In recent years, fats have gotten a bad rap, with many fad diets requiring that participants give up or severely cut back this essential macronutrient. Not all fats are created equal, however; and some sources of fat are essential for good health.
What are fats?
Dietary fats are a type of molecule that is a major source of energy and other substances. Fats are used by the body to build nerve tissue and hormones and are also burned as energy. Excess dietary fats are stored in the body for future use.
Fat gives foods it’s flavor and texture, but can also be high in calories. Eating a diet that is high in fats can cause health problems in the long run. There are different types of fats, which are classified by the amount of hydrogen atoms in the molecule:
1. Trans fats: These fats are changed chemically, which helps the fat to remain solid even at room temperature. Trans fats are in margarines, processed foods and fried foods. In general, there is no health benefit to eating trans fats. They are labeled as “partially hydrogenated” on their food label.
2. Saturated fats: Saturated fats are found in coconut oil and animal products, such as butter, meat, cheese and milk. Saturated fats have been linked with heart disease and other health problems.
3. Unsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats are primarily found in plants and fish and can be good for heart health. Omega 3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fats and are known to have some powerful health benefits, including:
· Heart health
· Infant health and development during pregnancy
· Cancer prevention
· Reduction of the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
· Preventing age-related macular degeneration
· Managing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats; we must eat it in our diet. There are three types of omega 3’s:
· EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
· DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
· ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
Fish and seafood are the predominant sources of both EPA and DHA, while ALA is mostly found in vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseeds and flax oils.
People who don’t like or eat enough fish or seafood (ideally, 1-2 servings per week) should consider taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement. There are also supplements that aren’t derived from animal sources for people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids can interact with some medications, so it is important to check in with your doctor before taking any new supplements, especially if you are taking medications.
Even if you don't think that you like fish, give it another try! A fatty fish, like salmon or tuna, is pretty easy to prepare and rich in these essential fats. You can also add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to your food each day to help you increase your intake of these fats.