Not all Fat is Bad: Welcome -Essential Fatty Acids
For some people, fat has a negative connotation. However, fat is a necessary nutrient and provides many functions in food products.
There is a group of fats that protect health. These fats contain “essential fatty acids,” such as linoleic and linolenic, they are a major source of energy for the body, and aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids (the natural fat-soluble pigments found in certain plants). They are required for maintaining healthy skin and regulating cholesterol production. The main essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Because your body cannot make them, you must get them from dietary sources. Fats play a key role in determining texture, taste and flavor of foods and affect the acceptability of food. They provide the smooth texture of salad dressing, the creamy feel of ice cream and chocolate, the moist, tender texture of cakes, the rich flavor of cheese and the juiciness of meats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. In large research studies, men and women who ate the most unsaturated fat had the lowest mortality from heart disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafoods, such as shellfish, salmon, mullet and sardines. Flaxseed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs with increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids now can be purchased. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated linoleic acid is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found primarily in lamb, beef and dairy products. CLAs are isomers of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Numerous health benefits have been attributed to CLAs. Some animal studies have shown that CLAs reduce the proliferation of certain cancer cells, lower cholesterol levels, reduce the size of lesions found in arteries and improve the ratio of lean body mass to fat. Although some research has shown CLAs may have a positive effect on health, their role in human metabolism is uncertain.
In large research studies, men and women who ate the most unsaturated fat had the lowest mortality from heart disease. These fats are protective and come primarily from vegetable oils. The best sources of unsaturated fats are vegetable oils (e.g. olive, soy, canola) and those found in whole foods such as nuts, unprocessed nut butters, seeds, olives, and avocados. These foods are naturally rich in unsaturated fats but also contribute vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. While these fats include the essential fatty acids, they are still high in calories so should be used moderately.
How to eat healthier fats
You can easily avoid bad fats and eat more good fats by eating a primarily plant-based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes (e.g., peas, beans, lentils, garbanzos, and soybeans, including tofu, and other soy products), nuts, seeds, and non-hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods are cholesterol-free, have no animal fats, are high in essential fatty acids, and, other than vegetable oils, are high in dietary fiber. You don’t necessarily have to give up a favorite food to eat a healthy diet. For example, you can replace an unhealthy fat with a healthier one when cooking. If your recipe calls for shortening, substituting half as much oil and a pinch of salt often yields similar results. When you eat a food that is high in saturated fat or cholesterol, balance it with foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol at other times of the day.
Georgia Jones, Extension Food Specialist from Nebraska Extension Office
“Not all Fat is Bad: Welcome -Essential Fatty Acids” by Cindy Cassell PhD, RD, LD - Corporate Healthcare Consultant, and owner of Nutrition Access LLC.
www.nutritionaccess.org 513.310.7963 phone 513.553.0293 fax