Why Are Fatty Acids A Crucial Part Of Your Diet?

fatty acids in your diet

People often say, “You are what you eat.” When it comes to food groups, this is exactly the case when it comes to fats. Our cell membranes are composed out of fat, and our skin is up to 60% fat; the remaining percentage is collagen. On top of this, the quality of the fats we consume directly affects how well our bodies function. High quality fats vs. low quality fats are the key to whether your body is running efficiently or breaking down.

How To Add Fatty Acids Into Your Diet

At this point you’re probably wondering, how do we incorporate healthy fats into our diet, and what should we look out for?

First, let’s break down the different types of fats:

All fats are classified based on the length of their molecular chain, which is made up of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Fats may be short, medium or long depending on the length of the chain.


Long Chain Saturated Fats:

Long chain saturated fats are found primarily in dairy, and the meat of ruminant animals including cattle, goat, deer and sheep. Long chain saturated fats from the ore structural fats in our bodies. They are the main storage form of energy and make up to 80% of fatty acids in the majority of cells. Long chain saturated fats are an effective source of energy, and leave no toxic byproducts so long as insulin levels are in a normal range.

Benefits include:

  • High in luric acid which has antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties
  • Lower calorie content than other fat and are not stored as fat deposits, promoting weight loss
  • Support the development of ketones, which assist with weight loss and improve brain function

Main dietary sources:

  • Coconut
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Ghee


Monounsaturated Fatty Acids:

Monounsaturated fatty acids are accepts across all diet groups as healthy, and should be eaten liberally. 

Benefits include:

  • Reduce LDL and triglycerides while increasing HDL (healthy cholestorl) to improve cardiovascualr health
  • Reduce oxidation and inflammation
  • Lower blood pressure


Main dietary sources:

  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Chicken
  • Egg yolk
  • Almonds
  • Macadamia nuts


Polyunsaturated Fats:

Polyunsaturated Fats can be divided into two main categories, Omega 6 and Omega 3. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for a structural and regulatory role in our bodies. In addition to helping form cell membranes, they regulate gene expression and support cell function.

Consuming too much Omega 6 and too little Omega 3 can lead to inflammation, and vice versa will have the opposite effect. 

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation. When oxidized, they convert to trans fatty acids. You can avoid this by not cooking with PUFA oils (industrial seed oils). Oxidized pufas have a slew of side effects including inflammation, stiffening of arteries and reduced brain function.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because our bodies need them to function properly. However, they are not produced by the body, and must come from the food we eat (similar to essential amino acids).

Main dietary sources:

  • Omega 6:
    • Seeds, and the animals that eat these foods; poultry; avocados. Eat archidonic acid freely which is found in meat, poultry and eggs.
    • Industrial seed oils - frequently used to cook food at restaurants. Try to limit lonoleic acid which is found in industrial seed oils.
  • Omega 3:
    • Green leaves and algae, and the animals that eat these foods; fruits; vegetables; nuts and seeds particularly walnuts and flax. Avoid large amounts of flaxseed and flax oil as they contain alpha linolenic acid.

Focus on getting your EPA and DHA from dietary sources. Both are mainly found in cold water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and bass. EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease. We don’t recommend taking high doses of fish oil daily to meet your requirement of EPA and DHA as PUFAs are highly vulnerable to oxidative damage.


Trans Fats

 Just like polyunsaturated fat, we can break trans fats down into two categories: natural and artificial.

Natural trans fats are derived when bacteria in the stomachs of grazing animals such as cows and sheep, digest the grass they have eaten. Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a natural trans fat found in moderate amount in grass-fed meat and grass-fed dairy products. 

Benefits of CLA include:

  • Fight heart disease when consumed in high amounts
  • May help prevent type 2 diabetes by improving glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
  • May help reduce body fat and promote weight loss.

Main dietary sources:

  • Dairy and meat from pasture raised animals


Artificial trans fats may only have minor chemical structural differences that natural trans fats, but the effects on our bodies is dramatically different. Artificial trans fats have been shown to increase the risk of obesity, and inflammatory conditions. This group of fats has absolutely no benefits to our bodies. They are essentially the junk food of fats.

Main dietary sources:

  • Highly processed, refined and fried foods
  • Packaged foods
  • Oxidized PUFAs


Now that we’ve unpacked the different types of fats, it’s time to address one of the main issues with this food group. Certain fats are very prone to oxidation and are not “stable.” This means you should be cautious when cooking fats, especially at high temperatures.

A terms we at Zuma Nutrition like to bring up is smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the flavor and integrity  of an oil or fat break down. Usually past this point, an oil or fat becomes pro-inflammatory. Oils cooked past their smoke point contain oxidized fats, which have been shown to damage cells and contribute to a number of diseases. See Dr. Cate Shanahan’s work for how this mutation and damage occurs on a cellular level.

Oils with high smoke points (better for cooking):

  • Ghee butter (grass fed)
  • Olive oil (extra light)
  • Coconut oil (expeller pressed)
  • Beef tallow
  • Duck fat


Oils with low smoking points (preferred for garnishing cooked foods):

  • Coconut oil (extra virgin)
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Butter (grass fed)

We don’t recommend cooking with oils that contain PUFAs (industrial seed oils) as after these oils are cooked, they change form to a trans fatty acid.

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