Thanks to the fear-based messaging around fat consumption over the past century, we find ourselves in the situation where much of society is now chronically deficient in important nutrients that can be traditionally found (such as essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins) in those types of foods that became demonised in the war on dietary fat and cholesterol.
How have we become so deficient?
Foods that our great grandparents regularly consumed such as offal, lard, butter, duck, chicken and goose fat and tallow all became ‘naughty’ and/or unpopular and have been replaced with seed and vegetable oils (only possible through industrialised processing) and low-fat cuts of meat under the guise that it was better for one’s health. In more recent times, through more robust scientific enquiry, we are starting to see that the demonising of fats was possibly causing more harm than good, and was based on some questionable science.
Dietary fats like lard and ghee, as well as butter, cream and milk from unpasteurised dairy are rich sources of important nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), choline and a range of B vitamins and minerals. They also contain cholesterol – which is actually vital for health, despite the narrative we’ve been fed (pardon the pun). In addition, these foods have been found to contain other important ‘factors’ within them that serve to prevent calcification of joints, hardening of arteries and protect cells and support proper mineral utilisation known as The Wulzen Factor and Activator X.
The use of organ meats (offal) has also fallen out of favour over the past 2-3 generations and has been replaced with ‘leaner’ cuts of meat – further eroding our exposure to good quality fats, but also many of these organ meats would have been dense in many nutrients that can actually be harder to obtain from modern, lower fat diets, like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as choline (so important for the brain!!) and many of our energy-supporting B vitamins. Good quality fat is a rich source of energy, is it any wonder we all feel so fatigued?
The average adult needs somewhere between 90 – 160mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day to meet adequate intake. (Note, I say adequate, not optimal). When we’re low in essential fatty acids it can show up in a number of ways from dry skin and poor skin hydration, to hormonal and mood changes and poor cardiovascular health due to its critical role in maintaining the structure and integrity of every cell in the body.
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential fatty acids are so-named because these are substances that are important to health, but the body cannot make them unless we consume them via the diet. There are two primary families of fatty acids called Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are the essential fatty acids that are typically associated with supporting health and wellbeing through their anti-inflammatory benefits, whereas Omega-6 (particularly when consumed in excess) have the potential to be inflammatory. Thanks to the rising consumption of vegetable and seed oils (Eg. Canola oil is 23% Omega-6 and 10-15% Omega-3, Safflower, Sunflower and Soybean oil actually have next to no Omega-3 which is typically found in high amounts in seafood), most modern diets tend to result in an unfavourable balance of these fatty acids ratios and this is why there has become such a focus on the need for improving the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Key Omega 3 Fatty Acids include:
The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
From head to toe, good quality fats – and in particular, omega-3 fatty acids, are important to health and wellbeing.
One of the most fundamental benefits of fatty acids is that they are incorporated into the phospholipid membranes of all cells in the body. Having healthy, robust cell membranes means that we are more efficient at transferring nutrients across the cell membrane and into the mitochondria for energy production and the cell membrane themselves are also an important part of our cellular communications, such as the transfer of electrical messages along nerve fibres from our brain to our extremities which can be important for hand-eye coordination, agility and manual tasks. Healthy cell membranes should be plump and round, whereas cells low on fatty acids can be misshapen, much like the difference between a fresh grape, and a dehydrated raisin – and this affects how efficient their surface is at coming into contact with adjacent cells for message transfer.
Fat is a critical nutrient for the brain and nervous system. Fats make up a significant portion of brain structure, with DHA being the most abundant fatty acid found throughout the brain and nervous system. Just like we know calcium to be an important structural component of bone health, similarly, fatty acids and DHA are important structural components of brain tissue (myelin) health and without sufficient supply, the health of the brain and nerves can quickly become slow or compromised.
Fats are also important building blocks for hormones and neurotransmitters. Whether it’s serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, oestrogen or testosterone – all of these chemical messengers begin with a cholesterol (fat) backbone. When our intake of fats are low, it can quickly result in mood and behavioural changes and can influence our hormones, including fertility.
Fats are also important for keeping our cardiovascular system healthy. Not only do fats nourish cellular health and fluidity of the capillaries and arteries, but ensuring good quality intake of omega-3 fats has also been shown to help regulate healthy cholesterol levels, maintain quality bile synthesis and prevent the damage associated with hardening plaques in arteries. Omega-3 fats also play an important role in helping to decrease pro-inflammatory pathways throughout the body and can have positive effects on blood sugar for those with diabetic or metabolic syndrome health conditions.
Who should take Omega-3?
Given the poor state of affairs with many people’s diet these days, virtually anyone stands to gain benefit from added supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids. Unless we’re consuming seafood and nuts in a high amount on a daily basis, it would be quite hard to meet the therapeutic levels of fatty acids needed to help with cellular health demands.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be used for;
- Children’s learning and concentration
- Adult learning, memory and motor skills
- Pregnancy health
- Neurological conditions
- Inflammatory disorders
- Mood and hormonal disruptions
- Cardiovascular and circulatory health
- Eye Health
- Gut and immunity
If you’re not consuming a lot of good quality fats in your daily dietary routine, consider supplementing with a high-quality, concentrated source of omega-3.
- Fallon S. Nourishing Traditions. 2nd Ed. New Trends Publishing, 2001.
- Higdon J. Essential Fatty Acids. Micronutrient information center, Linus Pauling Institute 2003.