Fats have got to be one of the most misunderstood areas of human nutrition. For many people that have spent years living under the assumption that fat is bad for you, coming to terms with the fact that some fats are essential for health may be tough! There are of course some ‘bad’ fats which should be avoided as much as possible, but the ‘good’ fats that are about to be discussed are paramount for overall health and wellbeing.
Fatty acids are one of the main building blocks of most dietary fats. There are threetypes of fatty acids; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. It is the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid groups that are considered ‘good’ fats that can provide important health benefits. Essential fatty acids fall within the polyunsaturated fatty acid group. They are coined ‘essential’ for two reasons; firstly because we must ingest them in our diet as we cannot synthesise them within our body, and secondly because they are essential to life and we cannot function without them.
The two main groups of essential fatty acids are omega-3s and omega-6s. Good sources of omega-3s include flaxseed, mustard seeds, walnuts and oily fish, while good sources of omega-6 include sunflower oil, corn, sesame, hemp, chia seed, evening primrose and borage oil.
These good fats are brimming with health benefits. In particular, they may help lower blood pressure and levels of bad cholesterol while boosting levels of good cholesterol, in turn promoting overall heart health as well as minimising risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Furthermore, these essential fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and promote bone health.
They are a vital component of all cell membranes, thus are important for maintaining cell integrity throughout the body. They also help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. As the brain is made up of 60% fat, research has suggested that optimal levels of essential fatty acids may enhance brain function and also help minimise symptoms associated with depression. These essential fatty acids are a back-up source of energy, form a vital part of the membrane of every cell in your body and make up the protective layer that surrounds our vital organs such as the liver, brain and heat. Hence we can see why they are so essential to our wellbeing!
Fat should not be considered the devil! Before you revert to a low-fat way of living, take a look at the types of fats you are banishing and consider ways in which you can still include plenty of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, in particular the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. Improve your healthful fats while removing the harmful ones!