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Much has been written in my columns and in the press about good fats. A great deal of research has gone into this in the last few years, and while our knowledge is still evolving, it appears that eating foods rich in Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats is beneficial to your health. There are likely a number of reasons for this, but one is that these fats appear have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. For instance, studies have shown a decrease in the inflammation that goes with autoimmune conditions in those eating diets high in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats.
As part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study that began in 1986, researchers looked at this question by evaluating whether there was a decrease in pneumonia in those consuming a diet containing more of these fats. Anwar Merchant and his colleagues (AJCN. 2005; 82:668-674) studied over 50,000 men and selected 38,000 that met the criteria of not having other factors that might have contributed to their getting pneumonia. Such things as heart attack, cancer and asthma were reasons for exclusion.
The participants had filled out dietary questionnaires and the scientists were able to assess the amounts of fats consumed. When compared to the total number of cases of pneumonia, those with higher use of Omega 6 fats had a lower risk of community acquired pneumonia. The main sources in their diets for these types of fats were canola oil, soybean oil, nuts and oil-based salad dressings.
In those men eating fewer Omega 6 fats, fish intake high in Omega 3 fats was protective in a similar way.
These essential fatty acids have been shown in other studies to be protective, but the researchers can’t be sure of what is causing the effect. They feel that it could be related to a reduction in chemicals in the body that cause inflammation; they speculate that it could be related to how the fats interact with insulin.
There has been some question recently about whether a low fat diet is truly beneficial. Most of the research comes down on the side that eating a diet lower in fat is good for you. Studies like this one reinforce that it is also the types of fats that you eat is important.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
April 10, 2006