Know Your Fats: Part 2

March 23, 2009

After dealing with trans fats in Part 1, we know which fats to avoid, but without knowing the other side of the story, we’d avoid fat altogether and miss out on not only some tasty food but also some beneficial fats.

I mentioned healthy fats very briefly and promised to return to the subject.  Along with all the recent ballyhoo concerning trans fats, you’ve probably also heard of studies praising the Mediterranean diet.  This diet, believe it or not, is the typical diet of the people who inhabit the Mediterranean region.  And it consists of whole grains, fish, olive oil, plant foods, fresh fruit and moderate amounts of wine, to name many.  The people of Greece and southern Italy eat nearly as much fat as Americans.  But the American diet contains far more of animal fats.

The difference is, the American diet is often high in Omega-6 fatty acids while the Mediterranean diet is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-6s are an essential part of a healthy diet, but the ratio of 6s to 3s should be about 2:1.  For most American’s, that ratio is closer to 20:1 (on average, Americans eat a hamburger once every two and a half days.  sick).  Omega-6s are found particularly in meat and vegetable oil.  Hard to believe, I know, but Americans must eat a lot of meat and vegetable oil.

Omega-6s and Omega-3s are both known as essential fatty acids, and that’s the case because our bodies cannot produce them.  The are vital to brain function as well as health and development.  But since we consume a disproportionate amount of Omega-6s, we increase our risk of long-term diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression.

Fats are essential to our bodies, but we take a huge step towards health when we become aware of what fats we’re eating, what fats we need and what fats we need to avoid.  Try this: if you haven’t already, adopt one habit involving the consumption of healthy fats.  Eat a small handful of walnuts a day.  Use olive oil instead of vegetable oil or Pam.  Eat fish two times a week (money saver: canned salmon is far cheaper than fresh or frozen salmon, yet it contains all of those Omega-3s.).  Sprinkle ground flax seed on your cereal, salad or desert.

That’s all I got.

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