Food And Your Skin Health: The Fat Edition, Part II
The quality and quantity of fat intake in our food is vital for the health of our skin. Unfortunately, there is widespread confusion and our fear of fat has remained deep rooted over the past few decades. Ancel Keys’ research in the 1950s which concluded that a diet high in fat increased cardiovascular risk caused a seismic shift in our food habits. At that time instead of relying on whole foods that were naturally low in fat, such as vegetables and fruits, we focused on creating a whole industry of processed low fat alternatives that were rich in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Low-fat versions of everything from mayonnaise to cakes were created and fiber rich nuts and seeds were marginalized. Over the next few articles we will address this and talk about the different type of fats and how to balance our diet for better skin health.
Omega 3 (O3) and 6 (O6) fats are unsaturated fatty acids whose names are based on placement of intramolecular bonds which bestow unique structural and functional characteristics. These are not made in our body, which means we rely on our diet for a steady source. A quick search online will produce multiple pages that talk about the harmful nature of O6s versus the beneficial properties of O3s. The actual biochemistry is not as black and white. Yes, O6 fats cause an increase in inflammation and we need to adjust our intake. However, in the presence of enough O3s in our cells, they are vital in anti-inflammatory pathways. In fact, O6s are important in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema and numerous other skin conditions. This means that we shouldn’t ignore O6s completely while focusing only on O3s; just that we need to strike a balance between the two.
The best way to do this is to concentrate on a variety of whole food sources rather than worrying about the specific nutrient – nuts, seeds, avocados, olive-, coconut-, grapeseed-, sunflower- and safflower-oil, oily fish and eggs are good examples. These have a mixture of different fats in varying proportions which make them healthy. Another thing to keep in mind is that the anti-inflammatory properties of O3s are due to theeicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) formed from the fat we eat (flax seeds and walnuts for example). Since multiple reactions need to occur before this conversion is completed, it is possible that not all of us are able to finish that process. Therefore, if you specifically require EPA or DHA (for cardiovascular and neurological health), then it is best to include some high quality supplements in addition to the regular food sources. Vegan EPA and DHA derived from algae are available which circumvent the whole issue of high mercury loads in fish usually used to source these fats.
We will talk about fat digestion in the next article.