Olive oil, peanut butter and avocado are just a few foods that have gone from feared to revered over the last few years for their status as sources of "heart healthy fats." With February being heart month, I thought we should shine some light on this "hot topic" and get down to the nitty gritty on the details surrounding healthy fats. Rightly so, they should be celebrated for the benefits they provide; however, when "EVOO" (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) becomes a term in the dictionary and we are abusing it as a cooking medium, drinking it down by the ounce with our chicken breast, it loses its positive effects and becomes harmful to our health. This oil is still full of high caloric fats and over-consumption of any fat can lead to unwanted weight gain and obesity, no matter how good it may be. The key here is moderation. Anything in excess is bad for us, even if it is good.
The tricky part is, while most people are aware there are "healthy fats," but most do not know there are two categories of healthy fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6. They are what we refer to as "essential fatty acids," meaning, if we don't get them from our diet, we develop deficiencies and become sick. Though they share the same name, they react differently in our bodies and for optimum health, it's essential to keep the intake of both at a balanced ratio. Today, most people are eating way too many Omega-6 fatty acids, and consumption of Omega-3 is the lowest it has ever been.
Omega-6s and Omega-3s don't have the same effects on the body. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect. Research is showing that an excess of inflammation may be one of the leading factors of the most serious diseases Americans suffer from today, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and many types of cancers. Put simply, a diet that is high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3 increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation. The problem today, is that people who eat a typical Western diet are eating way too many Omega-6s relative to Omega-3s.
The recommended intake ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats is 2:1 to 4:1. This means that you should eat double the omega-6 to omega-3 fats and no more than four times the amount. Americans, however, tend to eat a ratio of 14:1 to 25:1 of omega-6 vs. omega-3 fatty acids.
A closer look at the two Omega fat families:
Fatty acid names
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Linoleic acid (LA)
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
Recommended daily amount
-500mg of EPA and DHA
- 0.7 percent of daily total calories of ALA (or about 1.5g when based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
- increased need for pregnant and breastfeeding female
-adequate LA intake for healthy development is two percent of daily total calories (or about 4.4g if based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
Rich food sources
- fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines)
- Omega 3 enriched eggs, dairy
-grass fed livestock
- sunflower oil
- corn oil
- soybean oil
- pumpkin seeds
- peanut/peanut butter
Recommendations: the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL)
By being more mindful about the foods you eat each day, it is not difficult to attain a well-balanced omega fats profile and shift your body to a more rounded picture of health.