- Reducing saturated fat intake in favor of unsaturated fats can be beneficial for heart health.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are the two types of unsaturated fats, found in foods such as avocados, nuts, and canola oil.
- Polyunsaturated fats, or omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for our bodies and can be obtained naturally from food sources like fish and plant-based sources such as seeds.
- Omega-6 fatty acids, while beneficial in moderation, can cause imbalances if consumed in excess, especially in the form of processed foods.
- Incorporating a balance of different types of unsaturated fats into your diet, while minimizing intake of processed foods and saturated fats, is vital for heart health.
Contradictory dietary advice relating to heart health can create a perplexing situation for both doctors and the patients. The back-and-forth opinions, no doubt, emerge from the insufficient nutritional education provided in medical schools and the limited interaction time between doctors and their patients.
However, one broadly acknowledged dietary advice stresses the importance of reducing saturated fat intake and replacing it with unsaturated fats. This better substitution strategy emphasizes consuming more unsaturated fats over low-fat packaged foods that are actually packed with refined carbohydrates, such as sugar.
Making the Right Choice of Unsaturated Fats
When it comes to unsaturated fats, it’s important to understand there are two primary types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Foods rich in unsaturated fats generally contain both types, though some items might contain higher amounts of either type. For example, avocados, nuts, and olive and canola oils contain higher quantities of monounsaturated fats.
Incorporating Polyunsaturated Fats in Your Diet
Polyunsaturated fats, often synonymous with omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential to our bodies. While recent research has debunked the advantages of omega-3 supplements for heart health, obtaining them naturally from food sources remains important.
Primarily found in fatty fish, EPA and DHA are abundant in available seafood options like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring. You could also provide your body with the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant-based sources such as walnuts, sunflower seeds and oil, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and chia and flax seeds. Although the body does not absorb ALA as readily as it does EPA and DHA, its intake remains vital.
Understanding Omega-6 Fatty Acids
And then we have the less recognized, omega-6 fatty acids. Similar to Omega-3s, these are present in many nuts and seeds but are also abundant in corn and soybean oils, which are popularly used in processed foods like chips. Regular intake of too many omega-6s can lead to imbalances, particularly if they overshadow the omega-3s in your diet, reinforcing the need to limit the consumption of processed foods.
For comprehensive information on essential fatty acids, you can follow this link to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.