I haven’t sat down to write a blog in a while, so I thought I’d write about one of my favourite topics in nutrition: Fat. No, I’m not talking about visceral abdominal fat or even how to lose body fat, but the different types of fat we find in the food we eat every day. Healthy fat is so important for the proper functioning of so many of our body systems from our cells to our hormones to our brains. Some vitamins, for example, need fat in order to be absorbed by the body. Our cells, meanwhile, are encircled by a layer of fat, which is related predominantly to the type of fat we eat.
Fat is largely divided into 3 subcategories: unsaturated, saturated and trans. I’ll speak mostly about unsaturated fat as it’s the healthiest type and you want to avoid eating too much saturated and ideally no trans fats. Unsaturated fats are named as such as they contain one or more double bonds in their fatty acid chain. It is a fat that is liquid at room temperature and is usually found in plant foods such as olives, nuts and seeds. Unsaturated fats have been found to have many health benefits versus other types of fat such as not raising LDL cholesterol, and in some studies it has been found to protect against heart disease.
The well known Omega-3 is an example of a polyunsaturated fat. If you eat a lot of Omega-3 in your diet, those cell walls I spoke about earlier are going to be more flexible. This can lead to improved cell-cell communication helping with things like concentration and memory. Omega 3 fats are found in particularly high levels in the retina in the eye and in the brain. In addition to this, omega-3 fats produce a type of hormone called prostaglandins which are anti-inflammatory.
Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DLA). ALA is an essential fatty acid which means that our bodies can’t make it; we can only get it from the food that we eat. ALA is found in plant foods such as flax, hemp and chia seeds. ALA can be converted to EPA and then DHA though the conversion is only about 1% so we do need to consume EPA and DHA from food. EPA and DHA are predominantly found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. In my practice, I encourage all of my clients to eat at least 2-3 servings of Omega 3 fats every week as well as take a supplement. My vegan clients in particular will be asked to supplement as unfortunately it is much harder to get enough DHA and ALA from a vegan diet.