Nutrition Supplement: Foods for Healthy Fats

Vitamins, minerals and more: The importance of omega-3s and omega-6s and the foods that can give you the most health benefits.

| July/August 1997

After years of diligently filling the grocery cart with fat-free products, you may be surprised to learn that some fats are beneficial. In fact, studies show that the wholesale elimination of fats from the diet can jeopardize your health.

During the past century, when food processing was developed and became highly streamlined, many naturally occurring “good” fats were elimi­­nated from foods and replaced with unhealthful hydrogenated oils, saturated fats, and trans fatty acids, which increase “bad’’ cholesterol levels. Researchers now believe that more diseases stem from consumption of too many of these fats and not enough essential fatty acids, also referred to as EFAs. They’re called essential because our bodies can’t manufacture them and we must obtain them from dietary sources.

There are two essential fatty acids: linoleic (ome-ga-6) and alpha-linolenic (omega-3). Both promote normal brain development, joint lubrication, and properly functioning immune and digestive systems, and both help the body use nutrients, create energy and cell membranes, produce blood, transport oxygen, and regulate cell division.

Udo Erasmus, a research nutritionist from Los Angeles who has created tools for pressing and packaging healthful oils, recommends that a well-balanced diet contain 15 to 20 percent essential fatty acids. In Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill (Alive Books, 1993), Erasmus states that the seeds and oil of flax are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and safflower and sunflower seeds and oil are the richest sources of omega-6 fatty acids.

Heating oils during cooking, however, destroys EFAs, so they should be used in salad dressings or other nonheated dishes. Omega-3s are also found in trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and eel; eating fish three times a week could provide an adequate amount of omega-3. If you’d prefer to get this through supplements, Erasmus recommends taking 1 to 3 tablespoons a day of an oil that blends omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Humans require a 4-to-1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, a balance that allows the body to create prostaglandins, hormonelike substances that reduce inflammation and pain, and help regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, allergic response, and heart, kidney, and gastrointestinal function.

Quality oil

If you’re interested in using EFA supplements, here are a few tips:

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