Fats and cholesterol are always the prime accused in the case of heart trouble and the first things to be pushed out of the diet when on a weight loss regime. But, do fats deserve all the bad publicity?
Not all fats are bad for your health. The right sort can help your heart keep pumping, make your joints supple, and improve the texture of your skin. Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids and it is these that make a difference to your health. If you go on a low-fat diet or consume calories from the wrong foods, your body may not get enough good fats, which are needed to build healthy cells. This can cause poor organ function.
The good fats
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA): Oils extracted from olives, groundnuts, sesame seeds, rapeseed, canola and flaxseed contain MUFAs, which protect the cardiovascular system. MUFA also helps reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL, a type of cholesterol) in your body, promoting heart health. Olive oil is the richest source of MUFA.
Essential fatty acids (EFA): As the name suggests, these are necessary for normal growth and development. There are two types: omega-3 and omega-6. These are not manufactured by the body so the only way to acquire them is through diet.
Among the omega-3 fatty acids, the most important ones are a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These stimulate blood circulation by increasing the breakdown of fibrin (a compound involved in clot formation) and help reduce blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce the risk of heart attack and atherosclerosis by significantly reducing blood triglyceride levels. Omega-3s are also known to to have anti-inflammatory properties and help in conditions like arthritis, varicose veins and depression.
Primary omega-6 fatty acids constitute linoleic acid. But a high consumption these fatty acids is know to increase the risk of heart disease. The ratio of not more than 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 acids in your diet is considered beneficial to health.
Indian diets are packed with an abundant supply of omega-6, from cereals, grains, vegetables and dals, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough foods with omega-3 fatty acids in them to maintain the ratio.
Eat foods like fish, walnuts, soybeans, almonds, leafy vegetables and flaxseed, which are rich in omega-3. Avoid adding vegetable oil while cooking, since it is rich in omega-6 and disrupts the ratio.
Tips to balancing your diet
Have two tablespoons of alsi-seed (flaxseeds) powder daily. Alsi is rich in ALA, and helps increase high density lipoprotein (HDL, good cholesterol) in your body. Alsi powder can be added to salads or can be had as a chutney.
To increase the amount of EPA and DHA in your diet, eat cold water oily fish like salmon, bangda, sardines, and surmai, 2-3 times a week (grilled or steamed).
Include evening primrose oil and fish oil supplements in your diet.
Reduce your intake of processed food, margarine and vegetable oils like corn and sunflower, as they are high in omega-6.
Reduce your saturated fat intake by avoiding red meat, high fat dairy products like whole milk and butter, and deep fried food.
Use oils extracted from olives, mustard and canola.
Eat more omega-3 rich foods like walnuts, almonds, soybeans, leafy vegetables, sea-food, etc.
The human body is very resilient but improper eating eventually exacts a toll. So make sure you make the right choices.
Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre