Ever since the low fat craze of the 90’s, fats have gotten a bad reputation. This includes unsaturated fats as well. It really is a shame that widespread media gossip and hysteria is taken so literally in this world, because almost all of it is fabricated. Everything on television is there for the sole purpose of trying to sell you something. Since I am not trying to sell you anything, I am going to give you the honest facts about unsaturated fats.
Why Are They Called “Unsaturated Fats”?
Okay, what the hell does “saturated” mean? Good question. Without getting all nerdy on you, saturated means that the fat molecule is fully saturated with carbon atoms.
Typically a fat molecule is composed of a glycerol molecule with either two or three fatty acid chains attached to it. Hence “bi” or “tri” glyceride. When these fatty acid chains are loaded up to their maximum limit with carbon atoms, they are considered saturated.
With that said, unsaturated fats must be fat molecules that are not fully saturated with carbon atoms. Pretty simple, right!
When the fatty acid tails are not fully saturated, they have a warped appearance which give them different properties than a saturated fat molecule. This makes unsaturated fats a different type of fat.
Different Types Of Unsaturated Fats
Although we use the term unsaturated fats so loosely, there are actually different types of unsaturated fats. These include:
- Omega 3
- Omega 6
- Omega 9
There are actually a few more trace versions, but these three are the most common.
Omega 3 fatty acids are termed essential fatty acids. This means that the body cannot produce them naturally, it has to acquire them through food.
Omega 3’s help to:
- Regulate artery function
- Reduce Inflammation
- Assist in Neurological Development
- Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke
- Protect Against Cancer
- Protect Joint Integrity
There are also different types of omega 3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA are found mostly in fish oils, these are the major players in neurological function. ALA is the most consumed of the three omega 3 fatty acids. ALA is derived mostly from plants, nuts and grass fed animals.
If supplements are not your thing, then eating fish in your diet, such as salmon will do the trick for EPA and DHA. Flax seeds and walnuts will do the trick for ALA.
This is one of the unsaturated fats that people consume too much. Omega 6 fatty acids, unlike omega 3 and 9, can be inflammatory.
There are different types of Omega 6 fats, linoleic acid (LA), however, is the most common one consumed in the standard american diet.
Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s have to be in balance with each other. In fact, it is recommended that they are in a 1:1 ratio in our diets. In America, however, this is not the case. Most Americans eat roughly 15-20 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3 fatty acids. This leads to inflammation.
So in essence, Omega 6 fatty acids are not bad for you. They are still an essential fatty acid. They maintain skin, hair, bone, metabolic and reproductive health and they play a role in brain function.
It is just large unbalanced quantities are the problem.
Omega 9 is the third and final unsaturated fatty acid we are going to go over. Omega 9’s are a non-essential fatty acid, so they do not need to be acquired through food. The main type is called oleic acid and it is found in olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and macadamia oil.
The main benefit of omega 9 fatty acids is that they lower LDL cholesterol (bad) levels and raise HDL cholesterol (good) levels. It also may help to reduce inflammation, joint pain and heart disease.
When the body is in a deficit of Omega 3 and 6 it will compensate by producing Omega 9. Therefore, you do not need to supplement with this type of fatty acid. If you eat plenty of fish and/or olive oil, then you have all the omega 9 you need.
Benefits Of Unsaturated Fats For Athletes
If you are an athlete and you want to take your performance to the next level, then you already know how a brutal workout leaves you feeling in the morning. Sore muscles, tight joints, fatigue, increased appetite, etc. The only thing going on through your mind is how to prepare and recover for your next workout. This is where unsaturated fats come in, particularly omega 3.
We already know that omega 3 fatty acids are the most deficient type of fatty acids in the standard american diet. We also know that higher ratios of omega 6 fatty acids versus omega 3 fatty acids can lead to inflammation. Finally, we know that omega 9 is the only non-essential unsaturated fatty acid, which can be produced by the body. It is pretty safe to say that the only unsaturated fatty acid we need to get more of is omega 3 fatty acids.
Athletes who increase omega 3 intake in their diet will:
- Reduce Inflammation
- Recover Faster From Workouts
- Reduce Muscle Soreness
- Increase Insulin Sensitivity
- Lower Body Fat Levels
- Prevent Muscle Loss
- Increase HDL (good) Cholesterol
One of the biggest problems that I see with athletes and lifters of all types is their nutrition. Nutrition is often overlooked as not being important. This is a huge mistake. Nutrition is not just important, it is the key to success in any athletic or fitness program out there. Did you ever notice how some professional athletes are able to push their bodies to the limit in their late 30’s/early 40’s? They don’t do it with a crappy diet, they do it with a clean healthy diet.
Will unsaturated fats alone make you a better lifter or athlete? No. They are, however, a step in the right direction. A step is all it takes before it becomes a habit. Making unsaturated fats a part of your diet is a good habit to get into. Now you just need to make some other good habits and you are on your way to greatness.