Weight loss still tends to be associated with going low or no fat and this misguided notion can cause unpleasant health problems such as low mood, poor memory, dry skin and hormonal problems to name but a few.
Whilst everyone knows that cutting down on saturated fat (found mainly in, for example, fatty meats, fried food, pies, cakes and biscuits, cheese and cream), the fats we need more of are the omega 3 and 6 fats. These polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS), unlike saturated fats, are termed “essential” because they must be obtained through the diet and inadequate intake results in chronic symptoms.
Lack of PUFAs is a common problem as they don’t naturally appear in abundance in a “normal” diet. See below for how to get enough in your diet.
What essential fats will do for you
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for producing prostaglandins, hormone-like substances which are present in all tissues and cells and which influence a whole range of body functions. They are needed for the metabolism to function efficiently. Therefore they are more likely to help rather than hinder weight loss. EFAs positively support the following:
Brain and nervous system (remember the brain is 60% fat!)
Mood (In 2005 a review in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that the omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA were of significant benefit in the treatment of mood disorders. Those suffering from depression have been found to have lower levels of omega‑3 in their blood than non-depressed individuals).
Blood pressure control & healthy cholesterol management
Protective mucus of stomach
Management of inflammation
Healthy skin and hair
Cell membrane structure – this must be exactly the right flexibility and strength in order to let nutrients into the cell and keep harmful toxins and bacteria out.
The role of EFAs in brain function is no surprise since the brain contains such a high proportion of fat. Essential fatty acids pull oxygen into the body. This is important for all body tissue but particularly for the extra active brain and nervous system tissue in which a high level of chemical reactivity takes place and a lot of oxygen is used up. EFAs also form electric charges which when activated produce tiny electrical currents that enable nerve cells to communicate with each other.
How to get enough daily EFAs in your diet
Dietary sources of essential fats are oily fish, nuts and seeds. It can be a challenge to obtain sufficient EFAs and the right balance. Vegetarians and people with IBS and other conditions affecting digestion and absorption in the intestines may be particularly vulnerable to deficiency.
It is possible to test essential fatty acid levels in the blood and re establish balance with diet and supplements.