In a culture that associates dietary fat with culinary coronaries and diabetes, Americans have embraced low-fat diets as a path to wellness. When it comes to health, the type of fat matters.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are minimally synthesized from alpha linolenic acid and are therefore conditionally essential. Omega-3’s like ALA, EPA and DHA are “healthy” fats because consuming them reduces triglycerides, blood pressure, low- density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, inflammation, depression and cancer risk.
The heart benefits of essential fatty acids are well established. The American Heart Association continues to recommend 8 ounces of omega 3-rich fish each week, which provides about 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA.
Vegans and athletes consuming low-fat diets are at risk for essential fatty acid deficiency and should make sure they are eating healthy fats. As an ergogenic aid, omega- 3 supplementation does not reduce post-exercise inflammation, but it may improve oxygen delivery during exercise.
Linoleic acid: Required for growth, skin and reproduction, this omega- 6 is in all cell membranes, neurons and brain tissue, and is used to make arachidonic acid and eicosanoids that initiate vasoconstriction, platelet aggregation and pro-inflammatory processes. Good sources of linoleic acid include almonds, peanuts and the oils from olives, sunflowers, safflowers, corn and soybeans. The AHA supports an omega-6 intake of at least 5% to 10% of energy.
Alpha-linolenic acid: This omega-3 is a component of all cell membranes and is found in high concentrations within the brain and neurons. Omega-3’s reduce inflammation, blood pressure and platelet clotting. Walnuts, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, flaxseeds, canola and soybeans are good sources.
EPA and DHA: Found primarily in fatty fish like salmon, herring and anchovies, DHA is a structural component of the brain and retina that is required for proper fetal and infant brain and eye development. In adults, DHA improves visual acuity. EPA helps reduce blood pressure, platelet aggregation and inflammation. Both DHA and EPA reduce cardiovascular disease markers. The FDA recommends a daily intake of no more than 2 grams from supplements and 3 grams from food.
When it comes to wellness, healthy fats are truly essential.
Resources: IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips