There Are Such Things as Good Fats...and Our Bodies Need Them!
Heart Health > > There Are Such Things as Good Fats...and Our Bodies Need Them!
Lots of Bad Press
"These cookies have 0 grams of fat in them, so they're good for me and won't make me gain weight!" How often has this thought passed through the heads of the average American supermarket shopper? Cruising the aisles of packaged convenient foods, from bakery items to salad dressing to peanut butter, consumers have their eyes peeled for that LOW FAT or FAT-FREE label. They've been convinced by the food industry's shrewd and aggressive marketing campaign against fat that FAT-FREE is definitely the healthy way to go. But is it? You probably didn't know that your BRAIN is 60% fat!
There is a serious health issue some health professionals feel is reaching epidemic proportions which is caused by peoples' patterns of fat consumption: essential fatty acid deficiency and imbalance. Good fat and bad fat cholesterol topics seem to still always be an issue. You can read more about it in our Cholesterol: good fat bad fat article.
What We Need from Fats and Oils
It is important to know that the body requires dietary fats/oils (known collectively as lipids) in order to maintain health.
Essential fatty acids (EFA's) are what our body tissues need from the fats and oils in our diets everyday. EFA's and their derivatives are the components of fat that our cells use to do majorly important tasks such as building cell membranes for the brain, nervous system and other organs; constructing the sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc); and producing the regulatory molecules known as prostaglandins and thromboxanes which influence inflammation, blood vessel wall elasticity, blood clotting and fertility, among other things. Fatty acids also play crucial roles in specific information processes (as messenger molecules) our cells have to have in order to do their work.
Consequences of Improper, or Insufficient, Fats and Oils
Without healthy fat in the diet, we cannot absorb our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Deficits in these vitamins cause their own set of troubles over time. Not getting the proper lipids in the diet can translate into problems as diverse as chronic dry or cracked skin, hair loss, decreased night vision and mood disorders. Getting "bad" fats such as Trans fatty acids further complicates the issue by crowding out the healthier fatty acids and increasing oxidative damage (free radical formation). Trans fatty acids are formed by the hydrogenation of fats, so common in processed foods. Avoid those whose labels read "hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat or oil" as these are the Trans fats. Increased intake of Trans fats cause cholesterol to increase and evidence is accumulating indicating these bad fats to actually be involved in causing the development of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Getting the RIGHT Fats for Everyone
There should be a balance of fatty acids from the omega-3, omega-6 (all polyunsaturated oils) categories. In addition there should also be adequate intake of monounsaturated oil such as olive oil. All of these oils have a cardioprotective effect, but vitamin E and other antioxidants need to be taken to prevent oxidation, or "rancidity" or these oils. The omega-3 type fatty acids are found mostly in fish oils, flax seeds and flax oil. soybean oil and small amounts from walnuts and pumpkinseeds. Omega-6s come from most seeds/grains such as oils omega-3s on a daily basis, so adding more fish and soy products to the diet may be in order.
Especially for Kids and Moms-to-be: DHA
Of particular importance to the developing nervous system is an omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaeonic acid, or DHA. It is essential for normal brain development in utero and after birth. Consequently maternal adequacy of this important fatty acid is critical. Children with ADHD have been shown to have very low levels of DHA. Is our diet actually causing developmental and behavioral problems in our children. Dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, and from flaxseed oil. As you might guess, not everyone's diet contains these foods, so DHA deficiencies are common.
A recent study found American women to have the low level of DHA in breast milk when compared to women all over the world. A good testament to the effects of the 'LOW FAT" craze in the U.S. A piece of good news is that infant formula companies have realized this fact, and are attempting to add DHA to more brands of formula.
How Do Your/Your Child's Fatty Acids Measure Up?
Checking the profile of your fatty acids in the membrane of your red blood cells is an important, foolproof and easy way to tell! This test will indicate if you should be making changes in your diet or beginning supplementation of fatty acids. The test can also determine if a current supplementation program is doing its job of improving the membrane profile.
Fatty acids are critical to many bodily functions. The types and amounts of each make a big difference. Our standard American diet, unfortunately, contains most of the wrong ones.