Experts have characterized the typical American diet as too heavy in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)--found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils--amidst concerns about potential negative effects on the heart.
But in February, in a reversal of this long-held view, the American Heart Association (AHA) published an advisory stating that omega-6s may benefit heart health after all, especially when substituted for harmful saturated and trans fats. While apparently putting to rest some concerns about omega-6s, the advisory also reinforces the importance of making wise fat choices and consuming fats in moderation, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at Cleveland Clinic.
"I know it's controversial, but what the researchers have done is taken the step to go against some popular opinion and presented information based on data rather than what one might think would be the case," she says. "Polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), have been found to lower the risk for heart disease. As long as these are consumed prudently, they're going to be fine."
BASIS FOR THE CONCERNS
The concerns about omega-6s center on linoleic acid, the primary omega-6 in foods, which accounts for 85-90 percent of dietary omega-6 intake. Your body synthesizes linoleic acid into arachidonic acid, which is involved in the early stages of inflammation, a process contributing to cardiovascular disease.
But in reviewing more than two-dozen studies, the AHA advisory panel found that both acids also have anti-inflammatory properties, and people who ate the most omega-6s had the least heart disease. In fact, one analysis found that replacing saturated fats with PUFAs reduced cardiac events by 24 percent.
THE FACTS ABOUT FATS
Omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs are essential fatty acids that your body can't produce but needs for good heart and brain function, healthy skin and cholesterol metabolism. Omega-3s--found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna--have been well publicized because of their benefits for heart and brain health, and the AHA recommends eating fatty fish at least twice a week.
MUFAs, found in olive and canola oils, avocados and nuts, help maintain a healthy cholesterol balance that's important to heart health.
Although the amount of fat needed to function varies from person to person, the Institute of Medicine recommends consuming no more than 20-35 percent of your daily calories from fat. The AHA panel recommended a daily goal of 5-10 percent of calories from omega-6s (about 12-22 grams).
Saturated fat, found in animal products such as meats and full-fat dairy products, contributes to cardiovascular disease by increasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol, a component of arteryclogging plaques. Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your daily calories.
Trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, many fried foods and baked goods, not only can increase LDL, but also reduces HDL "good" cholesterol, which helps remove excess LDL from the blood. Consume less than 2-3 percent of calories from these fat sources.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Choosing healthful PUFAs and MUFAs over saturated and trans fats is only one part of an overall dietary strategy that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
"We're not just looking at fat," Moore says. "Sometimes we just focus on one thing. We need to recognize that the (AHA) statement says that the recommendation is part of a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet that also incorporates including sources of dietary fiber, cutting back on sodium and eating a variety of health-promoting foods."
Be fat-smart on the grill this summer
Follow these tips to be fat-sensible during your cookouts this summer:
* Try grilling turkey, chicken breast, salmon/fish or veggie burgers instead of beef. If you opt for beef, choose leaner loin or round cuts, and use a rack so that fat drips away from the food.
* Make grilled fish--preferably fatty, omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, trout or tuna--a part of your cookout.
* Grill skinless chicken breasts instead of dark meat.
* Include veggies. Partially steam some vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers), brush them with olive oil and then grill them on skewers along with your meat for a complete meal.
* Serve green leafy salads of fruit salads instead of mayonnaise-based salads. Combine olive oil with balsamic vinegar and spices, or use reduced-fat/fat-free dressings.
* Choose low-fat of fat-free cheese, or go cheese-free.
* Serve raw vegetables instead of fatty potato chips.
* Grill fruits--peaches, pineapple or melons--and serve them instead of cookies, cakes of pies.
Sources: Cindy Moore, MS, RD, Cleveland Clinic; American Heert Association
Source Citation:"Get the skinny on fats for better cardiac health: experts say omega-6s aren't as bad as once thought and should be part of a heart-healthy diet that includes wise fat choices.(Healthy eating)." Men's Health Advisor 11.6 (June 2009): 6(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 12 Aug. 2009
Gale Document Number:A200783509
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.
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