To Your Health
January, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 01)
Supplements can be a good choice for people who don't regularly eat the foods that contain essential fatty acids.
If you choose supplements, you have an ever-growing range of choices. For omega-3 fatty acids, a common recommendation is to take 300-500 mg of EPA and DHA, and 800-1,100 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. While you'll most often see EPA and DHA in tuna oils, flaxseed oil is an excellent source of ALA. There is no standardized recommendation for omega-6 fatty acids, although some suggest that a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1 (omega-6 to omega-3) is a good target. Other good oils are wheat germ, an excellent source of choline and vitamin E; and safflower oil, the kind high in linoleic acid.
Make Healthy Choices Every Day
Diet has always played a key role in health. In the past (and in some areas of the world still), dietary deficiency has typified this relationship. But in the United States, dietary excess is the growing (and growing, and growing) problem. Paying attention to the type of fat we include in our diet can make a real difference in our health - by their therapeutic use in chronic condition management and by helping diversify our diet. Adding healthy oils to a smoothie or salad dressing might jazz them up enough so they become part of our daily diet which, in turn, helps us eat more fruits and vegetables. So get creative with oils and experiment with ways of using them to improve your breakfast, lunch and dinner. You have nothing to lose, and a whole world of taste to gain.
How Much Is Too Much?
Here's the maximum amount of fat you should consume (in grams) on a daily basis from oils and other sources:
- 2,000 calories (average per day) x 0.3 (maximum of 30% of calories should come from fat) = 600 fat calories per day
- 600/9 (nine calories per fat gram) = 67 grams of total fat per day
What's in Your Oil?
Fatty acid distribution is a fairly good indicator of whether an oil is better or worse for you, at least in terms of its relationship to cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. In general, the less saturated fat and the more monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fat, the better. Here are the fatty-acid profiles for various oils per serving (1 tablespoon; 13.6 grams):
|Type of Oil ||Fatty Acids, Total |
|Fatty Acids, Total |
|Fatty Acids, Total |
|Almond ||1.115 ||9.506 ||2.366 |
|Canola ||1.031 ||8.859 ||N/A |
|Coconut ||11.764 ||0.789 ||0.245 |
|Corn ||1.761 ||3.75 ||N/A |
|Grapeseed ||1.306 ||2.19 ||9.506 |
|Olive ||1.864 ||9.85 ||1.421 |
|Peanut ||2.28 ||6.24 ||4.32 |
|Safflower ||0.844 ||1.952 ||10.149 |
|Sesame ||1.931 ||5.399 ||5.671 |
|Walnut ||1.238 ||3.101 ||8.609 |
|Wheat Germ ||2.557 ||2.054 ||8.391 |
|Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service Food and Nutrient Data Laboratory |
Sara Tiner, BA, BS, MS, is the coordinator of scientific communication for a whole-food supplement manufacturer in Wisconsin. With undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Ripon College, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, she's worked as a science writer in both print and radio over the past decade, and moonlights as a freelance contributor to various publications.