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Fat is Good for You!

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in essential fatty acids, originally published in issue 195 - June 2012

This is the time of year when we often feel motivated to get healthy. Thoughts of fitting into holiday swim wear may loom large and for many this means dieting. Unfortunately weight loss still tends to be associated with going low or no fat and this misguided notion can lead to undesirable effects on health such as low mood, poor memory, dry skin and hormonal problems.

Fat is good!

Whilst we all know that cutting down on saturated fat is a good thing (found mainly in, for example, fatty meats, fried food, pies, cakes and biscuits, cheese and cream), many of us need more of the beneficial omega 3 and 6 fats. These polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS), unlike saturated fats, are termed ‘essential’ because they must be obtained through the diet and inadequate intake results in chronic symptoms.

Lack of PUFAs is a common problem as they don’t naturally appear in abundance in a ‘normal’ diet. See below for how to get enough in your diet.

Why Essential Fats are Good for You

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for producing prostaglandins, hormone-like substances which are present in all tissues and cells and which positively influence a whole range of body functions: 

  • Immunity;
  • Brain and nervous system (remember the brain is 60% fat!);
  • Mood (In 2005 a review in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that the omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA were of significant benefit in the treatment of mood disorders. Those suffering from depression have been found to have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than non-depressed individuals);
  • Blood pressure control & healthy cholesterol management;
  • Protective mucus of stomach;
  • Hormone production;
  • Management of inflammation;
  • Healthy skin and hair;
  • Cell membrane structure – this must be exactly the right flexibility and strength in order to let nutrients into the cell and keep harmful toxins and bacteria out.

The role of EFAs in brain function is no surprise since the brain contains such a high proportion of fat. Essential fatty acids pull oxygen into the body. This is important for all body tissue, but particularly for the extra active brain and nervous system tissue in which a high level of chemical reactivity takes place and a lot of oxygen is used up. EFAs also form electric charges which when activated produce tiny electrical currents that enable nerve cells to communicate with each other. 

Studies have shown that low concentrations of the omega 3 fats EPA and DHA result in accelerated cognitive decline. In one well-known study, rats deprived of omega 3 fats showed memory loss and their ability to negotiate a maze was considerably reduced.

In 2005 a review in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that the omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA were of significant benefit in the treatment of mood disorders. Depressives have been found to have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than non-depressed individuals. There has also been much interest in the effect of omega 3 on children’s school performance.

This is all in addition to the cardiovascular health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids which are very well researched, being first reported in the early 1970s.

Don’t Forget the Omega 6 Essential Fats!

Modern diets usually supply plentiful amounts of omega 6 fats in the form of commonly used oils such as sunflower, corn and safflower. This leads to the (wrong) conclusion that we are satiated with these fats. These oils may be in relatively plentiful supply in our diet; however, they are often heavily refined and processed and usually heated, which totally destroys their beneficial properties and results in the formation of unhealthy chemicals. To obtain the undamaged omega 6 fats, these oils must be pure, unrefined, cold pressed and eaten unheated. Many people do not achieve this in their daily diets. This may potentially lead to an imbalanced omega 3 to 6 ratio which can be corrected with evening primrose oil capsules or use of HEMP OIL with food:

Hemp seed oil is an omega 6 rich oil, with a balance of 3:1 omega 6 to 3. It is delicious on salads. Udo Erasmus, an internationally acclaimed expert on essential fats says hemp seed oil is “the most perfectly balanced, natural essential fatty acid-rich oil available”.

Evening primrose oil is one of few direct sources of the fat GLA. With hempseed oil, for example, the body will have to make the GLA, a chemical process which can be impaired by all too common factors such as excessive intake of sugar, too many saturated fats, trans fats from some margarines, alcohol, or deficiencies of specific nutrients such as B6, B3, zinc and magnesium. People with conditions involving high insulin e.g. diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure or cholesterol are less likely to be able to make GLA.

How to get Enough Daily EFAs in your Diet

  1. One tablespoon seeds (e.g. mix of pumpkin, sesame and sunflower). Raw seeds are ideal (with salads, muesli or porridge for example), but the ready made seed mixes are also fine. Provides omega 3 & 6 oils;
  2. One tablespoon Walnut oil or Hemp seed oil (either on its own after a meal or with a salad or yoghurt smoothie). Provides omega 6 oil. Must not be heated;
  3. At least 1000mg pure, contaminant free fish oil;

Flax, walnut and pumpkin oil are alternative omega 3 sources to fish oil. But remember that, unlike fish oil, these vegetable oils do not directly contain the important DHA/EPA fats. The body has to make the DHA/EPA from the oil, and depending on factors such as excess sugar, alcohol or a lack of vitamin B6, B3, zinc or magnesium, the conversion may not happen very efficiently. People with conditions involving high insulin e.g. diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure or cholesterol may also have poor conversion.

The conversion problem also applies to making the omega 6 fat, GLA which is why evening primrose oil is sometimes needed. So next time you are thinking of going low fat, think again and remember that in view of all the positive effects of fat on mental functioning, it’s a no brainer!

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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;   penny@nutritionistlondon.co.uk   www.nutritionistlondon.co.uk

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