The Good Fats: Your Ultimate Guide to Getting EFAs You Can't Live Without
Over the past 30 years, fat has been blamed for everything from heart disease to obesity. And that’s really a shame, since getting the right kind of fat is extremely important to your physical and emotional health.
More recently, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) have become better appreciated by the medical community due to their singular ability to enhance our health. These fats are essential to a fully functional body, and we quite literally cannot live without them. But the human body cannot produce EFAs, so we must get them from either food or supplements.
Despite what we've learned about EFAs, there are still so many myths when it comes to fat. And many people have a hard time sorting it all out.
So let’s revisit the subject, because if there’s one thing nearly everyone needs, it’s the good kind of fat.
What’s So Good About the Good Fats?
There are three categories of EFAs — omega-3s, omega-6s, and omega-9s. Right now, we’re only concerned with the first two.
While both omega-3s and 6s are healthy, the key issue is getting the correct balance of the two.
A balanced intake of omega-3s and omega-6s can benefit your body by:
- Providing energy to your body, especially your heart
- Playing a major role in creating healthy cell membranes, nerve cells, and hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which we need to help deal with inflammation and pain.
- Supporting multiple bodily functions, including proper brain functions, nutrient absorption, and healthy skin and hair.
On the other hand, a deficiency of EFAs in your body can lead to these conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Mental and emotional disturbances
- Digestive disorders
- Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is loaded with omega-6s, found in popular cooking oils, like corn, soy, and safflower oils.
As a result, far too many Americans are deficient in omega-3 EFAs and more vulnerable to disease.
How Did We Get Here?
Back in our grandparents’ day, humans could get omega-3s from animals that grazed in pastures. But today’s grain-fed livestock no longer provides us with these good fats.
The best sources of omega-3s now are fish, specifically, fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, herring, and anchovies. Unfortunately, heavy metals and toxic chemicals in polluted water have seriously tainted fish.
Add to this the fact that many people do not like fish, and it’s easy to see how we have strayed so far from a healthy, balanced intake of these good fats.
Earlier generations ate roughly equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s. The hunter-gatherer diet of our earliest predecessors consisted of foods rich in omega-3s.
Whether it was the greens and seeds they ate or the animals, fish, and birds raised on grass, algae, and seeds, a balanced omega intake is the diet our ancestors ate.
Experts estimate that the ideal ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is 1:1. Unfortunately, the typical American consumes about 20 times as many omega-6s as omega-3s.
This unbalanced 20:1 ratio creates an environment in the body where disease and various disorders can thrive.
How To Tell Good Fats From Bad Fats
Here’s a chart that you may find helpful when it comes to sorting out good and bad fats.
These reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. (Found in nuts, avocado and olive oil.)
Omega-3s and 6s are in this category, but we eat far too many 6s and not enough 3s, creating the perfect environment for a long list of ailments. These also reduce LDL cholesterol, but if your omega-3s and 6s are not balanced, these may encourage cancer development and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. (Found in corn, soy and similar vegetable oils.)
These raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. No more than 10 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat. (Found in meat, dairy products, eggs, and most fats that are solid at room temperature, like shortening.)
These include partially hydrogenated oils (margarine, shortening) and processed foods made with them. You don’t need artery-clogging trans fats at all and should avoid them whenever possible.
If you’re having trouble keeping all this straight, just remember: fats go from good to bad alphabetically. Monounsaturated is the best, polyunsaturated is good (when omega-3s and 6s are balanced), saturated is unhealthy, and trans fat is the least healthy.
What About Coconut Oil?
There is one saturated fat you should be familiar with, because it has health benefits not found in others—coconut oil. This fat is a good example of how science can help us separate the good from the not so good.
Researchers have found that saturated fats made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) – like the lauric acid in coconut oil – have several advantages.
For starters, these saturated fats metabolize more quickly, and they are better absorbed by the intestine—that way, they don’t end up as a layer of flab on your belly. In addition, some studies suggest that coconut oil could be helpful for weight management, but that area needs further study.
You can use coconut oil in cooking and baking the same way you would use any other oil. The coconut flavor is usually quite mild and goes well with many foods (see our Coconut Smoothie with Banana and Berry Recipe).
You can also use coconut oil on your skin and hair. Many readers have told me that coconut oil is excellent for treating dry skin, and it has even been shown to be effective at fighting toenail fungus!
4 Ways To Get the EFAs You Need
Can we really duplicate a good-fat-rich diet today? Absolutely. Here are 4 good ways to get more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s daily:
Avoid buying processed and prepared foods when shopping. These grocery items typically contain high amounts of omega-6 oils. Instead, eat more whole nutrient-dense fresh produce.
Replace omega-6 vegetable cooking oils with healthier omega-3s. Instead of safflower, soybean, corn, grapeseed, or sunflower oils, switch to olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.
Discuss taking an omega-3 rich oil with your physician. If you are currently taking prescription medication, this is the right move before starting a fish oil regimen, for example. If you're following a plant-based diet or are allergic to fatty fish, some good alternatives are algal oil, Brussels sprouts, chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seed, perilla oil, spirulina, and walnuts.
- Consider boosting your omega-3 intake with supplements. For those who are allergic to or don’t like fish, supplementing has tremendous health benefits. Simply take 1-3 grams (1,000-3,000 mg) daily. Vegetarians or those who are allergic to fish can substitute flaxseed oil. A typical dose is 1 to 2 tablespoons daily.
Clearly, EFAs truly are as essential as their name implies. If you are missing out on these nutrients, we do hope you take steps to correct the situation, by eating more fish, taking omega-3 supplements, or both.
If you do go the supplements route, look for a product that has been purified or molecularly distilled to remove toxins. The best results are usually obtained from products that have 2 to 3 times the amount of DHA as EPA.
Newport Natural Health offers a top notch omega-3 product. Learn more about our best-selling formula here.
A Final Word on EFAs
The bottom line is this: We need the right fats to be healthy, but more is not better. Use fats in moderation, so that no more than 30 percent of your total daily calories comes from fat. Of that, only about 10 percent should be in the form of saturated fat.
Overdoing saturated fat intake puts you at risk for significantly higher cholesterol levels, weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and other serious health conditions.
If your diet is meat-and-potatoes fare or you eat mostly prepared, processed foods, you’re probably getting far more saturated fat and very little omega-3s, a scenario that is not enhancing your health.
The good news is that minor changes in your daily intake can make a major difference for your health. So get to know the good fats and make them part of your health regimen.
Take good care.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: January 13, 2021
Originally Published: April 17, 2013