It’s Not How Much Fat You Eat, but Where It Comes From

Healthy fats are necessary for energy and the proper functioning of our bodies, with omega-3 fatty acids being essential fats that our body can’t make and must get from the foods we eat.  They are an integral part of every one of our cells and play important roles in many functions of our body and our brain.  Omega-3 fats are necessary for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.  They also also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function and help protect against cancer and other diseases.  One of the most beneficial effects of omega-3 fats is in helping to prevent heart disease and stroke.  They help keep the heart beat steady, they lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood vessel function, as well as lowering triglycerides and reducing inflammation.

There are three main types of omega-3 acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).  EPA and DHA mainly come from fish, while ALA is mainly from plants oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and soybean products like tofu.

A new scientific paper published in the British Medical Journal analyzed data from more than one million people in 41 different studies.  It found that a high intake of ALA plant-based fats is significantly associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease.

Another new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health followed 117,000 health professionals and their self-reported dietary patterns over 27 years. They found that people who got most of their dietary fat from plant-based sources like olive, safflower, and canola oil had a 12% lower risk of stroke, while those who got most of their fat from meat sources like beef, pork, lamb, bacon, and other processed meats, has a 16% higher risk of stroke.

These studies are in line with other research that shows that pursuing an overall low-fat diet should not be your objective, since healthy fats are necessary and beneficial for the proper functioning of your body.  Instead, pay attention to the type of fat you eat and where it comes from, emphasizing plant-based fats and fatty fish for essential omega-3 fatty acids while cutting back on fat from meat.

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