Lately, the discussion about fat has focused on how healthy fats can be. Saturated fats from grass-fed animal and dairy products, as well as coconut and palm oil, have been given the all-clear by a number of organizations, and many are even saying that consuming fats as part of a low-carbohydrate diet actually aids in weight loss.
But what is it about these fats that are healthy for us? How do we know which fats we should stay away from now?
The answer lies in what type of fats they are: Are they polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) or monounsaturated fat (omega-9s)?
Most foods contain a combination of at least two of these fats, and your body needs a certain amount of each of them. The question is how much? Let’s examine each of them.
The Polys: Omega-3 & Omega-6
Polyunsaturated fats are considered essential because the body cannot produce them. It's vital for the functioning of our bodies to eat these—but in the right balance.
Most people eat way more omega-6s than omega-3s. The average American diet contains 15 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. A better ratio is 2 to 4 omega-6s to 1 omega-3.
Omega-3s reduce inflammation, which helps lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. They are also important for brain function and memory, and during pregnancy, help brain, vision, and nerve development (because fish are also high in mercury, a better source during pregnancy is a supplement).
Foods high in omega-3 include fatty fish (salmon, halibut, herring, trout, tuna, etc.), marine algae, omega-3-enriched eggs, and meat and dairy from grass-fed animals.
Plant sources include flaxseeds and oils, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Plant sources are not absorbed by the body as well as animal and fish sources, so unless you’re vegan, your best bet is omega-3s from fish and grass-fed dairy and meats.
Although omega-6 fats are essential and have health benefits, they're inflammatory in high doses, so too much is very unhealthy. Too much inflammation can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and digestive problems.
The majority of omega-6 (aka linoleic acid) in our diets comes from vegetable oils and processed foods that contain these vegetable oils.
The oils highest in omega-6 are sunflower, corn, soy, peanut, and cottonseed. Cold-pressed versions of these oils are less inflammatory but still have excess omega-6 fats.
Our body makes omega-9 internally, but food sources such as olive oil, avocado, and avocado oil have health benefits like reversing heart disease risk factors, helping with weight loss, and blood sugar balance.
Eating foods rich in omega-9s also helps to rebalance the omega-6s because the more omega-9 a food has, the less omega-6 it has.
What can you do to have a good balance of all three?
1. Most of us need to eat more omega-3s and omega-9s and less omega-6s.
2. Limit vegetable oils, particularly high omega-6 oils, and use healthier cold-pressed oils.
3. Prepare foods more with coconut oil, olive oil (for lower heats), grass-fed butter, and ghee.
4. Limit processed foods and condiments (salad dressings, mayonnaise) containing omega-6 fats.
5. Eat plenty of omega-3-rich animals, including fatty fish. If you don’t like fish, consider a fish oil supplement.
6. If you are vegan, supplement with flax, algae, and other omega-3 fats, but still limit the omega-6s.