Making Sense of Fats – Omega 3,6,9

It can be confusing when trying to choose which fats are good or bad. The key to your good health may lie in choosing the right fats to eat and cook with. Here is some information that can help you make better choices when consuming fats.

Omega-3 Fats Include EPA, DHA and ALA
You are probably well aware of the potential health benefits associated with omega-3 fats. They may help manage blood triglyceride levels, and some studies show they can help lower inflammation.

There are several different types of omega-3 fatty acids. The most important one found in our cell membranes is DHA, which is made from EPA, which in turn is made from ALA (alpha linolenic acid). Fish, cod liver and krill oil are all good sources of EPA and DHA. Flax seed oil is rich in ALA, which needs to be converted to EPA and then DHA. In humans, the conversion is not particularly efficient—around 10%, so using flax seed oil as a sole source of EPA and DHA is not as effective as consuming a direct source of EPA and DHA such as fish.

A healthy dose of EPA and DHA is about 500-1,000 mg a day, which is found in 2-3 softgels depending on their concentration level. Take 1-2 tablespoons of flax oil a day, which contains about 7,000 mg of ALA per tablespoon. While flax oil may not be as good at lowering triglycerides, it still helps with things like skin and joint health, and can balance an excess of omega-6 fats in your diet.

Omega-6 Fats include LA and GLA
The omega-6 fatty acids sometimes have a bad reputation because they can easily be consumed in excess and contribute to an imbalance with the omega-3s. Generally, you should try to reduce omega-6 intake and increase your omega-3 intake.

Minimize your use of cooking oils, salad dressings or snack foods that contain safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil or soy oil. These fats are high in LA (linoleic acid), an omega-6 fat.

Consume good omega-6s (GLA)
However, specific omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to have health benefits. One of the good omega-6 fats is GLA (gamma linolenic acid). GLA is a precursor to arachidonic acid and has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties. In one recent study, GLA helped obese individuals maintain weight after major weight loss. Some studies using GLA have shown a decrease in fat synthesis which could help manage weight.

GLA is found in borage seed oil, evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil. Many of the balanced omega 3-6-9 supplements on the market contain some GLA for these reasons.

Support fat loss with CLA
CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a different type of fat that some studies have shown to reduce body fat.

Saturated fats, MCTs and Omega-9s
Saturated fats are neither omega-3 or 6. Their intake is widely understood to promote plaque development and risk of heart disease, but recent evidence has called into question that premise.

Coconut Oil (with MCTs)
Most saturated fats are 14 to 18 carbons in length, but medium chain fatty acids (12 carbons or less) are found in some foods. Medium chain fatty acids are unique. They are not stored in appreciable amounts in the body and are promptly burned as fuel. When they are ingested, fat burning increases and so does the production of ketones. Coconut and palm kernel oil are uniquely rich in medium chain fatty acids (more than 50% of total fat). Some research shows they elevate ketones, which are a clean burning fuel, meaning they don’t generate a lot of free radicals. They also increase antioxidant defense and protect against oxidative stress. Consider cooking or baking with coconut oil or take 1-2 tablespoons a day.

Olive Oil (has Omega-9 Oleic Acid)
Olive oil is primarily an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid (55-83% oleic acid). This is a good oil to use in salad dressings to replace high omega-6 fats.

Avoid Trans fats
Avoid all Trans fats (hydrogenated fats) that are used to prolong the shelf life of foods. They’re typically used for frying (french fries and doughnuts) or are in many processed snacks, crackers and cookies. By choosing the right fats, you’ll improve many markers of good health. With diet and exercise you may even lose excess body fat with some of the specialized fats like CLA.

Dominick Walsh is a blogger for Performance Nutrition and TMRzoo.com and covers all men’s health topics and exercise issues including protein powders, diets, weight loss, weight lifting supplements, fat burners and supplement reviews. Dominick’s columns cover everything you need to know about your pre, during and post workout nutrition.

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