Good fats are definitely making a comeback. Avocado is a craze, nuts are the go-to-snack and we are cooking with oils again. Recent studies are now attesting to all the goodness fats offer and also warning us to avoid artificial ingredients. Good fats are critical for the production of our hormones, skin health, heart health, mood, the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and many other essential functions in the body that make us glow.
Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids are specific kinds of unsaturated fats that promote a wide range of health benefits including basic functions and structural support within the cell as well as complex pathways that drive our physiology in the right direction.
Fatty acids make up the components of cell membranes.
It was once believed that the nucleus was the most important organ in the cell, but theories now propose that membranes have an equally important role (if not more). The structure of our cell membranes depends largely on the type of fats in our diet. A high intake of omega-3 and -9 fatty acids will permit more fluidity and a healthier structure in the cell in comparison to diets high in unhealthy fats, or those fats which are hydrogenated and oxidized. The flexibility encouraged by good fats allows for better retention of nutrients, electrolytes, hydration and enhanced functionality, including the ability to effectively communicate with other cells.
Let´s clarify the difference between these fatty acids: omeg-9s are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 and -6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
MUFAs are found in abundance in olive oil, macadamia nuts, tea seed oil, and avocados.
One of the more studied monounsaturated fats is omega-9 fatty acid, otherwise known as oleic acid. Omega-9s can be produced in the body and evidence suggests a high consumption of these fats can reduce risks of cardiovascular disease by increasing HDLs and decreasing LDLs, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Increased insulin sensitivity and a decrease in inflammation has also been observed when comparing diets that are high in saturated fats. They are the most common form of fat necessary for the body, so who is going to say no to rich avocado, savory olives and a handful of buttery nuts when you are guaranteed both flavor and health?
As for PUFAs, you may already know that increasing omega-3 fatty acids in your diet will boost your health, and while that is certainly true, it’s not the whole story. PUFAs are a type of polyunsaturated fat that, like everything else in life, needs to be balanced.
Omega-3 fatty acids or alpha linoleic acid (ALA), and omega-6 fatty acids or linoleic acids (LA), are both essential fatty acids because they are not produced by the body. Omega-3s have been linked to improve symptoms in depression, anxiety, ADHD in children, asthma, menstrual disorders and metabolic syndrome.
There is also evidence to show that they reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer´s disease, cancer, as well as serving to improve sleep, heart and bone health, and protect the skin from sun damage.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are the primary protagonists in the anti-inflammatory pathway (important in autoimmune diseases), which might be the main reason why they are beneficial in so many areas. In addition, they also promote autophagy within the cells and help with healthy aging and cellular function. This is why I specifically sought to include many sources of these vital nutrients (wild salmon, cod, walnuts, flax, and chia seeds, etc.) in my bestselling book, Glow15.
- Omega-6s are the antagonists of omega-3s, they synthesize the key players in inflammation. While inflammation does not sound like a healthy state, it is nonetheless an important process for our survival.
Inflammation is a necessary function in the body within the immune system.
When we get a cut or need to fight an infection, we benefit from the work inflammation does to heal and protect us. That said, the imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6s can leave your body in a pro-inflammatory state, which is linked to increasing your risk of chronic and inflammatory diseases.
The current Western diet is much higher in omega-6 fatty acids. An ideal ratio of these two fats should be 1:3 (one omega-3 for every omega-6), but the reality is anywhere from 1:10 to 1:50!
Sunflower, corn, and soybean oils all are good sources of omega-6 fats but unfortunately, they are staples in processed, chemical-laden foods. Not to mention, that corn and soy are highly genetically modified and commonly used for animal feed. This translates into conventional chicken, fish, meat, eggs, and pork with much higher levels of omega-6 that we then ingest upon consuming them.
When possible, buy organic, grass-fed beef; wild-caught fish; pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs; and eat leaner parts of conventional meat. As you can see, it’s not just about increasing your consumption of omega-3s, but also decreasing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids, that will improve your health and vitality.
Not all omega-3s are created equal.
Omega-3 fatty acids come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and are converted along the anti-inflammatory pathway into EPA and DHA. These last two are found in cold-water fish, (think salmon, herring, krill, cod-liver oil, tuna, and sardines) and promote brain health. Plant sources (flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chia seeds) of ALA help boost your omega-3s, but the body has difficulty converting them to EPA and DHA. Eating fish twice a week and nuts on a regular basis will go a long way, especially since nuts are a good source of omega-9s as well.
Whole, real and fresh foods are the best go-to option for most nutrients, but fish oil supplementation can have a powerful impact. It’s a tricky area to navigate since fish oil supplements are very common these days, but unfortunately, the quality of these products is subpar and consequently, impure and ineffective.
When buying this supplement, look for ecologically sustainable brands that also assure the removal of heavy metals and toxins (common in larger cold-water fish like tuna) and keep their nutrients like vitamin A and D intact. Essential fatty acids are highly susceptible to rancidity, which means quality is key! Keep your flaxseed oil, cod-liver oil and supplements in the fridge to prevent oxidation.
It’s essential to remember that cutting back on omega-6 fatty acids is just as crucial as incorporating more good fats into your diet. This way, you avoid the pro-inflammatory fatty acids while balancing the body and promoting your glow.
It’s healing from the inside out; the basic structures of your cells, the core of your body and all your vital organs benefit from the goodness of omega-rich foods. For authentic beauty from within, start with good fats. Your health, beauty, mood, and skin will thank you.