Supplements part 3 - essential fatty acids

Fitness Answer Man

Fitness Answer Man

June 22, 2009|By CHAD SMITH / For The Herald-Mail

Contrary to popular belief, fat isn't the enemy.

I cringe whenever I hear that someone is placed on a "low-fat diet." Fat can't be put into a single category any more than carbs or protein can.

There are different kinds of fat. We need to know about the good kinds to eat more of and the bad kinds to avoid. Fat is a nutrient, and, as always, balance is key.

Bad fats

The least healthy of the fats are saturated fats. These are most commonly found in land animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy products. You won't find too many people who are saturated-fat deficient, because our bodies generally produce most of what we need.


We get in trouble when we adhere to the Western meat-and-potatoes diet full of saturated fat and calories because our bodies don't need the fat. So it ends up getting parked in the fat cells, liver and arteries.

Another bad fat is trans fat. Trans fats are a perfectly good oil that has had a molecule of hydrogen added to it to become solid at room temperature. It's found in many processed foods, commercially prepared baked goods, margarines and snacks.

Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition, led the research team that originally uncovered trans fat's negative impact on health.

Trans fats lower levels of HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol, and raise levels of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. Willett said this contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year.

Obviously this isn't good.

Good fats

On the other hand, we have the essential fatty acids, or EFA for short. High concentrations of EFA are most commonly found in plant and fish sources such as salmon, olives and nuts. This is fat our bodies don't produce in sufficient quantities, but we need it for proper bodily function.

The list of EFA's positive impacts is fairly long. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports evidence shows that EFA play a crucial role in brain function and normal body growth and development. But according to the UMMC Web site (, EFA might also be helpful in addressing certain diseases. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

Supplementation isn't really necessary if you can add some EFA-rich foods to your diet and reduce your consumption of foods containing high levels of saturated fats.

It's easy to get right with EFA. Cook with olive or sunflower oil. Eat a handful or two of mixed nuts every day. Eat one or two servings of cold-water fish every week.

Another option is to add a tablespoon or two a day of flax seed oil or borage oil on a salad, or grind flax seed finely and add it to a bowl of oatmeal or a fruit smoothie.

You can find EFA supplements in capsule form from various sources. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to find out what formulation is right for you. (If you have a shellfish allergy, for instance, avoid EFA supplements that come from krill.)

EFA is one of the most powerful nutrients discovered, so no matter how you get it, you gotta have it.

Chad Smith is co-owner of Home Team Fitness. For more information,go to

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