Fat … It’s something a lot of people try to avoid because they assume eating it will expand their waistline. No one wants that! Well, the truth is, some fats will. If you’re eating cheeseburgers and cupcakes on the daily, then yes, you can expect to grow out of your pants. On the flip side, though, not all fats are created equal.
There are healthy fats that your body needs in order to function properly and survive. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids rank among one of the most important essential nutrients out there today.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated low Omega-3 levels can increase a person’s chance of death. Here’s another scary fact – most people fail to consume enough Omega-3 fats, making Omega-3 deficiency one of the largest killers in the U.S.
Before we talk about Omega-3 benefits and why you need them in your diet, let’s take a quick look at the different types.
Types Of Omega-3 Fats
The two main types of Omega-3 fats that you may have heard of before are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are usually found in animal-based foods, such as fish. A third type of Omega-3 is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is found in plant-based foods such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
While all three types are important to consume, the most beneficial Omega-3 fats are EPA and DHA. That doesn’t mean snacking on ALA-rich foods won’t help boost your health, though. In fact, ALA is actually converted into EPA and DHA in the body at a very low ratio.
1) Heart Health
Numerous studies show that Omega-3 fats benefit heart health in a major way. According to The American Heart Association, consuming sufficient amounts of Omega-3 fats can lower high blood pressure and reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls. It can also reduce the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), stroke, and heart attack. There’s proof to back up all of this.
In one Italian study, researchers monitored 11,324 heart attack survivors. They found patients who started taking fish oil supplements had a reduced risk of suffering another heart attack or stroke. Then, researchers in America studied a completely different group of men. They found that men who consumed fish at least once a week had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from a sudden cardiac event than men who ate fish less than once a month.
So, how much fish should you eat in order to reap these heart health benefits? Well, doctors say eating just two servings of fish a week can lower your risk of stroke by as much as 50 percent. Like anything, though, you can eat too many Omega-3 fats (I’ll talk more about this below). So don’t eat fish for every meal.
2) Reduces Bad Cholesterol Levels
One reason Omega-3 fats benefit heart health is because they help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and triglycerides (fats in the blood). There have been several studies that found this to be true. One study, for example, compared the efficiency of krill and fish oils in reducing triglyceride levels in rats. Researchers found both oils were successful.
Along with lowering bad cholesterol and fat levels, Omega-3 fats can also increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Researchers point to the Eskimos as the perfect example. They eat a diet rich in Omega-3 fish and tend to have increased HDL cholesterol and decreased triglycerides. It’s the same for people who follow the Mediterranean-style diet.
3) Fights Diabetes
Researchers have found people with diabetes often have high triglyceride levels and low HDL levels. As I just mentioned above, these are two things Omega-3 fatty acids counteract. That’s a big plus for people who suffer from diabetes. Additionally, Omega-3 fats can lower apoproteins (markers of diabetes).
If you have diabetes and are thinking of introducing Omega-3 supplements or Omega-3 foods into your daily diet, make sure to consult with your doctor first. While researchers have found a positive correlation between Omega-3 fats and diabetes, everyone’s body is different.
Gas, bloating, and indigestion … oh my! Dealing with digestive issues is both painful and embarrassing. If you are one of the 25-45 million Americans who suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) then you may want to start eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show Omega-3s can help relieve IBS symptoms, like the ones I just mentioned.
Since Omega-3 fats have been proven effective at fighting inflammation, they are also said to ease Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) symptoms. Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of IBD.
5) Fights Depression
Since the brain needs fat to function, researchers have found Omega-3 fats play an extremely important role in achieving good mental health. In addition to learning and behavioral patterns (which I’ll talk more about in a minute), researchers decided to take a closer look at the impact of Omega-3 fats on depression and mood. Several studies have proven it effective.
In one British study, scientists gave a group of depressed patients a daily dose of EPA. After three months, over two-thirds of the group reported a 50% reduction in their symptoms. They saw significant improvement in the following:
- Feelings of sadness
- Inability to work
- Low libido
- Inability to sleep
All of the patients in this study had previously tried antidepressant medications, such as Prozac.
In another study, researchers found people who took Omega-3 fatty acids in addition to their prescription antidepressants had a greater improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone.
A third study found Omega-3 fats helped protect new mothers against postpartum depression. While researchers continue to study the impact Omega-3 fats have on mood, it’s clear there is a direct connection.
One thing is for sure — children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to have low levels of Omega-3 fats. In one study, researchers examined nearly 100 boys. They found the boys with lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids had more learning and behavioral problems than boys with normal Omega-3 fatty acid levels.
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