As integrated medical care providers, we are often asked by patients how to optimize their health through what we like to call “food as medicine”. One of the most common questions we get is “What are essential fatty acids and why are they so important for optimal health? “
Essential fatty acids are also know as healthy fats, and they are necessary components for our health. We need healthy fats in our diet to support proper cell function, reduce inflammation, increase heart health, help to control insulin and blood glucose levels, support positive mood and behavior, and more.
Popular culture, fad diets and modern media have turned “fat” into the enemy, proclaiming it is the reason obesity is on the rise in the US, and blaming heart disease (almost entirely) on it.
Oddly enough, we now know that intake of “good fat” not only does NOT cause obesity (as compared to processed sugar and carbohydrate intake), it is key to helping heart heath!
“Good fat” or “healthy fat” are essential fats like omega-3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). There is great evidence to support omega-3 fatty acids help lower triglycerides, inflammation, reduced risk of sudden heart failure, decrease the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, AND improve joint stiffness and immune system function in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Healthy fats may also improve insulin resistance, and further research is showing potential anti-cancer properties.
Why does fat have such a bad reputation?
It is important to note that not all fats are created equally. Two of the most valuable types of fat for the human body are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acid and CLA. Other types of fats, such as saturated and trans fats, are less valuable for health and should be eaten more sparingly or eliminated. These fats are linked to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Which foods contain healthy fats?
Many of the healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acid and CLA cannot be made in the body, hence why we call them essential fatty acids and why we must eat adequate amounts in our diet to meet our daily needs.
These are some of the most nutrient dense healthy fat sources:
- Monounsaturated fats- hazelnuts, avocado, olive oil, peanuts
- CLA- grass-fed beef, grass-fed milks, grass-fed cheese
- Omega-3 fatty acid- salmon, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed
Eating a diet rich in these healthy fats can be extremely beneficial to your health. Do not forget though that an excess of any food (and most other things in life too!) can be detrimental to the body’s natural equilibrium, so make sure you are eating a balanced diet rich in all food groups.
For more information on how and how much ‘good fat’ to integrate into your diet from our Integrated medical team, schedule a visit today at 503-287-4970
- Mahan K, Escott-Stump S, Raymond J. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. Missouri: Elsevier Inc; 2012.
- Oregon State University. Essential Fatty Acids. Linus Pauling Institute website. 2016. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/. Accessed September 29, 2016.
- Dr. Joseph Mercola. The Secret Sauce in Grass-Fed Beef. Mercola. 2013. Available at: http://www.mercola.com/beef/cla.htm. Accessed July 11, 2014.