Published on June 20, 2018

Boost the omega fats in your diet

Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health

Nutrition can be confusing and that’s especially true when it comes to fats in our diet.

When the nutrition facts label for foods was born in the 1980s, it was believed that explaining that some fats are good and other fats are bad would be too confusing. So, all fats were deemed unhealthy and the low-fat diet craze began. Scientific evidence of that time and today is clear: Not all fats are bad. Saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are healthy. Unsaturated fats known as the omega fatty acids can even promote health.

We need some fat in our diets to stay healthy. Fats provide needed energy in the form of calories. Fats help our bodies absorb important vitamins such as vitamins A, D and E. Fats also make foods more flavorful and help us feel full. Fats are especially important for infants and toddlers because they contribute to proper growth and development.

Foods that have fats usually hold a variety of them. There is no one food that has only one kind of fat in it.

Polyunsaturated fats are known as omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Monounsaturated fats are known as omega-9 fats. There are several types of each omega fat. Two omegas are essential to get in our diet because our bodies cannot produce them: an omega-6 known as linoleic acid (LA) and the other is an omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Omega-6 fats are necessary for normal growth and development. They help maintain the reproductive system and contribute to creating healthy hair, skin and bones. Good sources include corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds and animal products. The American diet is rich in omega-6 and there is a debate about whether we may be getting too much.

Omega-3 fats play important roles in cognition, brain development, behavioral function, mood, and circulation. They are also important to decrease inflammation. Good sources include walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, canola oil, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, lake trout, whitefish, halibut, tuna and sardines) and algae. Most Americans do not get enough omega-3. 

Omega-9 fats are not essential to our diet because they can be produced in the body and are the most abundant fats in most cells. Including these fats in the diet has been shown to decrease triglycerides, improve insulin resistance and decrease inflammation, especially if these fats replace saturated fats. Good sources are nuts, peanut butter, olive oil, canola oil and avocadoes.

Saturated fats are not essential in our diet and there’s no strong evidence that shows they’re essential to our health. 

When you think about consuming the right balance of fats, think about building a home. I think of saturated fat as the cement or wood floor, the monounsaturated fats or omega-9s as the inside walls, the plumbing and the electrical systems. Omega-6 fats are the outside walls and windows while the omega 3s provide the roof. To avoid the elements, we need at the minimum outside walls and a roof. The other features add extra comfort and ease to staying healthy and happy. 

The Mediterranean diet is one way to build healthy house. It includes great sources of omega-3 in fish, nuts, and seeds. It has an abundance of vegetables, beans and whole grains that are good sources of omega-6 fats. Monounsaturated fats are abundant in olive oil, nuts and seeds. Saturated fat is present in some animal products. 

To boost the good fats in your diet this summer, grilling more fish and less fatty meats such as brats, hot dogs and large steaks. Add more fresh vegetables and fruits and make your own salad dressings use good oils.

Grilled Fish Three Ways
1 pound salmon fillet (with skin on) or whitefish or halibut

Cut fish into four portions and place in a shallow glass dish. Prepare marinade. While the fish marinates, heat grill to medium-high. Just before cooking, lightly oil grill rack by brushing oil over surface. Do not spray hot grill with cooking spray; it could cause an explosion.

Place fish pieces, skin side up on grill or place on a piece of aluminum foil for less firm types of fish. Close lid and cook for 4 minutes. Using two metal spatulas, carefully turn fish over. If using foil, fish does not need to be turned. Cook just until opaque in the center and fish flakes when tested with a fork, 4 to 8 minutes longer, depending on thickness. Serve with the sauce and lemon or lime wedges.

Lemon-Rosemary Marinade and Sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients to combine. Use 2 tablespoons to marinate the fish for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, stir 4 teaspoons chopped and pitted Kalamata olives into the remaining mixture for sauce.

Teriyaki Marinade and Sauce
3 tablespoons World Harbor Teriyaki Sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine (or orange juice)
1 clove garlic, minced.

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients to combine. Use 2 tablespoons to marinate the fish for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, stir 2 tablespoons strong brewed green or black tea, 1 tablespoon chopped green onion and 2 teaspoons sesame seeds into the remaining mixture for sauce.

Lime-Ginger Marinade and Sauce
1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
4 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients to combine. Use 2 tablespoons to marinate the fish for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile stir ½ cup chopped fresh mint and 1 tablespoon chopped green onion into the remaining mixture for sauce.

Nutrition facts (based on salmon)
Servings: 4; calories, 270-310; total fat, 15-22 grams; saturated fat, 4-5 grams; polyunsaturated fat, 4 grams; monounsaturated fats, 5-10 grams; cholesterol, 55 milligrams; sodium, 140-155 milligrams; potassium, 490-540 milligrams; carbohydrates, 1-10 grams; protein, 23-24 grams.

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