While the news reports on the obesity epidemic which is sweeping across the nation, chastising fast food chains and emphasizing the importance of a low-fat diet, researchers are quietly reminding us that there are, in fact, good fatty acids. While it may sound strange to many, our blood pressure and cholesterol levels could actually skyrocket without the benefits of essential fatty acids in our diet.
Unsaturated fatty acids (or FAs), monosaturated FAs and polyunsaturated FAs are the healthy fats that our body needs to function properly. These good fatty acids raise your High Density Lipoprotein, which grabs your bad cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein) like a quarterback and runs down to your liver for a touchdown (aka breaking down the cholesterol and excreting it)!
Essential fatty acids support many systems – immune, nervous, reproductive and cardiovascular – helping them to repair cell membranes, absorb minerals and spit out waste. These strong acids also produces prostaglandins, which fight inflammation and infection, while regulating blood pressure, heart rate, growth and fertility.
When you think of unsaturated fatty acids, think liquid. Olive oil, canola oil and safflower oil are some you may want to use when cooking.
Mono saturated fatty acids (palmitoleic acid and oleic acid) found in nuts, avocados, olive oil, grapeseed oil, porridge, popcorn, whole grain wheat and cereal, play a major role in assisting HDL to transport LDL. Therefore, the health benefits of essential fatty acids include a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis as well as aiding in cancer prevention.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids include soy, vegetable oil, sunflower, soybeans, mayonnaise and margarine. However, small amounts should be used, as high amounts have been linked to oxidization and free radical production, leading to cancer.
Deficiencies of good fatty acids can be very troublesome. If you get sick a lot, have a hard time remembering things, suffer from hypertension or irregular heartbeats, menopausal discomfort, itchy legs or tingling nerves, you may have an Omega-3 (linolenic acid) deficiency.
Seen as heart-healthy and brain-healthy, much has been reported recently regarding “Omega-3” fatty acids found in salmon, mackerel, enriched eggs, flaxseed and walnuts. One tablespoon of uncooked flaxseed oil can give you the minimum Omega-3 / linolenic acid requirement needed throughout the day. The Iowa Women’s Healthy Study found that eating nuts more than four times a week effectively reduced the risk of heart disease. In addition, a 2004 study from ten European countries found that modest intake of about 16gm of nuts and seeds had a reduced incidence of colon cancer in women.
Omega-3 fatty acids are said to form cell walls and facilitate inter-cellular processes. They’ve also been linked to the prevention of colon Cancer, reducing the risk of type I diabetes and having anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, men on high fish diets with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids had an 80% decreased risk of sudden cardiac death.
In a ground-breaking study, Jill Norris PHD of the UCDHSC School of Medicine found: “Our study suggests that higher consumption of total omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of diabetes autoimmunity in children at an increased genetic risk of type 1 diabetes.”
By now it is widely known that trans fatty acids – used to increase the shelf life of cookies, crackers, fried food, pastries, margarines and other snack food — are bad for you and in fact increased LDL in the body. Trans fatty acids are considered so dangerous now that the Pan American Health Organization has created a “Trans Fat Free Americas Task Force” to phase out the use of trans fats in the commercial food industry. Kraft, McDonald’s, Burger King, Kellogg, Nestle and Pepsi are some companies interested in eliminating trans fats from their products.
You can realize some of the many health benefits of essential fatty acids simply by including some in your diet today. The body is essentially a machine that must be well-oiled to function properly. A full-scale diet change is not necessary to achieve desired results. Often, just a tablespoon of flax seed or a handful of nuts can help the body immensely.