Lately, many people have been claiming that fish is health food. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association urge people to eat fish. Yet if people follow that advice, they’ll still be at risk for heart disease and diabetes and they might increase their risk for cancer. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can end up in the fatty deposits that clog people’s arteries. Like other fats, they promote insulin resistance. Also, eating too much omega 3 fatty acid could promote cancer by suppressing the immune system.
Fats are fattening, and all fats seem to be equally fattening. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories. It doesn’t matter whether the fat is saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. If you don’t know which kind of fat is which, click here.
Switching from type of fat to another won’t help you lose weight. If you want to have less fat in your body, put less fat in your mouth.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the body’s desperate attempt to avoid further weight gain. The high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes result from insulin resistance. In other words, their bodies don’t respond normally to the hormone insulin. Scientists have known since the early 20th century that this problem results from a high-fat diet. The same problem occurs in people who are consuming too much fat from eating fish and olive oil.
All three types of fat—saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated—can lead to atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of crud inside your arteries. Switching from saturated fat to some other kind of fat doesn’t stop the problem. The best way to stop the crud from building up in your arteries is to eat much less fat (usually <10% of calories). Eating less fat and cholesterol is the most important thing you can do to reduce your total cholesterol levels. Once your total cholesterol levels go below 150 mg/dL, your arteries become self-cleaning.
People who eat fish instead of beef do tend to have fewer heart attacks. However, it’s because the omega 3 fatty acids in fish act as a blood thinner. Most deadly heart attacks start when a pimple of atherosclerosis in one of the heart’s coronary arteries bursts and causes a blood clot. Blood thinners reduce the ability of the blood to form clots. Taking blood thinners reduces a person’s risk of dying of a blood clot in the heart or brain. However, it increases the person’s risk of bleeding to death after a car accident. It also increases the person’s risk of destructive or deadly bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
Most people think of fat as a calorie source, as fuel. However, the body uses some kinds of fats as raw materials for making other kinds of things. The body uses omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids to make substances that help to regulate the immune system.
Your body needs small amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which must come from your food. However, eating too much of these essential fatty acids can suppress the immune system. This leaves the body less able to defend itself against viruses, bacteria, parasites, and cancer.
Getting Just Enough Fat
For most people, the best policy is to keep fat intake to a minimum. The trace amounts of fats found in vegetables and unrefined starches easily meet most people’s fat requirements.
Your body can make all of the saturated fat and monounsaturated fat that it needs. You don’t need to get any saturated or monounsaturated fat at all from your food. There are only two kinds of fat that you need to get from your food. One is an omega 6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. The other is an omega 3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. These fatty acids come from plants. Even the omega 3 fatty acids in fish came originally from the plants at the bottom of the food chain.
To find people who have a real deficiency of the essential fatty acids, you have to look at hospital patients who were fed nothing but sugar intravenously. Even in those cases, the fat deficiency could be solved by rubbing a little bit of vegetable oil on the patient’s skin.
People who eat a diet based on low-fat, unrefined plant foods automatically get enough of both of the essential fatty acids. If you are worried about getting the ideal balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, it’s best to keep your overall fat intake low. You may also want to add a spoonful of ground flaxseed to your cereal in the morning. Flaxseed contains a lot of the omega 3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. Flaxseed is also a good source of soluble fiber, as well as phytonutrients that seem to have an anticancer effect.