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Facing the Fats series graphic

So far in this series, we’ve talked about saturated, unsaturated and trans fats, now let’s deep dive into the polyunsaturated fats.

A handful of sunflower seeds can provide lots of polyunsaturated fats
A healthy handful of sunflower seeds can provide you with lots of PUFAs. Source

PUFA refers to another type of unsaturated fatty acids with multiple double bonds (polyunsaturation). The 2 main types are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, but some omega 9 fatty acids also exist. PUFAs are named based on the position of their first double bond, but that’s a bit complex for this post.

So, let’s stick to omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, for example, gamma-linolenic acids (LA – omega 6), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA – omega 3), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA – omega 3) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA – omega 3). These really seem like tongue-twisters to pronounce, but you don’t need to worry much about that.

Comparision of the structure of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids
Fatty acid chains with varying degrees of saturation.Pay close attention to the number of double bonds in the PUFA. Source

PUFAs have also been confirmed to have even better beneficial effects on blood cholesterol and blood lipid levels as well as heart health than MUFAs, and they have been associated with improved cardiovascular health. Especially omega 3 fatty acids which are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs) and are the building blocks of cell membranes, hormones and support inflammatory responses, as well as brain and nervous system function. The human body cannot produce ALA, EPA and DHA in sufficient quantities and so we gain them from a balanced diet.

Omega 3 fats are typically found in:

  • Oily cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and pilchards. Even caviar!
  • In seeds such as chia seeds, linseed, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and soy
  • Algae and seaweed
  • Tofu
  • Dark green leafy veggies like Spinach and Brussel sprouts to a lesser extent
  • Enriched foods such as eggs, grass feed meats and yogurt
Salmon can provide a healthy serving of omega 3 fatty acids. Source

There is still some ambiguity surrounding the optimum amount of omega 3 and the ratio of omega-3 vs omega-6 fatty acids for health, but we typically lack adequate amounts of omega-3 fats, while being supplied with sufficient omega-6 from corn oil, rapeseed (canola), sunflower and some nuts.

US guidelines for the recommended amount of essential fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) are shown here. Recommendations suggest no more than 3g/day of omega 3s. While the UK has a few resources on consuming essential fatty acids and fats, but only specific recommendations on the portions of fish one should eat in a week are readily available. However, the European Food Standard Association (EFSA), does make some recommendations on omega 3 and omega 6 intakes.

There are several country guidelines for EFAs but my suggestion is to consult a nutrition professional in your country, as the information varies slightly by region. Also, consult your doctor as some supplements may interfere with medications.

Fresh Anchovies

In any case, let’s get as many sources of PUFAs in our diet to maintain and improve our heart health, immunity and brain function! Next Friday, we’ll talk about how we can include all of the fats we’ve learnt in this series about to create a more healthful diet.

If you’ve been finding this series help or have any suggestions for other ones, please let me know in the comments!

Post Author: Christina

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