Polyunsaturated fats are commonly misunderstood, but these healthy fats are very important to your diet. Some fats are obvious that they should be avoided, but there is so much mixed information on what fats are healthy and what are not. The discussion of saturated and unsaturated is one of those misunderstood subjects. In this article I want to discuss the importance and healthy use of polyunsaturated fats.
What are Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats are fats that contain a chemical makeup of more than two double bonds. A double bond is what makes a fat unsaturated. These fats consist of one glycerol molecule and three fatty acids. Similarly, monounsaturated fats possess only one double bond.
Two primary types of polyunsaturated fats are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. A healthy diet consists of a ratio of 1:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3. However, the typical American diet features an unhealthy ratio of 15:1 or worse. This is especially concerning as the majority of this lopsided Omega-6 ratio comes in the form of unhealthy vegetable oils. Eliminate these oils from your diet and focus on the polyunsaturated fats listed below and you will be well on your way to keeping your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios in proper proportion.
Health Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats provide many benefits for the human body. A balanced diet will be sure to include many different foods, especially foods high in polyunsaturated fats. So, what are these benefits?
1 Promotes Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids especially are known for promoting a healthy heart. “In fact, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can help lower high triglycerides, decrease blood pressure, prevent blood clot formation and support healthy cholesterol levels” 1.
2 Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is actually a crucial immune response within the body. Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting against infection. However, inflammation is also the root of most diseases within the body. It is important to eat foods that reduce inflammation rather than create excess inflammation within the body.
Polyunsaturated fats have been known to reduce inflammation and promote health. Again, Omega-3 fatty acids help aid in reducing these inflammatory markers. Both eliminating processed vegetable oils and adding healthy polyunsaturated fats will aid in reducing inflammation.
3 Promotes Brain Health
Important components of omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most common polyunsaturated fats to affect the brain. DHA in particular is critical for the building of membranes surrounding the brain cells, as a quarter of the brain’s fat is made up of DHA. Perhaps the most important feature of DHA, according to Dr. Perlmutter, is that “DHA helps orchestrate the production, connectivity, and viability of brain cells while at the same time enhancing function”. 2
Polyunsaturated fats are critical for neurological disorders as well. These fats have been shown to lower markers of depression and bipolar disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be linked to a lower risk of mental disease in older patients.
4 Improves Bone and Joint Health
As mentioned above, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids in particular reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the inflammation in the joints caused by arthritis. The same is true for improving and preventing osteoporosis, a condition of weak and brittle bones.
You can see that polyunsaturated fats are incredibly healthy and beneficial for the body, but where do you find the best sources of polyunsaturated fats?
Where to Find Polyunsaturated Fats
Don’t get your polyunsaturated fats from anywhere. The wrong sources of these fats will lead to far more harm than good. Highly processed foods, even in the categories below, do not possess the health benefits of raw, whole foods. Below is a list, though not exhaustive, of some the best sources of polyunsaturated fats.
- Pine nuts
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Mackerel fish
The most beneficial source of healthy, polyunsaturated fats is from wild-caught salmon. I encourage you to make salmon a meal 2-3 times a week if you are able. Should you dislike the taste, or are just not able to eat that much salmon, you should consider a good, quality fish oil supplement. Regardless, lean on salmon and fish oil as your primary sources of polyunsaturated fat and then add in the nuts and seeds.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, don’t be afraid of fat (more on fat here). As you can see, polyunsaturated fats are very healthy and even vital for the body. Don’t be afraid of them. However, you must be cautious as to where you get these fats. Highly processed and refined vegetable oils, for instance, are a very unhealthy sources of polyunsaturated fats. Stick to whole foods like raw nuts and wild-caught fish and you are well on your way to reaping all the benefits of polyunsaturated fats.
How are you going to get more polyunsaturated fats in your diet?