels, improved mood, and memory.
Page 2 of 2 - Bringing the balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in proportion may help to reduce inflammation and subsequently may decrease many of the conditions that have become epidemic. To increase Omega-3 levels, eat cold water fish twice a week. Include nuts and olive oil in your diet daily. Enjoy an avocado with your salad or as part of a healthy lunch. Remember that these fats are healthy and will not make you gain weight or elevate your cholesterol. If you are adverse to fish, you can get your Omega-3 fatty acids via a quality fish oil supplement.
Barbara Goshorn, RN MSACN, is a registered nurse with over 30 years of clinical experience. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in nursing from SUNY Brockport and her Master’s of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College. She is Rochester’s only registered nurse nutritionist. Visit her website at thenursenutritionist.com for more information.