I find it funny that one day something is good, and the next day it is bad. Take for example coffee or eggs. One day coffee is great and will promote brain health and has antioxidants and the next it’s linked to cancer. One day eggs are great for us because they are full of vitamins, minerals, choline and protein! That is until they are not longer good and cause high cholesterol.
The story is the same for FAT. The fat free fad took hold many years ago and has not fully gone away.
Why do we need fat?
First of all fat is a macro nutrient, same as carbohydrates and protein. We need to obtain it in our diet for optimal cell function. Our brains are 70% fat and our cell membranes are made of a phospholipid bilayer (fat). Hence, having the right amount of fat and fat from healthy sources is essential for brain and cellular health not to mention hormone production. (Cholesterol is the start of hormone production).
Fat also helps the body absorb vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E all of which are fat soluble and essential for health.
Types of fat:
I do not mean to send the message that everyone should go out and indulge in butter pies and donuts to get the fat that our bodies do need. There are different types of fat…saturated, trans, and unsaturated or omega 3/6/9 fats.
The omega numbers simply reference how many carbons away from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain that the first carbon-carbon double bond appears. If the double bond is three carbons away, it’s called an omega-3 fatty acid, 6 carbons away is omega 6 and 9 is omega 9!
OMEGA 3, 6, 7, 9, saturated and trans fatty acids:
Omega 3’s, aka alpha linoleic acid, contain EPA and DHA which are known for cardiovascular and brain health, are anti-inflammatory and used in cell membrane production, function, and overall gene expression as well as immune system modulation. Omega 6 fatty acids aka linoleic acid sometimes get a bad rap for being inflammatory but actually play a role in cell membrane structure, pulmonary function and the inflammatory response. Hence, we need both omega 3 and omega 6 for optimal cell function and immune response.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning we need to consume them in our diet. Omega 6 fatty acids can be found in nuts and vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, etc.) as well as most meats. Omega 3 fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish, flax, nuts, green leafy vegetables, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and chia seeds.
Omega 7 fatty acids are non-essential and have many benefits such as decreasing oxidative effects of LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreasing platelet aggregration (clumping) which can prevent blood clot formation. Food sources include: dairy products, avocado oils, oily fish, and macadamia nuts.
Omega 9 fatty acids are non-essential, meaning we don’t have to consume them for the body to produce them, but these fatty acids are some of the healthiest you can consume. Olive oil is the most common source of omega 9 fatty acids, and they are also found in various nuts and seeds. The overall health benefits to omega 9 fatty acids have been studied extensively for benefits related to lowering inflammation, being cardio-protective, and important for brain health.
Saturated fats are found in many foods. Most of them come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products, as well as some plant foods, such as palm oil and coconut oil and eating excess carbohydrates and processed foods. These fatty acids are not essential meaning the body will make them. Eating too much saturated fat can increase your LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Excess consumption of saturated fatty acids is implicated in many cardiovascular diseases and should be limited. Although it is important to keep in mind that saturated fatty acids play an important role in hormone production, gene transcription, cellular membrane structure, and protein signaling.
Trans fats are naturally found in some foods. They are commonly found in products like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats will also raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood. Trans fatty acids contribute to obesity, cancer, and inflammation. Foods containing trans fatty acids include: margarine, fried foods, baked goods, donuts, and crackers.
How much fat should I be consuming and what type??
We want to limit our consumption of trans and saturated fat but balance is key. Studies actually show that consumption of saturated fat (butter, lard, animal fat like bacon, and coconut oil) at the same time as consuming Omega 3 fat does not increase inflammation in the body. Consumption of saturated fat alone, however, does cause an increase in inflammatory markers. Keep in mind, fats like coconut oil do provide benefits such as inducing ketosis in the body more readily than other fats that require a protein carrier to enter the cell.
It is not necessary to supplement omega 6 and 9 fatty acids in America (most of the time) as we get plenty of these in our diets. Where we lack is with omega 3 fatty acids primarily found in fish. The recommended ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids is 4:1 and arachadonic acid to EPA is 4:1 as well. This can be tested with a simple finger prick blood spot test which I recommend doing at least yearly.
Is consuming the right fats enough?
This is important!
For the fats to be utilized by the body they have to undergo elongation and de-saturation to metabolize and create essential fatty acids which requires enzymatic function. So, simply put, just because you are consuming the fats does not mean they are being utilized appropriately by your body and getting where they need to be. Nutrient co-factors like B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and insulin are required for the these enzymes to work. It also requires a properly functioning gut! Conditions like IBS and SIBO can stop fat absorption in our gut. If you suffer from symptoms of IBS or SIBO i.e. constipation, bloating, diarrhea then I recommned a comprehensive stool profile and/or SIBO breath test to start optimizing your gut. And remember omega 6 and 3 fatty acids will compete for the enzymes needed for production so a balanced diet is key! And knowing your levels…
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