There’s no point using a Ketogenic diet if it’s not improving your health! This is why it’s crucial to talk about the types of fats in your diet. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two of the most important compounds you can put in your body, regardless of your diet, and today we’ll talk about them at length.
This article will educate you on the practical and scientific reasons you should be focusing on these essential fats. We’ll also discuss where you find them and what happens when you don’t get them.
The Keto Point: LCHF Dieting
As Keto is a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet, there’s a natural concern for the types of fats you’ll need to eat, as they will make up a significant part of your overall diet.
There are a hierarchy of fats that you should try to fit into your diet, ranging from essential to avoidable.
This is why it’s so important to discuss the structure and role of omega-3s in the body: you need to prioritize the healthy fats within your diet. There’s more to it than just losing weight. The proper balance of dietary fats, particularly omega fats, is a crucial part of staying healthy and making the most of your quality of life.
Omega fats are unsaturated and are considered the healthier kind. They’re important to keto because polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs, the healthiest fats) should make up at least 1/3 of your total fat intake.
More specifically, omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential, meaning that you can’t produce them within your body. This means you need to put some effort and thought into getting them from dietary sources and supplements.
These are necessary to bring your omega ratio to the right level. This is simply a measure of how many omega 3 and 6 fats you’re getting in proportion to each other, because they have different roles.
The focus should be on getting to optimal levels and making the most of a ketogenic diet for both health and performance reasons. We’ll touch on both, but it’s crucial to keep an eye on your omega fat intake for any diet, as it plays directly into health and longevity.
Whatever you’re aiming for – maximum performance or health and wellbeing – it’s crucial to control this aspect of an LCHF diet. Benefits abound for both, with scientifically-proven roles in both athletic performance/recovery and maintenance of physical and mental health.
Fats and Fatty acids: Definition, Role, Function, Value
Fats and fatty acids aren’t all the same, and there are a lot of them out there.
Fat is the new F word when it comes to diets, but it’s not a single type of substance. Fat is actually an umbrella term for a variety of chemical substances that are high in energy and share a similar structure. They can all be separated into distinct categories that each have different benefits and roles within the body. So it’s worth getting familiar with all types of fats.
The fats you eat and the fats you store in the body aren’t the same thing, which is why an LCHF diet works. However, the foods you eat do influence the fats inside your body (both bodyfat and those in your bloodstream), and omega fats are no exception.
The body breaks fats down into fatty acids, which are crucial to blood pressure, energy stores, and a bunch of other key processes in the body. An imbalance in your body fat can actually cause some pretty serious problems, like heart attack and stroke, so you should aim to focus on a healthy balance.
The fats you consume can mitigate these risks and also offer a variety of other crucial benefits and important functions, such as.
Ensure proper oxygen motility in the cardiovascular system
Regulate mood and neurotransmitter balance
Ensure proper neural development, as well as protect the brain in adulthood
Combat conditions arising from degeneration in neural tissue due to aging, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s
Contribute to healthy blood pressure and blood fat profiles
Constitute cell membranes that are key for proper cell function and preventing cell death
Regulate the clotting and movement of blood cells
And these are just the directly-supported benefits!
You can also see associative benefits for fat loss, insulin control, combatting osteoporosis, reducing developmental problems and asthma in children, and combatting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
These are examples of how an omega-rich diet is crucial to various bodily processes. We’ll discuss them in-depth later on, but for now, it should be clear that they’re not a trivial part of your body’s ecosystem. In fact, they’re essential at almost every level.
What Makes Omega Fats Essential?
Essential fatty acids, the class that omega-3s and omega-6s belong to, are the types of fats that you can’t produce within your body. They have to be consumed as part of your diet or through supplementation.
The reason this is important is because deficiency in omega-3 and 6 fats is a real problem. Omega-3 fats are primarily found in seafood and fish, which are not very common in the average English-speaking world. Our diets are low in seafood compared to other developed nations.
On top of this, the kind of omega fats that you get in plant foods tend to be ALA (the short-chain kind) and cannot be converted into the crucial long-chain kind (EPA and DHA) in the body to support your needs.
Omega-6s are less-important fatty acids but are still essential. The difference is that we tend to have too much of this type of fat in our diets. They’re common in grains and low-quality oils, which make up a large proportion of the “normal” diet.
The important thing is to look toward balance and move toward a diet that provides a better ratio. This is one of the things you’ll learn today that you can put into your own diet, ketogenic or otherwise!
The Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
These special fatty acids carry some of the most important benefits you can get from food and dietary habits. Here are some of them.
This is a general benefit that is relevant in many ways. The overall point is that that omega-3 fats are used to combat excessive inflammation, whether in response to exercise, diet, or other stressors and lifestyle factors.
This is how omega-3 fats counteract omega-6 fats, which are pro-inflammatory. But this also protects you from the day-to-day inflammation your body endures. This prevents degeneration of all kinds of tissues, as well as reducing the effects of aging.
This is one of the most important reasons you should be taking omega-3s, as it is the basis for most of the other benefits we’ll outline below.
Regulating inflammation also comes with antioxidant effects that reduce the risk of cell death and associated health problems (such as cancer), as well as reducing the negative health effects of aging.
Heart health is a crucial part of why we prioritize omega-3 fats. To start, omega-3s are a form of unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats have already been shown to improve heart health when chosen over lower-quality fats. Second, omega-3s are independently useful for improving heart and artery health.
This is one of the most important and interesting ways that omega-3s help, as they tend to combat the problem in a variety of areas. EPA and DHA have some positive effects on blood pressure, improve the health of your arteries, and even reduce the risk of stroke in places like the brain.
