We hear constantly that fat must be avoided. It’s inaccurate. We need it like all other nutrients. We just have to remember that some fats are harmful to us, while others even save our health. Good fat is one that contains unsaturated fatty acids (EFAs) that strengthen the body’s immunity.
Why we need fat?
Fat provides energy, but is also a carrier of vitamins A, D, E and K and protects them from oxidation. In addition, it helps digestion and facilitates the absorption of nutrients. Our foods include worse and better fats. It depends on the type of fatty acids they are made of. Saturated acids, which should be consumed in moderation, are mainly found in solid or animal fats – lard, butter, fat, tallow.
They are not essential components of food, because the body can produce them by itself. When we eat too much fatty meat or dairy products, the level of bad cholesterol fraction increases in our blood, we are threatened by obesity, liver disease, atherosclerosis, and diabetes.
Unsaturated fatty acids
Unsaturated acids are another matter. Our body does not produce these on its own, but they are necessary for its proper functioning. Not without reason, they are called essential unsaturated fatty acids, in short EFAs. They must be regularly supplied from outside. Their deficiency causes health-threatening effects. These include inflammatory reactions in the body, inhibition of the growth of infants and children, skin lesions, dry skin, delayed wound healing, increased sensitivity to infections, excessive fragility of capillaries, disorders of cholesterol metabolism, dysfunction of many tissues and organs. Most EFAs are found in vegetable oils from seeds, nuts, sprouts or in fish oils.
EFAs include acids from the omega-6 and omega-3 groups. Those from the omega-6 group are found in edible oils – corn, soy, sesame, sunflower, evening primrose, borage, and wheat germ. Omega-3 fatty acids are contained in some green leafy vegetables and vegetable oils (e.g. linseed, pumpkin seed). They can also be found – although in much smaller quantities – in linseed, nuts. But in nutritional terms, the most valuable source is seafood, especially oily fish living in the cold ocean waters – mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, cod, tuna – and crustaceans called seafood.
Why we need EFAs?
They are the building blocks of the cell membrane, which transmits in both directions all substances circulating in the body, e.g. hormones inside, and metabolic products outside. By increasing its flexibility, omega-3 improves all life processes. They delay the risk of atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction because they reduce the level of bad LDL cholesterol and regulate the level of triglycerides in the blood. They normalize the pressure.
They prevent strokes by reducing blood viscosity. They support the flexibility of the joints, limit their deformations and soothe the so-called morning stiffness. They ensure hormonal balance, prevent skin diseases, strengthen resistance to infections and allergies. They also help fight inflammation. It is believed that the systematic consumption of sea fish or appropriate preparations with omega-3 acids can reduce the need for anti-inflammatory drugs, which are not indifferent to health. Recent studies have shown that omega-3 may also inhibit the development of cancer cells in some types of cancer, e.g. colon and breast cancer.
Of the two acids in this group – eicosapentaenoic EPA and docosahexaenoic DHA – DHA is particularly important as an element of the brain and retina. It is necessary, among others for the transmission of nerve impulses and the proper development of the nervous system, especially the parts responsible for vision, coordination, mood and learning ability. It delays senile dementia and prevents degenerative diseases such as MS. The body’s need for omega-3 acids depends primarily on body weight, lifestyle and diet. If we eat a lot of animal fats, we should supply more omega-3 fatty acids for balance. The average person is consumed with their fish or seafood at least three times a week.
Fish should not be smoked or too salted. Instead of frying, it is healthier to cook or bake them. Caviar is a great omega-3 source. And if we do not like fish, we are left with … fish oil or preparations with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Cod liver oil, called fish oil, was once forced on children to avoid rickets. To swallow it, you had to plug your nose and quickly bite a piece of wholemeal bread, and you still felt the unpleasant aftertaste. The fish oil available today is nothing like that. It may have a taste of e.g. mint or lemon, while the one in capsules – mint, thyme and cloves. Let the example of Eskimos encourage us to drink fish oil, as they hardly know such diseases as atherosclerosis, heart attack or cancer. And this despite the diet high in fat. Or rather thanks to such a diet, consisting of seal meat and sea fish, i.e. rich in EFA. Increasingly, preparations with fish oil and omega-3 are registered in many countries as food supplements or medicines of natural origin. Fish oils used for their production are produced from shark liver and fatty marine fish (cod, halibut) and from meat e.g. anchovies and sardines. Shark liver oil contains less omega-3 fatty acids than cod liver oil, but more vitamins A and D.