Ten Steps To Optimize Fat Intake
Figuring out how much fish oil to include in your diet can help achieve a long list of health benefits, including some of our favorites:
- Reduce body fat and easily maintain a lean physique.
- Reduce mental stress by lowering adrenal activation.
- Improve metabolic health and prevent diabetes.
- Boost cognition and mood.
- Lower disease risk by improving immunity and cellular function.
Fish oil includes the essential fatty acids (EFAs) DHA and EPA that your body needs to thrive. As awesome as fish oil is, you don’t want to OD on it. More isn’t better.
Getting just the right amount of EFAs within the context of your total fat intake is key to peak health. This article will start by giving you ten easy steps for optimizing your fat intake. Then it will discuss some of the issues you need to consider in relation to dietary fat.
Ten Essential Steps to Get A Balanced Fish Oil Intake
Eat fatty fish frequently, getting up to a 1 pound a week in your diet. Per 3-ounce serving, mackerel contains 1,100 mg, anchovies contain 1,780 mg, salmon delivers 1,825 mg, and sardines 1,250 mg of omega-3 fats.
For meat, choose organic, pasture-raised meats and dairy. Organic beef, pork, and dairy are decent sources of EPA and DHA. If you can get your hands on them, wild meats like buffalo and elk are also high in omega-3s.
When taking liquid fish oil or capsules, make sure it’s not rancid. Get fish oil from a source that guarantees the purity. For capsules, when you open a new bottle, take a capsule and chew it up. If it tastes a little bit acidic, rancid, or gross, it’s probably been oxidized. If it’s safe, it will taste fairly bland.
Avoid processed foods. This is a simple way to get the man-made trans fats and the excessive omega-6 vegetable fats out of your diet. You will want to consume some omega-6 fats, but it’s better to get them from whole sources.
Eat a wide variety of whole sources of fats, such as avocado and tree nuts. These foods provide a variety of different types of fat and the omega-6 content is fairly moderate. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and olive are especially healthful.
Use cold pressed, extra virgin oils for salad dressings and sauces. Don't heat them because they can easily oxidize. Oxidized fat can damage tissue and DNA, increasing disease risk.
Eat seeds to provide flavor and nutrition. When adding seeds to your diet, soak them in water with salt overnight for better digestion and then add them to shakes or sprinkle on salads, cooked veggies, or yogurt. Try chia, sesame, cumin, fenugreek, and flax seeds.
Use saturated fats and tropical oils when cooking. Don’t be afraid these fats: They provide the vitamins A, D, E, and K in a bioavailable form that the body can use. Saturated fat is great for cooking because it is not easily oxidized.
For carbohydrates, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and nutrient-rich fruits instead of processed high-carb foods. Pairing high-carb with fat, such as toast with butter or eggs, is associated with elevated triglycerides. High triglycerides mean you have unhealthy levels of fat in your blood, which is associated with heart disease and health problems.
Watch out your not inadvertently getting too many omega-3 fats in your diet. Food manufactures are fortifying everything from eggs to bread, butter, oil, and orange juice with omega-3 fats (usually ALA), leading some people to get too many omega-3s. Scientists are concerned this could cause a dysfunctional immune response that leaves the body vulnerable to infection and disease.
Why do these 10 steps matter so much?
First, ensuring you get a healthy amount of EPA and DHA fish oil takes effort. The average American gets a measly 15 percent of the conservative 1,750 mg-a-week dose of fish oil recommended by the U.S. government and the American Heart Association.
Second, human beings evolved on a diet with a near equal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Today, Western diets typically have at least 15 times as much fat from omega-6 sources as they do from omega-3 sources. People whose diets are centered entirely on processed and fast foods eat a ratio that is closer to 50:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fat. This distorted ratio is not in line with how our genetic patterns were established. It is linked to the enormous increase in diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Third, the fat we eat affects insulin sensitivity. The omega-3 fats in fish oil lead to more flexible cell lipid layers, making them more more sensitive to insulin. In contrast, saturated fat is "stiffer," leading to more rigid cell lipid layers and increased insulin resistance. You can see this in real life by putting butter (a saturated fat) and liquid fish oil (omega-3 fat) into the refrigerator. The butter becomes solid and the fish oil is still liquid.
A healthy, balanced fat intake is one that includes saturated (animal fats) and unsaturated (from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish) fat because this will provide the building blocks for a strong, but fluid lipid layer that is ideal for health.
What is the difference between all these fats?
Dietary fat can be very confusing because a variety of words are used to talk about the same things. Below is a basic guide.
The following are all unsaturated fats:
Omega-3 fats include three fats: EPA, DHA, and ALA. EPA and DHA are in fish oil, algae, and some wild meats. ALA is in flaxseed and other nuts and seeds. Don't confuse ALA with linoleic acid (LA), which is an omega-6 fat.
The omega-6 fats include linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). You can find them in almost all vegetable oils, with the highest concentrations coming from sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil.
The essential fatty acids (EFA) are those that the body can’t make and must be eaten in the diet. Technically, only the omega-3 ALA and the omega-6 LA are essential. The body can synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA and it makes AA from LA. However, the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA is very low, with estimates of between 5 and 10 percent depending on health and overall fat intake.
For practical terms EPA and DHA are often considered essential. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 acid that is also considered “conditionally essential,” meaning that you should get a small amount in your diet for it’s anti-inflammatory effects. GLA is found in more exotic seed oils such as black currant seed, borage and evening primrose oil. It’s also provided in spirulina.
The following are saturated fat:
Fat from animals, such as butter, lard, and tallow are primarily saturated fats.
Tropical oils such as coconut and red palm oil are high in saturated fats, and they contain medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
The saturated fats have been vindicated from being a primary cause of heart disease. Eating them in reasonable quantities is benign for health. Use saturated fat for cooking because it is not easily damaged by high heat as unsaturated fats are.
How much EPA and DHA should you eat for cellular health?
How much fish oil you should eat is individualized and depends on health status. People with poor health or disease will benefit from a much higher intake of EPA and DHA than healthy people.
Healthy people who have a history of a balanced fat intake can probably get enough EPA and DHA from eating fatty fish a few days a week as long as they continue to limit their omega-6 fat intake so that the ratio between fish oil and vegetable fats is low.
Athletes or those under extra physical and environmental stress may benefit from getting EPA and DHA daily due to anti-inflammatory and metabolic effects. For example, a scientific review of fish oil use by athletes found that it led to less waste production during intense exercise, allowing for less muscle soreness, greater tissue repair, and faster recovery.
Fish Oil Requirements Increase With Poor Health
People with poor health may be in a different boat. If you have high triglycerides, the American Heart Association recommends 2 to 4 grams of EPA and DHA a day. Patients with documented heart disease are advised to consume 1 gram of EPA and DHA a day.
People with diminishing cognition or brain trauma may benefit from fish oil. The omega-3 fats increase brain activity and reduce the effects of concussion. In addition, a study found that adults who took 2 grams of an EPA/DHA blend increased attention, mood, and performance on a series of cognitive tests.
Overweight people trying to lose body fat may benefit from a higher omega-3 intake. A review of studies concluded eating fish or taking fish oil could lead to moderate body fat loss. Fish oil doses ranged from omega-3 from 300 mg to 6,000 mg a day.
Fat intake needs to be individualized. How much fish oil needs to be based on the following:
Your dietary history and preferences.
Health status and goals.
Intake of other fat sources so that omega-3 and omega-6 fats are balanced.
Hopefully, this article has helped you to individualize and plan your fat intake for peak health.