Getting the right amount of fish oil and the other essential fatty acids (EFAs) in your diet can help achieve a long list of vital health effects, including some of our favorites:
* Reduce body fat and easily maintain a lean physique
* Reduce mental stress by lowering adrenal activation
* Improve metabolic health and prevent diabetes
* Boost cognition and mood
* Lower disease risk by improving immunity and cellular function
As awesome as EFAs and fish oil are, you don’t want to OD on it. More isn’t better.
Getting just the right amount of EFAs within the context of your total fat intake is key to peak health. This article will start by giving you ten easy steps for optimizing your fat intake. Then it will discuss some of the issues you need to consider in relation to dietary fat and the EFAs.
Here are 10 essential steps to getting a balanced fat intake:
Step #1: Eat fatty fish frequently, getting up to a 1 pound a week in your diet. Per 3-ounce serving, mackerel contains 1,100 mg, anchovies contain 1,78 mg, salmon delivers 1,825 mg, and sardines 1,250 mg of omega-3 fats.
Step #2: For meat, choose organic, pasture-raised meats and dairy. Organic beef, pork, and dairy are decent sources of EPA and DHA. If you can get your hands on them, wild meats like buffalo and elk are also high in omega-3s.
Step #3: If you take liquid fish oil or capsules, make sure it’s not rancid or oxidized by getting it from a source that guarantees the purity. For capsules, when you open a new bottle, literally take a capsule and chew it up. If it tastes a little bit acidic, rancid or nasty, it’s probably been oxidized. If it’s safe, it will taste fairly bland.
Step #4: Avoid processed foods. This is a simple way to get the man-made trans fats and the excessive omega-6 vegetable fats out of your diet. You will want to consume some omega-6 fats, but it’s better to get them from whole sources.
Step #5: Eat a wide variety of whole sources of fats, such as avocado, tree nuts, and select oils. These foods provide a variety of different types of fat and the omega-6 content is fairly moderate. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and olive have all been singled out by researchers for being especially healthful.
Step #6: Opt for cold pressed, extra virgin oils—olive and sesame oil are delicious ones—and use them in salad dressings instead of heating them due to the danger of oxidation. Fat that has been oxidized can damage tissue and DNA, increasing disease risk.
Step #7: Eat seeds—they provide flavor and nutrition. When adding seeds to your diet, soak them in water with salt overnight for better digestion and then add them to shakes or sprinkle on salads, cooked veggies, or yogurt. Try chia, sesame, cumin, fenugreek, and flax seeds.
Step #8: Eat both animal saturated fats and tropical oils in reasonable quantities for variety. Don’t be afraid these fats: They provide the vitamins A, D, and K in a bioavailable form that the body can use. They are great fats for cooking because they are not easily oxidized.
Step #9: For carbohydrates, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and nutrient-rich fruits instead of processed high-carb foods.
Pairing high-carb with fat, such as toast with butter or eggs, is associated with elevated triglycerides. High triglycerides mean you have unhealthy levels of fat in your blood, which is associated with heart disease and health problems.
Step #10: Watch out for inadvertently getting too many omega-3 fats in your diet. Due to the fact that food manufactures are fortifying everything from eggs to bread, butter, oil, and orange juice with omega-3 fats (usually ALA), some people are getting too many omega-3s.
Scientists are concerned this could cause a dysfunctional immune response that leaves the body vulnerable to infection and disease.
Why do these 10 steps matter so much?
A couple of reasons:
First, the average American gets a measly 15 percent of the conservative 1,750 mg-a-week dose of fish oil recommended by the U.S. government and the American Heart Association.
Second, human beings evolved on a diet with a near equal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Today, Western diets typically have at least 15 times as much fat from omega-6 sources as they do from omega-3 sources. People whose diets are centered entirely on processed and fast foods eat a ratio that is closer to 50:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fat.
This distorted ratio is not in line with how our genetic patterns were established. It is linked to the enormous increase in diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Third, the fat we eat is used by the body to build the outside lipid (fat) layer that protects cells. This lipid layer functions best when it is flexible but strong because this will improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Insulin regulates how our bodies use and store energy. For health, you want your cells to be very sensitive to insulin so that your metabolism functions like clockwork.
