Healthy Fats: Not an Oxymoron

I was giving a nutrition workshop recently when someone in the audience asked, “what constitutes a healthy fat and why are some healthy fats considered “healthier” than others?”. When it comes to nutrition, fat gets a bad rap. Yet, some fats are essential to good health and have many important functions in your body. These healthful, so-called poly-unsaturated “essential fatty acids” (EFAs), are available in foods such as fish, nuts, seeds and oils. In comparison, saturated fats – those in animal products such as butter, lard and marbled portions of meat- are the “bad” fats that can build up in the blood, raise cholesterol and promote heart disease. Unfortunately, when people cut down on fat in their diet, they often avoid all fats, bad and good.

The “friendly” EFAs are further divided in two categories:  Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. While the Omega-3s have primarily anti-inflammatory functions and help prevent heart disease and alleviate arthritis symptoms, Omega-6s support the skin and are used to make hormones that increase inflammation (i.e. in response to an attack on your immune system), blood clotting and cell proliferation. Omega-3s are abundant in certain oily, cold water fish – such as Atlantic salmon, cod and mackerel, trout, tuna, herring and sardinesas well flax, walnut and flax oils, walnuts and hazelnuts and chia seeds. Omega-6s can be found in cereals, eggs, most vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole-grain breads, baked goods, dairy products, red meat and pork and margarine.

Unfortunately, most people consume far more Omega-6s than Omega-3s, which researchers theorize can lead to heart disease, arthritis,asthma and auto-immune diseases – all of which have been linked to chronic inflammation. In order to reap the health benefits of EFAs, it’s important to balance your consumption of them. While the current average ratio is around 1 to 15  (Omega-3 to Omega-6), the ideal ratio is believed to be 1 to 2. A classic example is the fish tilapia. Currently popular in the US, tilapia is typically a farm-raised white fish which is significantly higher in Omega-6 EFAs than in Omega-3s. So while fish is generally a good choice nutritionally, the fact that tilapia is much higher in Omega-6 makes it a much poorer choice when compared with cold water fish such as wild salmon or cod. 

The following health conditions may benefit from increasing your intake of EFAs.

·   skin problems, including eczema (Omega-3s & Omega-6s)

·   arthritis and fibromyalgia (Omega-3s & Omega-6s)

·   cardiovascular disease  (Omega-3s & Omega-6s)

·   overweight and obesity (Omega-3s)

·   allergies and asthma (Omega-3s & Omega-6s)

Menu Ideas: 

The following are examples of meals and snacks containing a balance of Omega3 and Omega 6 EFAs.

*   Atlantic salmon on a bed of greens sprinkled with flax oil and balsamic vinegar

*   Oatmeal mixed with soymilk, berries, wheat germ and flax seeds

*   Bowl of split pea or legume soup and  handful of 10 walnuts or hazelnuts 

Be Well,


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3 Responses to “Healthy Fats: Not an Oxymoron”

  1. Top Ten Tips for Teen Nutrition « bewellcoaching’s Weblog Says:

    […] Don’t be afraid of fat – just choose the healthy kind. The beneficial fats are polyunsaturated fats found primarily in cold water fish, some nuts, […]

  2. Family Nutrition Tips « bewellcoaching’s Weblog Says:

    […] Don’t be afraid of fat – just choose the healthy kind. The beneficial fats are polyunsaturated fats found primarily in cold water fish, some nuts, […]

  3. Healthy Fat May Prevent Hearing Loss « bewellcoaching’s Weblog Says:

    […] Omega 3 fats have already been shown to reduce heart disease, depression, symptoms of depression and even bone loss. Preventing hearing loss is yet another reason to eat your salmon, cod or halibut, walnuts, flax and chia seeds on a regular basis. […]

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