|The nutrition story around fats used to be pretty simple: saturated fats were the bad guys, and polyunsaturated fats were the good guys. But the story has gotten a bit more complicated; now we’re talking about getting the right balance of fats – two kinds of polyunsaturated fats in particular, omega-3 and omega-6. First, a little terminology; the terms ‘omega-3’ and ‘omega-6’ refer to the chemical structure of the fatty acid, and there are several omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that we eat, not just one. And it’s not that either of these groups of fats is bad – in fact, within each group there are ‘essential’ fatty acids – ones we need to eat, because our bodies can’t make them. In the right amounts – and in the right balance – essential fatty acids serve to support growth, vision and brain function. |
The problem is that the balance in our diet is way off – compared with the amount of omega 6 in our diets, we tend to eat not enough omegas 3. And when the balance is off, our health may suffer.
It wasn’t always this way-the diet our ancient ancestors ate contained high amounts of vegetables, nuts and fish so we can estimate that the omega 3-6 balance was most adequate than what we obtain with today’s diet.
But in the last 150 years, our food supply and habits have changed so much, that we struggle to get the necessary amount of omega 3 to compensate the omega 6. One of the biggest contributors to this fat imbalance is the high amounts of processed foods high in saturated fats (fried foods, baked goods, crisps, salad dressings and sweets ) versus the low intake of fish and other healthy fats sources we have nowadays in our diets.
Try to eat more fish if you can to increase your healthy fats intake. If you don’t cook it often, start with canned tuna or salmon, which can be used in a lot of dishes in place of poultry – like casseroles and pasta. If you can’t get fish on the menu a few times a week, you might want to consider a fish oil supplement.
Nuts and seeds are naturally rich in healthy fats and are a great snack alternative. By replacing your biscuits and crisps by nuts, you will be getting more of the good fats and less of the not that good ones.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD.Susan is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife.