The Skinny on Fat: Omegas
Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients that make up our diet. It is an essential part of our nutrition, but can be pretty complex to understand. There are so many subgroups of “fat”, that we, as a society, have formed these stigmas or preconceived notions on what is “good” and what is “bad”.
I am sure you have heard that fat makes you fat, that eating too much fat increases cholesterol, and that the key to a low calorie diet is eliminating all dietary fat. While there is some underlying (very underlying) truth to these statements, when taken to the extreme they are without question – incorrect.
On the other hand, I am sure you have been fed some information explaining how eating an incredibly high fat but low carbohydrate diet is the key to losing fat and “becoming lean”. You were excited to hear this, and ran to the grocery store throwing every fatty meat, cheese, egg, avocado, oil and nut you could find in the store in your cart feeling like you finally cracked the nutrition code!
But, then you started asking more questions, doing more research, and you learned there was a bit more to it. You were told all fats weren’t created equal, that there was “good” and “bad”. Now, things got a bit more confusing when it came to fat. What about the different TYPES of fat?! Saturated/unsaturated? Monounsaturated? Polyunsaturated? Omegas?? What are those? How does cholesterol play into the whole thing? You were more confused than ever.
I understand how all of this information can be confusing, and trust me – there really is no simple explanation. However, I am writing this in hopes to clarify and simplify some facts about FAT and allow you a bit more understanding one piece at a time. There is a ton of information that would take up more than this single, short blog piece – but we will focus on one aspect of fat.
This piece will be focused on Omega Fatty Acids and how they come into play in our nutrition.
What does dietary fat do for us?
*note: the below benefits are from ALL fat – both saturated and unsaturated,
including Omega 3’s and 6’s so we would not want a diet that is absent of one particular type
provides us with the most energy of any macro nutrient (9 calories per gram)
primary energy source for babies and kids under 14 years old
secondary energy source for adults
helps make steroid hormones (sex hormones, courticosteroid hormones)
forms cell membranes, primarily those of the brain and nervous system
helps transport fat soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, K)
provides us with TWO fatty acids we cannot make on our own: OMEGA 3 and OMEGA 6
We will discuss that last one a bit further.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Where can I find Omega 3’s
marine life (I.e. salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod, algae)
seeds (chia, flax, hemp)
egg yolks from Omega-3 enriched hens (fed the above seeds)
There are three types of Omega 3’s:
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
ALA is a popular Omega 3 source amongst plant based eaters as its is mainly found in seeds such as chia, flax, and hemp, as well as walnuts. But, the latter two, DHA and EPA, are the fatty acids we are most concerned with in Omega 3 supplementation, as they are the most beneficial to our body. They are found primarily in marine sources like fish and algae. It is important to get direct forms of these two, as we are unable to covert ALA into DHA or EPA in our bodies.
Why are 3’s so important?
dilate blood vessels
prevent blood coagulation (clotting)
keep cell membranes more fluid causing: improved brain function, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved joint health
aid in fat transport
OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDS
Where can I find Omega 6’s?
fried foods, snacks baked in oil (chips)
most nuts (excluding walnuts)
dairy (cheese, milk, butter)
cookies, candy, pastries, muffins
dark poultry, pork, beef
There are three types of Omega 6’s:
Linoleic Acid (LA)
Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA)
Alpha-linolenic Acid (AA)
Why are 6’s so important?
constricting blood vessels
Essentially, 6’s do the exact opposite of 3’s. These may seem like negative effects for the body, however we do need these processes to occur to be able to come back from injuries and recover from daily training sessions and workouts.
What does this all mean?
We need both Omega 6’s and 3’s – but in proper balance. It may be surprising that the proper balance does actually mean getting more 6’s than 3’s. However, in the current American diet, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is about 10:1 and can even be unbalanced up to about 20:1. This ratio is so off because we are so often consuming an abundance of refined oils and processed foods in the modern world. Years ago, our ancestors had a more exemplary and much healthier ratio of about 2:1 and only up to about 8:1 on the higher end.
There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you are able to get your 6 and 3 ratio back in proper balance:
Eat less industrial oils and processed foods (less corn and soybean oil).
Eat a more varied spectrum of plant and animal foods (fatty fish, wild game).
Consider supplementation (fish oil, or vegan algae oil).
The main approach we should have toward fat, as with nutrition as a whole, is balance. We should never look to eliminate, or negatively view one specific macronutrient (I.e. “sugar is worse than fat”). Nor, should we view the macronutrient subgroups that way (I.e “I am going to eat NO Omega 6’s because they are bad!). We want to incorporate a balanced ratio of macronutrients and their sub groups into our diet. When it comes to fat, by eating a wide variety of natural, minimally processed sources, as well as supplementing with a reliable Omega 3 product, we can ensure we are getting proper quantities of dietary fat daily.
Author: Nicole Roggow, Black Iron Nutrition Coach, @nicoleroggow