In hopes to improve diet and overall health, millions of Americans are watching their intake of fat. Dietary fat has gotten somewhat of a negative image as part of a healthy diet. There are many different types of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, trans fat, etc. Saturated and trans fats should be limited in the diet, as they may contribute to the rise in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may actually help improve health and prevent disease. Monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oil, avocados and nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (soy, safflower, sunflower, corn oil) can actually help to lower LDL cholesterol.

Essential fatty acids are other examples of polyunsaturated fats. The “essential” means that they are essential to health but cannot be manufactured by the body. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are examples of essential fatty acids that we must obtain from our diet. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in seed oils, processed foods, margarines, and fast foods. There are three major types of omega-3 fatty acids that are found in food and these include: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The ALA, which is not as potent as the DHA and EPA, can be found in plant sources like soybean oil, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, and flaxseed. The EPA and DHA can be found in fatty fish and fish oils. Examples of fatty fish are sardines, swordfish, salmon, stripped bass, albacore tuna, and herring. It is crucial to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid intake. The typical American diet may contain approximately 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A healthy diet should contain a closer ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, for every serving of omega-6 fatty acids one should have a serving of omega-3 fatty acids. For example, if you were going to have crackers for a snack, top them with omega-3 rich smoked salmon. Several studies have shown that, by increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids, one will have a reduced risk of many diseases including: cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and depression. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish about 2-3 times a week, while also including foods like walnuts and flaxseed. If you don’t like eating fish, you may substitute fish oil supplements. Most commercial fish oil capsules (1g) contain 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA. Check with your doctor to find out what the proper dose is for you. There may be increased amounts of mercury found in fish higher up on the food chain (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish). The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have published statements advising women who are or may become pregnant, those that are breastfeeding, and young children to focus on fish that are lower in mercury. Specific guidelines can be accessed online at: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/advisories.htm. Login to Favorite