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Not all fats are bad for you - the health benefits of eating polyunsaturated and omega fatty acids

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Delicious and healthy fats
Delicious and healthy fats

The Government has issued warnings about the growing problem of obesity in America. Children are now particularly at risk. Refined carbohydrates are particularly troublesome as are many fats. However, not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are essential for good health.

Monounsaturated fats reduce the level of low density lipoproteins, (LDL), or bad cholesterol, when taken in place of saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are the ones best suited for human consumption. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, almonds, cashews and avocados.

Studies are conflicted with respect to polyunsaturated fats.  While polyunsaturated fats lower bad cholesterol, there is some evidence that they also lower high density lipoproteins, (HDL), or good cholesterol when consumed in place of saturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and cottonseed oil.

It is important to remember the fact that while unsaturated fats have health benefits, they contain large amounts of calories. This means that they are fattening, so the consumption of unsaturated fats needs to be limited. Also, remember that good fats are most beneficial when used in place of saturated fats.

Fat types are important because cells that form the membranes of blood vessels contain significant amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids. If saturated fats are consumed in greater amounts than unsaturated fats, they replace unsaturated fats forming a type of plaque that can lead to obstructions. Arterial obstructions, and resulting blood clots, are the cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Unsaturated fats contain two essential fatty acids (EFAs) - omega 6 fatty acids or linoleic acid and omega 3 fatty acids, or alpha-linolenic acid. These fatty acids are required in the diet because the body cannot make its own omegas. Every cell in the body needs EFAs for proper structure and function. EFA’s also produce hormone-like substances called eicosanoids; most notably the prostaglandins which control inflammatory processes. Omega 6 fatty acids lead to the formation of highly pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, while omega 3 fatty acids produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Omega fatty acids are important in preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, skin disorders, depression, bowel inflammation, and many of the inflammatory and degenerative diseases such as arthritis.

The typical Western diet is high in grain consumption. Grains including wheat, rice and corn raise levels of omega 6 fatty acids in the body, as does sunflower, corn, and safflower oils. Largely because of this fact, omega 6 fatty acids are out of balance with omega 3 fatty acids. The optimum ratio is one omega 3 to three omega 6s. Most Americans have an omega balance of 10 - 20 to 1, in favor of omega 6 fatty acids. Such balances should be considered pro-inflammatory, and therefore unhealthy. The solution is to consume far less grains and oils high in omega 6s, while at the same time increasing the intake of omega 3s. Omega-3s are found in cold-water fatty fish including salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. Fish oil can be taken as a supplement and the capsules are inexpensively available.

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