The Good Fat

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Fat can be good for you. You get the idea — because, the big fat thing has been alarmingly misinterpreted without taking into account the quality of fats we eat. It also needs to be emphasised that fats play a host of important roles in the body. They are, indeed, the basis of key compounds, such as hormones. Research shows that eating ‘good’ fat can promote weight loss in a ‘lopsided-caloric’ environment, such as ours. Put simply, it means that eating a higher percentage of fat is healthy, so long as you’re not consuming calories too many on the whole.

Research at the Harvard School of Public Health, US, suggests that the total amount of fat in our diet does not raise the threat of heart disease and cancer, so long as our weight and total calories are ‘right.’ The findings also imply that the type of fats you actually eat may play a significant role in the development of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Essential, or ‘good,’ fats in our diet are called essential fatty acids [EFAs]. They include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. EFAs are polyunsaturated fats. Our bodies can produce other fatty acids; however, we cannot produce EFA. Thus, we need to eat them. EFAs perform important functions in the body. Besides, being fundamental to the structure of the body’s cell membranes, and in the production of important hormones, they are also involved in several physiological activities — blood clotting and regulation of blood pressure, besides reproductive function.

There are two primary forms of omega–3 fatty acids — DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] and EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid]. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish and seafood — deep-sea fish, shark, tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines — they can be made by the body using omega-3 EFAs. Soybean and canola oils and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils are also good sources of omega-3 fats; so are walnuts, linseed [flaxseed], and green leafy vegetables. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in polyunsaturated vegetable oils — soybean, safflower and sunflower oils.

High amounts of saturated fat and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids in our diet, along with the intake of low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, can lead to constant production/upsurge of cyclooxygenase [COX] enzymes. COX is naturally present in our body. There are two forms of the enzyme. COX-1 enzymes are produced abundantly throughout the body. These enzymes are involved in the regulation of day-to-day cellular and metabolic activities — including stomach lining stability, regulation of blood flow within the kidneys, and balanced platelet function. COX-1 should be present in the body always. COX-2 enzymes, like COX-1 enzymes, are essential for inducing pain. But, unlike COX-1 enzyme, the COX-2 enzyme is present in our body to a limited extent. Besides, factors such as diet, stress, and injury can influence its formation. So, when COX-2 is produced on a continual basis, it results in constant pain.

The Omega Ratio

Our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, as research suggests, should be in the proportion of 1:1 to 2:1. Blame it on our dietary carelessness, junk- or fast-food, not to mention our crass neglect of wholesome food, people in the developed world, for instance, have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the range of 10:1; in some cases, 20:1. This isn’t good news. The implication is a double-edged sword: with our ‘modern,’ unbalanced, fatty diet, most of us are providing the COX-2 enzyme the perfect ground, or ‘soil,’ to muster a disaster, without a safety valve in place to halting its dangerous effects. However, it should be remembered that not all COX-2 enzymes are ‘nasty’ elements; as a matter of fact, we need them for life.

You get the point — that everything is related to maintaining balance. We need to use our discretion at all times. Yet, the fact is our desire for unbalanced diets and attendant stresses often leads to a continual build-up of COX-2 enzymes — more so, at a time when we don’t have the wherewithal to keep the enzyme’s constant elevation, or its dangers, at bay.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been deemed necessary for managing chronic inflammatory conditions, thanks to their ability to alter prostaglandins’ production and yield to measurable changes in certain disease parameters, especially in rheumatoid arthritis [RA]. Fish oils, in other words, amend the production of pro-inflammatory mediators — such as prostaglandins. In the process, they also change their function. The result is relief from pain.

Recent research has illuminated a new operating channel for omega-3 fatty acids. Most importantly, studies have found and showed that each of the omega-3 fatty acids — and, none of the other fatty acids — inhibited the production of COX-2 enzyme without affecting COX-1 expression, unlike conventional medications [e.g., non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen].

The result suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can be ‘selectively used’ to transform the expression of COX-2 in inflamed joints [osteoarthritis], while also decreasing joint degradation processes at the genetic level.

Scientific Studies

Scientific studies and clinical evidence suggest that the regular consumption of omega-3 salmon oil, or flaxseed, reduces the likelihood of heart disease. Detailed studies have also verified the ability of omega-3 to lower the body’s cholesterol level as well as shrink the amount of triglycerides. Omega-3 fats are crucial to arterial and overall heart health. Thanks to the recognised benefit of the oil on heart and circulatory health, medical scientists have now blended rich, deep-water squalene oil with quality omega-3 salmon oil into a proprietary marine oil complex.

It should be noted, no less, that there have been a large number of personal and patient testimonies eulogising the benefits of marine oil complex combinations containing squalene, along with omega-3 oils. Numerous case reports of individuals whose lives and health have changed and improved — thanks to the regular use of the combination — can also be found from every part of the globe.

For most of us who have been working hard to go ‘fat-free,’ it would come as a big surprise to know that we are slowly learning that fat is not our foe. Modern science demonstrates the fact that the true effect of eating certain types of fats is good and not as harmful as popular, skewed opinion suggests. This holds true for omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are essential part of a healthy diet, and just as important in preventing illness and disease — especially heart disease.

Picture this. The drive against fat, in the recent past, has also had a downbeat social impact, thanks to a well-orchestrated government and media blitz on the subject. Take, for instance, the total amount of fat in people’s diets, which decreased from 41 per cent in the early 1960s to 34 per cent at the beginning of this century, in the US alone. However, with the downward trend, it is ironic that people’s health actually deteriorated. In fact, Americans, like other populations worldwide, are today much fatter than ever before — what with obesity reaching epidemic proportions in adults and children.

Healthy Fats Hold The Key

Fatty oils are the building blocks of fat in the diet. There are three types of fatty oils — saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. They vary in their basic chemical structure. Polyunsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats, but like all fats they are high in calories. They should, therefore, be consumed in moderation. Monounsaturated fats are a better choice — when used prudently. Omega-3 fats are known to be essential — we have to eat them because our body cannot produce them on its own.  What omega-3 fats do is help drive the ‘engines’ of normal brain, nervous system development and function, immune tasks, blood flow, heart regularity and healthy skin.

Omega-3 fats can help prevent heart attack, sudden cardiac death, and certain types of stroke too by decreasing blood clots, inconsistent heart rhythms, inflammation and triglyceride levels, while raising HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol levels. Research suggests that omega-3 fats are a valuable line of supplemental treatment for cancer and other disorders, such as osteoarthritis too. There is also another vital, but somewhat less active omega-3 fatty acid, which is useful for high blood pressure patients and diabetics. It is called alpha-linolenic-acid [ALA]. It is found in flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts.

The best way to derive all your omega-3 fats is from food sources and by eating 3-4 ounce of omega-3-rich fish, two-three times a week. This is adequate and risk-free. What’s more, omega-3-rich fish have been shown to have low, or negligible, mercury and other heavy metal content, or toxicity. For vegetarians, which many of us are, one effective option is consuming flaxseed. Or, taking a fish oil supplement encompassing of 500-2,000mg of EPA and DHA, with a meal, along with a daily vitamin E [200mg] pill, or capsule, for maximum absorption.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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