Balancing the right fats
What’s the right amount of fat to have in your diet and how to balance the good fats. Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Apollo Hospitals, debunks some myths for us.
For ages, health care professionals ,nutritionists and doctors have advocated that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight, managing cholesterol and preventing health problems. We need to understand that it’s important to know that more than the amount of fat, it’s the types of fat you eat that really matter. Unhealthy fats increase cholesterol and your risk of certain diseases while good fats protect your heart and support overall health. The good fats—such as omega-3 fats—are essential to our physical and emotional health. A recent research shows that 90 per cent of us do not eat enough good fats. It has been proven as a medical fact that dietary fat can have a deleterious impact on the health and body composition, hence it’s essential to understand the fat quality in detail. We need to comprehend that when it comes to fats, they are not all created equal! And not all fats are bad either.
The Good, the bad and the ugly
The Good Fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have a beneficial effect on your health and heart. The Bad Fat is Saturated Fat (Animal fat from meat and dairy) and The Really Bad Fats are Trans fats.
Though all fats are high in calories, the best choices for heart health are the monounsaturated, omega 3 fats and the polyunsaturated fats.
There are three different types of omega-3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are found in fish oil and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils (especially flaxseed oil). Omega-3 fatty acids are not one single nutrient but a collection of EPA, ALA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are proved to lower blood pressure, combat LDL (bad) cholesterol, fight inflammation and protect the brain and nervous system.
Omega 6 fats stimulate the inflammatory pathways and promote blood clotting. Omega 3 fatty acids on the other hand are anti-inflammatory in nature and thin the blood.
The Take Home Message
Healthy or good fats/oils come from unrefined vegetable sources or oily fish. Here are some basic guidelines for how to choose the best type of fat.
– For cooking, pomace olive oil, canola oil, soy oil or alternate between the blend of MUFA with PUFA.
– For salads -extra virgin olive oil. Olive-Pomace oil is made from the residue left after producing extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). It is the lowest grade of oil. If looking for the most health benefits, extra virgin wins out but EVOO is very sensitive to heat so is ideal for salads. For cooking specially in the Indian context where temperatures go beyond 180 C, Pomace Olive Oil is very suitable.
– Eat regular helpings of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna if you are a non-vegetarian. Mackerel, salmon and sardines are commonly available in India and tuna is usually there in canned form. Sardines are priced as Rs 50 per kg. Indian Salmon is called Rawas, which is expensive but sold piece or slice wise as well and the advised intake is two pieces twice per week.
– Add pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and flax seed to your diet frequently, eat more greens and squash, use olive oil and some cold-pressed canola or walnut oil when cooking.
Note: Flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, canola oil and oily fish are great sources of one of the key essential fatty acids.
Recommended Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids will naturally bring the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids back into a healthier, 2:1 or (optimally) a 1:1 balance. Omega-6 oils are derived from Safflower, Sunflower, Corn, Soya, Pumpkin seeds and Wheatgerm. These are the oils that we generally need less of. Remember, however, that some Omega-6 oils are essential for optimum health. For the therapeutic supplementation, 2000 mg. of EPA and 1000 mg. of DHA per day is a common recommendation.
Dietary tips which can help to boost your EFA intake.
- Switch to wholewheat bread – the wheatgerm in whole wheat is a good source of EFAs
- Don’t rely too heavily on low fat/diet foods and shakes for your calories – these are nearly all devoid of EFAs
- Eat whole grain breakfast cereals, such as wheat flakes and oat flakes, rather than refined cereal, such as cornflakes
- Use fresh seeds sprinkled on salads, especially hemp, pumpkin and sunflower
- Use nuts in salads or mixed with raisins as snacks, especially walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
- Use brown rice and wholemeal pasta instead of white varieties
- Eat fatty fish at least once a week. If you can get fresh mackerel, salmon and trout, so much the better
Precaution –Avoid eating excess of omega-6 and too little omega-3 as it causes clots and constricts arteries to increase risk for heart attacks, increases swelling to worsen arthritis, and aggravates a skin disease called psoriasis. It may also pose a resistance to the functioning of insulin, causing high insulin and blood sugar levels and obesity. It increases hormone levels of insulin like growth factor-1 that causes certain cancers.
To get your ratio on omega-6s to omega-3s back to a more healthful 2:1, eat seafood, whole grains, beans and other seeds and reduce your intake of foods made with or cooked in vegetable oils.
To get a list of oils that are good for you, click on the link below