With 69% of US adults considered to be overweight or obese, I bet you didn’t think that getting too little fat would ever be a problem!
But fat gets such a bad rep that some strive to eliminate it completely from their diets. Others simply consume the wrong kind of fat, which can contribute to health problems (think heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, and even diabetes).
It’s also really important to get a good mix of essential fatty acids (EFAs) like omega-3, which helps the body out in so many important ways, from reducing inflammation to fighting dementia. Keep in mind that the Standard American Diet has an unhealthy ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, so cut back on the omega-6 rich foods (cooking oils, packaged and baked goods) to keep things balanced.
So, are you getting enough fat in your diet? Read on to see if you recognize any of these signs that indicate you aren’t.
- 1. You’re Depressed Or Angry
- 2. You’re Always Hungry
- 3. You Have Trouble Concentrating
- 4. You’re Having Vision Problems As You Age
- 5. You Have Low HDL Cholesterol
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Certain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) may be highly effective in preventing and managing depression. If your mood has suddenly changed, try upping your servings of fatty fish to see if it makes a difference.
A study of almost 22,000 Norwegians showed that those who regularly took omega-3 rich cod liver oil were 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who didn’t.
But it’s not just that one study, there is a wealth of information on the effect of fats on our mental health. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reference several studies that examine the impact of omega-3 deficiencies and their negative psychological outcomes.
Several of these studies indicate that consistently taking omega-3s can reduce the risk of depression. It’s not a replacement for normal treatments for depression, but it might improve your results.
That’s pretty incredible when you consider that one in ten Americans take antidepressants.
Deficiencies in these healthy fatty acids may also make you more impulsive, hostile, or cynical. In healthy adults of average age 45, low levels of EPA were associated with high levels of impulsive behavior, hostility, cynical ideas, and anger.
If you’re feeling ravenous within an hour or two of eating a meal, check if you’re neglecting your body’s need for fat.
Research has shown that a little dietary fat can help satiety (make you feel full) and regulate your appetite. The study also showed that certain types of fats are more satisfying than others.
Meals rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (oily fish, walnuts, tofu) or saturated fatty acids (butter, lard, ghee) were found to be more filling than those containing monounsaturated fatty acids (avocado, olive oil, peanut butter).
However, the American Heart Association recommends getting a good mix of PUFAs and MUFAs to reap the largest health benefits, while limiting saturated fatty acids to just 7% of your total calorie intake. The jury is still out on whether you need to be that strict, but getting the majority of your fats from unsaturated sources is a safe bet.
I’m not giving you free license to stuff your face, a little goes a long way when it comes to fats. I like to add sliced avocado to sandwiches, sprinkle a handful of nuts on salads, and drizzle olive oil on vegetables.
Because omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain, they are considered to be crucial for memory and mental performance. Dietary fat helps build cell membranes in the brain, as well as producing a barrier of fatty insulation around each nerve fiber, enabling these fibers to carry messages to the brain faster. Balancing the intake of omega-3 to omega-6 is also important when it comes to efficient brain function.
It seems the earlier you start worrying about healthy fats, the better. It has been shown that intake of essential fatty acids during pre-school years may play a beneficial role in preventing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and improve academic performance.
Following a plan similar to the Mediterranean diet has been shown in a large scale study to preserve healthy cognitive function.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the world, with as many as 11 million Americans suffering from it. A study carried out over 12 years found that people who ate the most omega-3s were 30% less likely to develop macular degeneration than those who ate less.
It has also been proven that EFAs can help treat glaucoma, another huge cause of vision impairment in the US.
You’ll also reduce your risk of dry eye syndrome, as studies have shown that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet can cause a marked improvement in the symptoms of blepharitis and other dry eye conditions. The Mayo Clinic also suggest increasing your intake of oils and other EFA containing foods to combat dry eyes.
If your HDL cholesterol isn’t within the recommended range, try adding some more good fats.
Good fats for good cholesterol…not too hard to remember, is it?
The University of Massachusetts Medical School recommends eating fatty fish several times a week, which can significantly increase HDL cholesterol, even over a short amount of time. Choose salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel. If you can’t stand the thought of that much fish, pop a fish oil supplement instead, it will do the same job, but you’ll probably be waiting longer to see the positive effects.
To sum it up, balance is key when it comes to dietary fats. Make sure you eat enough MUFAs and PUFAs (especially omega-3s), and a little saturated fat is okay too, the body needs all three to function properly. Just keep in mind how important balance is when it comes to omegas. Along with a healthy intake of carbs and protein, and a balanced exercise regimen, you’ll be well on your way to looking and feeling your best.