A cellular lipid layer that is too rigid is more resistant to insulin, which can lead to high blood sugar levels. Over time, insulin resistance leads to increased inflammation and may result in fat gain.
The essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s and omega-6s, are more flexible fats, whereas saturated fat is stiffer. You can see this in real life by putting butter (a saturated fat) and liquid fish oil (omega-3 fat) into the freezer. The butter becomes rock solid and the fish oil is still liquid.
A healthy, balanced fat intake is one that includes saturated (animal fats) and unsaturated (from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish) fat because this will provide the building blocks for a strong, but fluid lipid layer that is ideal for health. If you don’t eat enough unsaturated fats, the cell layer will be too rigid and less sensitive to insulin.
What is the difference between all these fats?
Dietary fat can be very confusing because a variety of words are used to talk about the same things. Below is a basic guide.
The following are all unsaturated fats:
The omega-3 fats include three fats: EPA, DHA, and ALA (alpha linolenic acid). EPA and DHA are found in fish oil, algae, and some wild meats. ALA is found in flaxseed and other nuts and seeds). ALA is often confused with linoleic acid (spelled with only one “n”), which is an omega-6 fat, but the two are different.
The omega-6 fats include linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). They are found in almost all vegetable oils, with the highest concentrations coming from sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil.
The essential fatty acids (EFA) are those that the body can’t make and must be eaten in the diet. Technically, only the omega-3 ALA and the omega-6 LA are essential. The body can synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA and it makes AA from LA. However, the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA is very low, with estimates of between 5 and 10 percent depending on health and overall fat intake.
Therefore, for practical terms EPA and DHA are often considered essential. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 acid that is also considered “conditionally essential,” meaning that you should get a small amount in your diet for it’s anti-inflammatory effects. GLA is found in more exotic seed oils such as black currant seed, borage and evening primrose oil. It’s also provided in spirulina.
The following are all saturated fat:
Fat from animals, such as butter, lard, and tallow are primarily saturated fats.
Tropical oils such as coconut and red palm oil are high in saturated fats, and they contain medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
The saturated fats have been vindicated from being a primary cause of heart disease in recent studies and eating it in reasonable quantities is protective for health. It’s useful for cooking because saturated fats are not easily damaged by high heat as unsaturated fats are.
How much EPA and DHA should you eat for cellular health?
This is hard to answer because research suggests people with poor health or disease will benefit from a much higher intake of EPA and DHA than healthy people. The 10 steps for optimizing fat intake are listed at the end of this article, but here are some noteworthy points from the literature:
* Healthy people who have a history of a balanced fat intake can probably get enough EPA and DHA from eating fatty fish a few days a week as long as they continue to limit their omega-6 fat intake so that the ratio between fish oil and vegetable fats is low.
* Athletes or those under extra physical and environmental stress may benefit from getting EPA and DHA daily due to anti-inflammatory and metabolic effects. For example, a scientific review of fish oil use by athletes found that it led to less waste production during intense exercise, allowing for less muscle soreness, greater tissue repair, and faster recovery.
* People with poor health may be in a different boat. If you have high triglycerides, the American Heart Association recommends 2 to 4 grams of EPA and DHA a day. Patients with documented heart disease are advised to consume 1 gram of EPA and DHA a day.
* People with diminishing cognition or brain trauma may benefit from fish oil. The omega-3 fats increase brain activity and have been found to reduce the effects of concussion. In addition, a study found that adults who took 2 grams of an EPA/DHA blend increased attention, mood, and performance on a series of cognitive tests.
* Overweight people trying to lose body fat may benefit from a higher omega-3 intake. A review of studies concluded eating fish or taking fish oil could lead to moderate body fat loss included omega-3 doses ranging from 300 mg to 6,000 mg a day.
Final Words: How much and what kind of fat you eat needs to be based on the following:
* Your dietary history and preferences
* Health status and goals
* Balanced with intake of other fat sources.
Hopefully, this article has helped you to individualize and plan your fat intake for peak health.