Fats are made up of carbon atoms. Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds between the carbon bonds while saturated fats do not contain double bonds. The word ‘poly’ indicates multiple double bonds. Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature and saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are healthy fats. Saturated fats are unhealthy fats.
What are the different classes of dietary fats?
- Saturated fats found mainly in animal foods
- Monosaturated fats found mainly in plant sources such as olive oil
- Polysaturated fats which are found in both plant sources and seafood
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats:
Sources of omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, and plant sources like canola oil and walnuts.
Functions of omega-3 fats
- Brain health: Omega-3 fats are responsible for regulating key chemicals in the brain that affect your moods. They are required for cell-to-cell communication. Because of this, there are a number of studies looking into the possibility of the use of omega-3 for managing depression.
- Cardiovascular health:
- Strong bones:
Omega-3 fats act as a natural pacemaker. They tend to maintain and steady a slower heartbeat. This helps avoid cardiac arrhythmia’s (irregular heartbeat) which is a common cause of sudden cardiac deaths.
Omega-3 fats increase the absorption of calcium and contribute to formation of bones. This helps prevent and treat osteoporosis.
Omega-6 fats on the other hand are pro-inflammation in excess quantities. They can raise blood pressure and increase the occurrence of blood clotting. There are 2 types of omega-6 fats which are linoleic acid (not to be confused with alpha-linolenic acid which is an omega-3 fat) and arachidonic acid. These can be found in meat, poultry and certain plant oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cotton and seed oils.
Balancing omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats
In order to reap the benefits of omega-3 fats, it is important to consciously increase your omega-3 fat consumption compared to your omega-6 consumption. The ‘Lyon Diet Heart Trial’ study was conducted to assess if a Mediterranean-style diet would be preventive against a heart attack. The diet limited omega-6 fats to 7 grams a day. This is equal to just one tablespoon of corn or soybean oil. It was found that after 4 years on the diet, there was a reduction in heart disease.
You wouldn’t find only one fat in isolation (see table below). For example, although butter is primarily omega-6 fats it does contain some amount of omega-3 fats. However, the idea is to choose based on a higher ratio of omega-3 compared to omega-6 fats. It is important to note that omega-6 fats are not all bad. They are shown to decrease the risk of heart disease when consumed in place of saturated and trans fats which are found in animal foods and processed snacks.
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This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have any questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.