Fat is good. Fat is bad. Low-fat, no-fat, red-fat, blue-fat? Sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, doesn’t it? That’s often how nutrition goes these days. Compared to the other sciences, nutrition is a relatively young field. We’re still learning about vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and macronutrients and how they all promote health. Over the past year or two, there has been a shift in how the nutrition field talks about fat. Previously, we encouraged low-fat everything and suggested avoiding all saturated fats. Now, we recognize that egg yolks provide an essential nutrient choline, vitamin D, in addition to those satiating fats. We also know that 1% or 2% fat in your dairy products can help you feel full and helps with digestion of fat-soluble vitamins A and D.
With February being heart health month, I want to highlight how fats in your diet can help keep your heart healthy. First a little science lesson: there are two types of fat – saturated and unsaturated fats. The saturated fats have, historically, been called “bad fats” whereas the unsaturated fats are the “good fats”. Research is now showing that not all saturated fats are bad, instead we should avoid all trans-fats. Within the group of unsaturated fats, we have monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats. When a nutrient is essential, it means we HAVE to get them from our diet because our bodies cannot produce them. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory (they promote inflammation – which isn’t always a bad thing), whereas omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. In a perfect world, we’d eat 2 servings of omega-6s for every 1 serving of omega-3s, and the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties would balance out. We don’t live in a perfect world and instead of a 2:1 ratio it’s closer to 20:1! This chronic inflammation increases your risk for diseases such as diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.
You do have control over your food and your nutrition, and you can improve that ratio. Replacing some of those omega-6 rich foods with omega-3 rich foods can get that ratio back in line and help keep your heart healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep your arteries fluid and the blood flowing freely, reducing your risk for plague build-up, high blood pressure, and other heart issues. As mentioned before, omega-3s also help reduce inflammation (including muscle soreness - which is a type of inflammation!).
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: cold-water, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds (ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil), and walnuts. Don’t limit your fat consumption to just these omega-3 rich foods. Fill your diet with a variety of healthy fats including eggs (and their yolks), all nuts and seeds, avocados, and low-fat dairy.