Most of you have probably heard about healthy fats. Healthy fats are unsaturated, which refers to their chemical structure, and means that they are liquid at room temperature.
Two types of these healthy fats are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, also know as polyunsatured fats (PUFAs). They are known as essential fatty acids, which means that the body cannot make them on its own, so we need to get them from our diet. While both types of essential fatty acids have health-promoting qualities, their actions are different and there is question as to whether the typical American diet provides what we really need for optimal health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3s are well known. Many people have heard about fish oil and its potential for reducing inflammation and risk of heart disease. Omega 3s are most abundantly found in fish. Probably the most common fish we see these in are salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, and halibut.
The American Heart Association currently recommends eating fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids twice weekly for heart health benefits including reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Omega 3s may also help with inflammation caused by arthritis.
Omega 3s are available in the supplemental form of EPA and DHA. If you are interested in taking Omega 3 supplements, speak with your physician and/or pharmacist for recommendations on appropriate dosage and supplement brands.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are more abundant in the American diet and tend to promote inflammation. They are typically found in nut and seed oils that we tend to see in a lot of our processed foods. These PUFAs may help to lower cholesterol levels and promote brain function, but do not have all of the same heart health benefits as Omega 3s because of their inflammation-promoting effects.
Current research implies that if the American diet had a healthier balance of Omega 3s to Omega 6s, such as the Mediterranean diet, that we might have lower incidence of inflammation and associated diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.). Recommendations include a ratio of 2:1 of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3 fats. Since most Americans get plenty of Omega 6s, the key is to increase our intake of Omega 3s, either via a more regular fish intake, less consumption of processed foods, and/or through the use of dietary supplements.