When I was growing up, fats were perceived to be the enemy. Health professionals were blaming fats for the increase of heart disease and obesity and believed “if you don’t want to be fat then don’t eat fat”. They supported this theory based on the fact that the fat macronutrient has 9 calories per gram versus protein and carbohydrates (which both have 4 calories per gram).
The food production companies were all over this theory like flies on an egg salad on a hot day. They started producing a ton of “low-fat” or “fat-free” food options and by the mid-90’s people were keen to drop pounds and feel healthier with these “low-fat” yet heavily processed foods, filled with highly refined carbohydrates and sugars.
Fast forward to now…. where we know this theory was all wrong and there’s plenty of research out there to back it up. Certain fats are critical in our overall health and it can now be said that “eating fat can help you burn fat”. I’ll explain how in a minute, but first…..
The terms “healthy fats” or “good fats” … we hear them all the time, but what exactly does that mean?
There are 2 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) that we must consume from foods.
- Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.
Both these polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential and support the body’s basic functions. Not only is it important that we get these EFA’s in our diet for brain health, cardiovascular health, and for keeping our skin and tissues youthful, it’s equally as important that we achieve the right balance of the two.
It’s super easy for us to get omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, in fact maybe too easy, which then throws the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 out of whack. Researchers suggest a ratio of between 2:1 and 4:1 is ideal, however the typical western diet is estimated to contain about 20 times as much omega-6 as omega-3, meaning this ratio is about 20:1. This ratio (diets too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3) is not ideal and contributes to chronic inflammation, hypertension and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. A poor ratio also slows down the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) which are important for fighting inflammation (EPA), balancing hormones (EPA), brain development (DHA), and protecting against heart disease and cancer (DHA). When ALA is not converted it is stored in the body and/or used for energy as other fats are.
So how does eating healthy fats make you burn fat? This is because the calories in fat are over double that of the other macronutrients (ie: contains more energy) – you will feel more full and more satisfied after eating them. This reduces your chances of filling up on refined carbohydrates, which are said to contribute to weight gain due to the extra insulin your body must produce to allocate the intake. Healthy fats also help to regulate blood sugar levels and avoid those spikes and crashes.
What foods contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats?
Omega-3 rich foods:
- fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, arctic char and trout)
- omega-3 eggs
- flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- seaweed and algae
Omega-6 rich foods:
- processed/fast foods
- plant oils (canola, corn, peanut, sesame, soy, safflower and sunflower)
- peanuts / peanut butter
- meat, poultry, fish and eggs
- farmed fish
Tofu and walnuts have a reasonable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Do I need to supplement?
Although no dietary supplement is a substitute for a healthy diet, many people choose to supplement Omega-3 to achieve a better balance of healthy fats, and to gain some of the nutritional benefits. It can also be challenging for the body to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, in fact up to 80 percent of Americans cannot convert flax oil to DHA at all, and for this reason a supplement is recommended.
What to look for in an Omega-3 supplement?
I always say this first, high quality!! Don’t go for whatever is cheapest on the drugstore shelf. Fish oils can contain mercury, which is highly toxic to the body. Purchase products that have been third-party tested for purity and that are sustainably-sourced. You also want to make sure they are stored properly as fats can go rancid and are vulnerable to oxidization. Once they go bad, they will have a foul smell and become less potent or even harmful. Look at the ingredients to see if the supplement contains an antioxidant, such as vitamin E, to combat rancidity.
The supplement should have a combination of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both of these omega-3 fatty acids provide different health benefits. Look at the back of the bottle for 300 to 1000 milligrams of combined DHA/EPA in a single gel capsule; don’t go by how much general fish oil is claimed on the front of the bottle. Avoid supplements that combine fish oil with any other oils. These combinations can reduce the effectiveness of the omega-3s.
Algae-based supplements are a great option if you are a vegetarian or allergic to fish.
Right now I’m using an Algae based liquid supplement from @NutridomCanada – it’s 100% vegan, pure, sustainably sourced, and has a higher potency than any other vegan omegas on the market.