Health Canada recommends that 30% of our diet should be made up of fat. This may seem like a large percentage but the key is maintaining adequate intake of good fats and limiting the bad fats.
Saturated and trans fats are considered to be “bad fats”. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are mostly found in meat, butter, eggs, and milk. Palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils are also high in saturated fats although coconut oil has many health benefits. Trans fats are produced artificially during the manufacturing of solid margarine and shortening. These may be hiding in packaged cookies, cakes, pies, crackers, chips, etc. A diet high in saturated and trans fats may lead to heart disease and obesity.
Unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, are the “good fats”, and have been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of health. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, peanut and canola oils, avocados and most nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are further broken down into 2 types of fatty acids: Omega-6 and Omega-3. Our bodies cannot synthesize these two fatty acids therefore they are “essential”, and we must take them in through our diet. Linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), are examples of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Linoleic acid (LA) is found in vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, and soy), grains, nuts and seeds. Alpha-linoenic acid (ALA) is found in flax seeds, canola oil, and walnuts.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are also Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish (sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies). Gamma-linolenic acids (GLA) is an Omega-6 fatty acid found in spirulina and evening primrose, borage, and black currants oils.
General recommendations are to consume a balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 in a ratio of 6:1 or lower. The World Health Organization suggests that of our daily energy intake from fats, no more than 10% should be saturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats should make up 3-7%. The rest should be from monounsaturated fats.
Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
Possible signs of an EFA deficiency include:
• Dry, scaly skin
• Dry and falling hair
• Retarded growth
• Gall stones
• Liver problems
• Varicose veins
• “flightiness” and nervousness
Therapeutics of EFAs
There have been many reported health benefits associated with EFA supplementation, creating potential for therapeutic use. The following conditions and systems are among those that have been shown in the literature to benefit from the use of EFAs:
• Eczema, psoriasis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Hormonal and menstrual health
• Immune system and inflammatory health
• Behavioural problems
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease
• Migraine headaches
Choosing an EFA supplement
Generally we consume enough Omega 6 fats in our diets through vegetable oils, grains, and seeds. However, we tend not to get enough Omega 3s, from fish, flax seeds, etc. Typical recommendations are 0.3 to 0.5 g/day of EPA and DHA and 0.8 to 1.1 g/day of alpha-linolenic acid. If you do not think you are getting enough good fats in through your diet you may want to consider using a supplement. When selecting an EFA supplement there are a few things to consider.
• Always read the label to be sure of the amount of each EFA that is available in the product.
• Liquid forms versus capsule forms may be easier absorbed and used by the body.
• Oil supplements are usually kept in the refrigerated section of health and grocery stores.
• Check expiration dates for freshness.
Most of the research done on EFAs and health focus on the Omega 3 fats, and more specifically DHA and EPA from fish. When selecting a fish oil supplement consider the following:
• Is the product 3rd party tested for quality control and to ensure it is free from metal contamination?
• What are the concentrations of EPA and DHA?
• How is the product protected from oxidation?
Some individuals with underlying health concerns should not supplement with EFAs. Be sure to contact your heath care provider before commencing supplementation.
Our bodies were made to use fat and so it is important to include this vital nutrient in our diets. Making healthy fat choices will lead to overall better health and prevention of future disease.
Allison, Nancy. No Need to be Fat-Free. Herbs For Health 2005; August: 40-43.
Chan, Y. Michael. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Fish, Fish Oil, and Cardiovascular Health. Wellness Options 2005; 21: 40-43.
Marz, Russell B. Medical Nutrition from Marz 2nd Edition. Portland, OR: Omni Press, 1997.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods 3rd Edition. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) – Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review 2004; 9(1): 70-78.
Have a great day,
The Vitality Team