Friday, September 4, 2009

Omega-6 Fatty Acids Good for Heart Health

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been widely promoted as a healthier fat option than saturated or trans fats, though a recent report called the benefits of omega-6 fatty acids into question. A report by the American Heart Association appears to put that concern to rest, as a new study suggests that eating omega-6 fatty acids along with making other lifestyle changes may be important for heart health and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Looking at the research on omega-6 fatty acids

Much has been reported about the health benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which together are important for a variety of bodily functions including brain function, cholesterol lowering, and normal growth and development. In this recent report, an American Heart Association advisory board specifically examined research studies evaluating the role of omega-6 fatty acids in coronary heart disease. Looking at the combined results of the studies, the American Heart Association concludes that people who consume 5 to 10% of calorie requirements from omega-6 fatty acids may reduce their risk of coronary heart disease compared with those who consume less omega-6 fatty acids. The beneficial effects were particularly noted in research studies on the most common dietary omega-6 fatty acid known as linoleic acid (LA) which is found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and sunflower oil, and in other foods such as nuts and seeds.

The report also addresses concerns from nutritional experts that eating too much omega-6 fatty acids may increase the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association report states that reducing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids from current levels may actually increase and not decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and notes that “The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, in their ‘Dietary Reference Intake Report for Energy and Macronutrients,’ defines an adequate intake of LA as 17 grams per day for men and 12 grams per day for women (5 to 6% of energy) 19 to 50 years of age, approximately the current median US intake.”

Heart healthy choices

The American Heart Association recommends important lifestyle behaviours to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease such as following a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, engaging in moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, and not smoking. As part of a healthy diet, the Association recommends the following for making healthy choices when it comes to dietary fat:
  • Avoid saturated and trans fats which in excess can increase the risk for heart disease and instead replace them with healthy fats such as omega-3, omega-6 and monounsaturated fats, such as olive, avocado, and almond oils. All fats can add excess calories to a diet and should be consumed only in moderation.
  • Eat 5 to 10% of total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids and keep saturated fat less than 7% of total calories, trans fats less than 1% and limit all fat to 25 to 35% of total calories.
  • Talk with a doctor about your risk for coronary heart disease and recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern.

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