Not All Fat Is Bad

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Filed Under: General Health, Diet
Last Reviewed 04/21/2014

Not All Fat Is Bad

Get more of the healthy fats your body needs for optimal health

While some fats have a bad reputation—and deservedly so—others are vital for optimal health. Sadly, most people eat too many fats that can cause disease and not enough of the essential fats that can prevent disease.

These Fats Are Essential Because Your Body Can’t Produce Them

Essential fatty acids, which are present in every cell membrane, are necessary for many physiological functions. As such, deficiencies in essential fatty acids are linked with cardiovascular disease, depression, memory loss, inflammatory disorders, and many other health problems.

Unlike other fats, your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids. You must get them from dietary or supplement sources.

Dietary Sources of Essential Fatty Acids

There are two classes of essential fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s. Nuts, seeds, grains, and most vegetable oils contain omega-6s, and you likely get enough of these fats in your diet. Omega-3s, however, are found only in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines and in flaxseed.

To help ensure your body gets the omega-3s it needs and to protect your health, I recommend eating salmon or other low-mercury, cold-water fish two or three times a week.

A survey of over 20,000 male doctors who were followed for more than 20 years showed that eating fish at least once a week reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death by 50 percent. Researchers attributed this to the omega-3s in fish that protect against arrhythmias, which cause sudden death.

Flaxseed Is Perfect for Vegetarians and Those Who Don’t Like Fish

If you’re a vegetarian or don’t like fish (or to further increase your omega-3 intake), I suggest incorporating ¼ cup of freshly ground flaxseed into your diet each day.

Flaxseed has a rich, nutty flavor. Its oil contains omega-3s, so to get the essential fatty acids you need to break the seeds’ outer coating. To do this, place whole flaxseeds into a coffee grinder, food processor, or blender and process for about five seconds. Sprinkle the freshly ground flaxseed on yogurt, salads, or other foods.

Note: Years ago, I recommended flaxseed oil alongside freshly ground flaxseed. But, when research emerged showing that it may actually cause health problems, I stopped recommending it. Using flax oil instead of flaxseed is like drinking a glass of juice versus eating fresh fruit: you lose the fiber and other beneficial compounds, and are left with an extremely concentrated end product. Also, the shelf life of all bottled oils is relatively short. Whole flaxseeds are extremely shelf-stable, and can be stored for years.

Don’t Forget to Cut Out Fats That Cause Disease

Increasing your intake of essential fatty acids can have a tremendous positive effect on your health, but if you continue to eat the fats that cause disease, you won’t reap any real benefit.

Simply put, you need to cut out—or at least keep to a minimum—saturated fats from meat and whole dairy products. You should also avoid fried foods and margarine and other processed foods, which are likely to contain harmful trans fatty acids.

More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diet and Optimal Health

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