Good Fats Behaving Badly

For some time now, government recommendations have encouraged an increase in all unsaturated vegetable fat and oil intake. In an effort to help the consumer choose quality, health-enhancing fats, we havesimplified the categorization of fats to just “good fats” and “bad fats.” However, when eaten out of balance to each other, the polyunsaturated “good fats” Omega-6 and Omega-3 can contribute to the development of degenerative diseases. In short, Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats behave badly when consumed in the wrong amounts!

In North America, we are eating a lot of one of the “good fats,” but only a little of the other “good fat.” Omega-6 rich oils, such as sunflower, safflower, corn, canola and soybean oil, are being eaten at an alarming rate of five-times more than what our bodies actually need. On the other hand, we are only consuming Omega-3 from fish and flaxseed oil at one-half of the dose that is needed for optimal health. In order to benefit from the consumption of these “good fats,” they must be eaten in balanced ratios to one another. The optimum amounts are: 4 parts Omega-6 to 1 part Omega-3.

Today, we eat considerably more foods made with vegetable-derived oils rather than foods containing fish and flaxseed oil. While vegetable oils are ubiquitous, fish and flaxseed oil have not yet become a Canadian favourite. In fact, we can see this deficiency play out in our younger generation – Canadian children have the lowest levels in the developed world of Omega-3 derived fatty acids found in fish!1 Ultimately, these low levels have a negative affect on learning and behaviour.

Why ‘good fats’ need to be eaten in balance

The successful metabolism of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats affects numerous reactions and functioning in our bodies. Both compete for the same digestive enzymes that transform them into substances that can cause inflammation or inhibit it by keeping our immune system healthy. The effects that Omega-6 and Omega-3 have on our bodies is noted in a landmark study in Healthy Lipids (2005) published by the American Oil Chemists Society. Omega-6 fats mediate pro-inflammatory pathways with hormone-like substances that vasoconstrict (narrow) arteries, repair tissue, initiate clot formation, stimulate allergic response, regulate bone production, and inhibit insulin activity (slows down the rate in which cells absorb sugar). Omega-3 fats initiate anti-inflammatory pathways, which include vasodilation (relaxes tissue and increases blood flow) and enhanced immune function. They also enhance the action of insulin at muscle cell membranes and stimulate metabolism of excess fat stores.

For the most part, the actions initiated by the Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats are opposite. Our bodies need all of these enhanced immunef