by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Almost every woman I see in my practice is worried about fat. After years of misleading media conditioning, it’s no wonder we remain convinced that eating fat will make us fat. But in all honesty, extreme low-fat diets don’t help regulate our weight or enhance our health. In fact, a shortage of fat makes us significantly less healthy, and sometimes even miserable.
Our culture is beginning to wake up to how essential fats are to our survival — especially omega-3’s. I’m sure you’ve seen the phrase “Good source of Omega-3’s” stamped on food packaging in your grocery store. From eggs to waffles, food manufacturers are figuring out that omega-3 fatty acids sell. But many women are confused about why they are so good for us, especially since we’ve been avoiding fat for all these years.
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive impact on or prevent serious degenerative illnesses like heart disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3’s are especially beneficial to menopausal women in preserving heart, breast and bone health, and even help keep our moods on an even keel.
I admit, it almost sounds too good to be true. But it is true. Over the years, I’ve seen omega-3’s — referred to as essential fatty acids — do wonders for women. They contribute to every inch of our bodies. From our hearts to our minds and every cell in-between, I promise omega-3’s are the healthiest fats you can consume! And no matter how busy you are, there are easy ways to include them in your diet.
Let’s take a closer look at omega-3 fatty acids and how they can work for you.
What’s so essential about essential fatty acids?
Many of my patients want to know the difference between regular fat and “essential” fat. Put simply, our bodies cannot make essential fatty acids (EFA’s) on their own, so they must come from our diets. What’s more, both forms of EFA’s (omega-3 and omega-6) are found in the membranes of every cell in our bodies!
At the molecular level, EFA’s protect and keep our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, GI and immune systems functioning optimally. They help insulate our nerve cells and produce molecular messengers involved in immunity and the central nervous system.
We can obtain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from a range of food sources. Here are some good sources for these special fats. (Many foods have both omega-3’s and 6’s, so you’ll see them on both lists below.)
You may wonder why olive oil isn’t on either of these lists. The reason is because its two main fatty acids are oleic acid, an omega-9, and palmitic acid, one of the most common saturated fatty acids found in both plants and animals. In other words, olive oil contains no omega-3’s (or 6’s). But of course, it’s superb for your health nonetheless, due to its bioflavonoid content. (See our pages on omega-3’s and the Mediterranean diet and the differences between 3’s, 6’s and 9’s for more specifics.)