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Benefits of Increasing your Intake of Healthy Fats

Over time, “fat” has gotten a bit of a bad reputation. Many people associate fat in their diet with poor health and being overweight. While it's true that some types of fat in large amounts are bad for your health, there are others that are an important part of a healthy diet. Evidence indicates that cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, depression, behavioural and mood disorders, and early dementia may all benefit from improvements in essential fatty acid balance.

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

Essential fatty acids are the ultimate in ‘good’ fatty acids. They are called essential, because the body doesn’t make them so we have to get them from our diet. Essential fatty acids include both omega-3 and omega-6, but deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids are more common than omega-6. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids like olive oil are also considered ‘good’ fats. Certain trans fats and saturated fatty acids are usually what people refer to as “bad” fats and have been associated with increased risk of heart disease. 

Learn More: Do You Know Your Fats?

Heart Health

Some of the best evidence regarding the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is for the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Optimal results for the Omega-3 Whole Blood Score, Omega-3 Index and the ratio of AA to EPA have been shown to either reduce risk of heart disease, or reduce the risk of a second heart attack in people who have already experienced heart attacks.1,2

Mental Health

A high AA to EPA ratio and low levels of EPA in red blood cells has been associated with increased severity of depression. Preliminary clinical evidence suggests that people with schizophrenia experience an improvement in symptoms with increased Omega-3 intake3 as well as children with ADHD may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids including EPA and DHA.4

Several studies have shown that reduced intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with increased risk of age-related cognitive decline or dementia, including Alzheimer disease.

Bone and Joint Health

Lowering the AA to EPA ratio has been shown to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.5 In a recent animal study, the evidence was strong that omega-3 fats may help prevent the osteoarthritis and also slow its progression in those already diagnosed.6 A 2007 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that 300 mg krill oil per day significantly reduced inflammation, pain, stiffness and functional impairment after just 7 days, and even more profoundly after 14 days.7

Other Benefits

There is a variety of positive effects, other than those previously mentioned, that “good” fats can have on your health. A diet high in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs), such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, as well as Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) has been found be beneficial in some cancers8, as well as with inflammatory, allergic, and skin diseases.9

Check out our list of foods high in healthy fats to get you started on increasing your intake.

References

1. Harris WS. The Omega-3 Index: Clinical Utility for Therapeutic Intervention. Curr Cardiol Rep. 2010;12:503-508

2. von Schacky C. Cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. 2009;81:193-98

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22367656

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19436468

5. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/349s.short

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21723952

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17353582

8. Simopoulos A. The importance of the ratio of omega 6/omega 3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56:365-79

9. Rizzo A. A rapid method for determining arachidonic:eicosapentaenoic acid ratios in whole blood lipids: correlation with erythrocyte membrane ratios and validation in a large Italian population of various ages and pathologies Lipids in Health and Disease. 2010;9(7):1-8