There has been so much controversy in the past over dietary fats, and whether these fats cause cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and weight gain. Some fats or fatty acids are essential for life and optimal health, while others can have detrimental health effects including heart attack, stroke, inflammation and chronic degenerative disease.
Which fats are essential?
Two types of fats are considered Essential Fatty Acids. They are essential because they are necessary for health, and they must be obtained via the diet as the body cannot make these fats on its own. Essential fats are also called “polyunsaturated fats”.
1. Omega 3 Fats: EPA and DHA from fish oils and LNA (linolenic acid) from flax seeds and other seeds. These fats are less prevalent in a standard Canadian diet.
2. Omega 6 Fats: These fats are more prevalent in our diets and are widely present in grains, grain-fed animal meats, borage, evening primrose oil, and black currant oil.
Mono-unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are also considered as “good fats”.
Which fats have negative implications on your health?
“Bad fats” include trans fats and saturated fats. They increase your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, and premature aging.
1. Trans fats are fats that have been modified chemically. They have been proven to increase your risk for heart disease. Make sure to check the ingredients of packaged foods to ensure that they contain no trans fats, and stay away from fried foods as the frying process can create trans fats.
2. Saturated fats come from meat, butter and dairy products, cocoa butter, and palm oil. They are usually solid or semi-solid at room temperature (in contrast to olive oil or flax oil which are liquid at room temperature). Eating higher quantities of saturated fats can increase your risk for heart disease.
What are the best food sources of Omega 3 fats?
Fish oils derived from cold water fish (salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring) are the best sources of Omega 3 fats. Including cold water fish in your diet 2-3x per week, in place of red meat, can help to protect you against cardiovascular disease. If you are going to add an Omega 3 oil to your diet, choose a product that has high concentrations of EPA and DHA, and has been screened for heavy metals and PCB’s, like Super EFA Liquid (available through Dr Wilson).
Vegetarian/Vegan sources of Omega 3’s include echium oil(NutraVege by Ascenta) which contains DHA (and SDA which converts to EPA), and seed sources of Omega 3 fats (flax, pumpkin, hemp and chia seeds and their oils). Although seeds are beneficial for health, some of us lack the ability to convert alpha-linolenic acid (from seeds) to EPA and DHA. Because of this, an oil that contains EPA and DHA, such as echium oil, is a better Omega 3 source than flax seed oil.
What about coconut oil?
Coconut oil has had a bad rap in the past due to its high concentration of saturated fats. What we have now learned is that the type of fats that coconut contains may actually be beneficial to preventing cardiovascular and inflammatory disease. Make sure you choose a virgin or refined coconut oil that is non-hydrogenated. The type of fats that coconut oil contains are called medium chain triglycerides (or MCT’s). These MCT’s are readily absorbed by the body and quickly metabolized as an energy source rather than being stored as body fat or building up as arterial plaque. In fact, MCT’s have been associated with better cholesterol levels, weight loss, reduced abdominal fat, and less food cravings!
Another great benefit of refined coconut oil is that it can withstand high temperatures (up to 450F) without oxidizing. This makes it an optimal oil for cooking, in contrast to olive oil and flax seed oil which should only be used cold.
Which fats to use and which fats to avoid:
For cold uses: Fish oils, olive oil, flaxseed oil, nut oils (walnut, almond), avocado oil, as well as nuts (walnut, almond), seeds (chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp), avocado, and nut and seed butters
For hot uses: Coconut oil, avocado oil, small amounts of organic grass-fed butter or ghee, organic grass-fed meats/poultry/eggs/dairy, wild cold water fish
Avoid: Margarine, lard, shortening, excess of butter, excess of animal fat, trans fats, fried foods, hydrogenated fats, canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil
How do I know if I am getting the right fats?
Good health depends on obtaining the right balance of beneficial fats, and moderating the amount of bad fats which contribute to aging, inflammation and chronic degenerative diseases. Omega Quant is a comprehensive panel ($179 +GST, available through Dr Wilson) that requires only 1 drop of blood and offers a comprehensive profile of all your Omega 3, 6, and 9 fat levels, saturated fat and trans fat levels, and fat ratios to detect any imbalances.
This panel is ideal for anyone wishing to know more about their good/bad fat balance, and is especially relevant for those with cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol), depression, inflammatory conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, other autoimmune conditions), cancer, neurodegenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s disease) and Type 2 Diabetes. This would also be beneficial information to prevent the progression of these conditions, if they are present in your family history.