The discussion on fat, especially healthy and unhealthy dietary fat continues. With diets such as Keto becoming popular, and recent studies releasing information on the benefits of fat, it’s hard to keep a clear understanding when pulled in all different directions (especially as it deals with our relationship with cholesterol).
All we can try to do is eat healthy and practice a regular workout routine, but with all these changes in nutritional health it’s hard to keep track. When it comes to discussing healthy takes on dietary fat, polyunsaturated fats are brought up. This includes foods like: salmon, chia seeds, and various nuts. But on the other hand, polyunsaturated fats can also include: soybean oil and sunflower oil (fats we’re told to stay away from).
So how can all polyunsaturated fats be good for us? The truth is, they’re not. The best way to understand this breakdown is to learn about the fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, and their relationship with our bodies and various food sources. Read on as we discuss omega-3 and omega-6 and their effects on our cholesterol with top health experts.
What Are Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
To understand what omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are, first we’ll have to break down different categorizations of fat. The dietary fat we consume is broken down scientifically. Fatty acids are composed of a chain of carbon bonds. When a carbon bond chain has at least one double bond it’s known as a monounsaturated fat. When a chain of carbon bonds has two or more double carbon bonds, it’s known as a polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fall under the polyunsaturated fat category with two double carbon bonds. Overall, fats with double carbon bonds are better for the human body, as they’re harder to destroy or alter under circumstances like heat and wear.
Do They Have A Direct Relationship With Cholesterol?
As there are mixed reviews on how omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids affect cholesterol, it’s best to lay out all the knowledge and findings out there. While the American Heart Association and Heart Foundation, claim that consuming polyunsaturated fats help increase HDL levels (healthy cholesterol) and lower LDL levels (bad cholesterol), it may be the case that not all polyunsaturated fats are considered equal. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, “omega-3 fatty acids decrease serum triglyceride and total cholesterol levels, and may increase or have no effect on high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, while diets high in omega-6 fatty acids are associated with lower blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, but also with lower blood levels of the protective HDL cholesterol.” Overall, this means that our bodies may be out of sync in our omega-3 to omega-6 balance. Omega-3 seems to have a better outlook for healthy HDL levels than omega-6, which focus more on LDL levels.
Load Up On Omega-3
“In addition to helping fight inflammation, omega-3s can help promote a healthy heart thanks to their effect on the circulatory system,” says Samantha Morrison, a Health and Wellness expert for Glacier Wellness. “These healthy fats play an important role in minimizing triglycerides, which are one of the primary causes of clogged arteries and heart attacks. While it’s still unclear how effective omega-3s are in lowering cholesterol levels, recent studies show that they can raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels by ten percent.”
The 411 On Consuming Omega 3 and Omega 6
“When discussing dietary ways to lower cholesterol, I spend time educating clients on the importance of seeking out more omega 3 fat-containing foods, especially those found in fish, as a means of lowering LDL cholesterol,” says Liz Wyosnick MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in Seattle, and owner of the private practice: Equilibriyum. “EPA and DHA (types of omega 3 fatty acids), found in marine life are considered the most anti-inflammatory fats due their downstream effects once metabolized in the body. If you displace omega 6 fat-containing foods with omega 3 fat containing foods, LDL cholesterol may lower and overall health is supported with lowered inflammation.”
In addition to eating foods rich in omega 3, to help stabilize and lower harmful LDL levels, you may want to avoid eating foods rich in omega 6. This includes food like soybean oil (which is found in most processed food), corn oil, and condiments like mayonnaise.
How Can We Practice A Sustainable Diet Rich In Omega-3s?
“A practical way to put this recommendation into place is to commit to eat at least two meals based in fish each week,” says Wyosnick MS, RDN. “The best food sources come from oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring.” However if you’re a vegetarian, or not a fan of fish, increase your omega-3 intake by eating foods like chia seeds, brussels sprouts and walnuts. “By focusing on adding in food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, you can displace the typical foods high in omega-6. Other recommendations that I share is to use olive oil as often as possible for cooking, reduce packaged foods, and cook meals more at home to lower the load of omega-6 fats,” says Wyosnick MS, RDN.
By incorporating healthy meal choices and practicing a regular workout routine, your body is in a better position to both regulate omega-3 and omega-6 levels as well as monitor cholesterol levels.