Brain Health and Mood Support
Neurological benefits are incredibly important. They include protection from degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and mood disorders like depression and anxiety. These conditions are on the rise from generation to generation, and a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats are crucial to protecting your mental health.
With the increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, this type of dietary support can be a huge turning point for your well-being. Being healthy isn’t just about the body, and omega-3 intake has been closely associated with better mental health across the range of conditions.
Connective tissue benefits are also tied to omega-3 fats. The anti-inflammatory effects are important here, since they’re great for protecting tendons and ligaments from degeneration. This is important for taking care of yourself if you lead an active lifestyle, even on Keto.
We strongly recommend combining a Ketogenic diet with endurance exercise, and omega-3s are a great way to protect your joints from wear and tear you might otherwise pick up along the way!
Protecting against Diabetes and other Metabolic Diseases
This is another way that anti-inflammation effects protect you. The benefits to arterial health are important for many metabolic challenges, while omega-3s improve cell health, and fluidity protects against diabetes at the cellular level.
The hormonal signaling processes that affect insulin are adjusted through fat intake changes, while reductions in brain inflammation and degeneration are tied to insulin release.
The overall effects are still unclear, but evidence seems to suggest that taking fish oil with food is effective at combatting these problems in the short term. It seems to be most effective for combatting cellular problems, while a well-structured ketogenic diet can help with the liver and hormones too.
Improving Dietary Quality
Dietary quality is a very general term, but it’s been noted that diets with high omega-3 intake tend to deal with other dietary substances effectively. This ranges from improved management of diabetes and bodyfat (when paired with exercise) to reduced risk of metabolic diseases and even modest improvements to all-cause mortality.
In many ways, omega-6 fats play opposite to omega-3s. Pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, however, are also essential. They just have very different roles and are typically over-represented in our diet instead of being too rare.
Deficiency in these fats can harm the inflammation process and limit your ability to recover from injury and/or repair tissues in the body. As mentioned above, these might not sound like important roles, but they are, and it’s important to maintain the proper ratio and balance of omega-3 and 6 fats.
For example, omega-6 fats are crucial for proper blood pressure and immune system function. The problem is that too much can put these processes into overdrive, resulting in increased blood pressure and inflammation. The point is that they need to be consumed, but they also need to be moderated.
The real problems come from low-quality omega-6 fats (such as linoleic acid), which are often found in bacon, corn and soy oils, and mayonnaise. Meanwhile, others provide better profiles and healthier overall fat profiles, from foods such as nuts, seeds, and eggs. Focus on the latter.
Even with their pro-inflammation role, they’re essential for your health, and proper intake is key. This means adjusting down, too, if you’re consuming too much. However, a ketogenic diet is at-risk due to the reduction of grains and processed foods, so it can be key to keep track of them!
How Omega-3 Fats Help a Keto Diet
To start with, they’re essential. A high-fat diet needs to concern itself with the quality of fats, and omega-3 fats are the best kind out there. Omega-6 fats are valuable up until they’re throwing your overall omega balance out of whack.
Also, there seem to be interesting effects on other fats when you’re taking in plenty of omega-3 fats. A high-fat diet seems to improve the benefits of omega-3s, because fish oils can improve how your body handles saturated fats and their impact on diabetes risk.
The research is still at a very early level, but omega-3 and omega-6 fats seem to be involved in fat metabolism across the entire body. This is important for a ketogenic diet because your overall and saturated fat intake will be higher than when you have a mixed (normal) diet.
Regulating your overall fat environment could well mean reducing the negative effects of large saturated fat intake and boosting the benefits of unsaturated fats. These are crucial ways of making the most of the ketogenic diet and combatting one of the most common and exaggerated problems: fats and heart health.
How a Keto Diet Helps with Omega fats
The most obvious way that ketogenic diets improve your ability to use omega-3 fats – in fact the reason this article is relevant to keto at all – is that increased fat intake means increased focus on the types of fats you’re putting into your body.
This increased fat intake also provides a greater scope for higher intake of healthy fats, which are associated with the benefits mentioned above. Consuming more polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3s or those found in olive oil, has heart health benefits. A high intake here is key to overall dietary quality and allows for a higher intake of essential omega-3s.
On the other hand, you’ll be reducing your intake of omega-6 fats from certain sources, such as grains. You can control your omega-6 intake by choosing healthy cooking oils such as olive oil and reducing your use of canola and soy oil.
Are there any side-effects or health concerns?
This depends on the omega fats you’re taking. Omega-3s and 6s have different chemical properties, and you can consume them at different levels and see different effects. We’ll discuss them individually.
Omega-3 Fat Health Risks?
Omega-3 fats can be consumed at almost any amount without any serious problems. The only challenge is that some seafood contains other minerals like nickel or mercury, which can limit intake.
However, the intake of these fats is mostly associated with positive outcomes, and even then, we’re not entirely sure that there’s a “dangerous” amount.
The only real risks with omega-3 fats are intolerance – such as in seafood allergies – or with those who struggle to process pure fats. This can also be a concern if you’re taking large amounts on an empty stomach. This can be unpleasant and put stress on the digestive system.
Omega-6 Fat Health Risks?
Omega-6 fats have a much greater risk for negative health effects because you can easily exceed your body’s requirements and reach a pro-inflammatory state. Overdosing on omega-6s isn’t quite the same as the negative term you might be familiar with from Hollywood. In this case, it’s just a dose that harms you rather than helping.
How to Structure Omega Fats for A Ketogenic Diet
So, we’ve discussed omega fats and how they fit into your health and well-being, but what should you actually do to improve your overall profile? How do you get the most out of these omegas while on a ketogenic diet?
Step One: Increasing Omega-3 intake.
This one is predictable: you want to start by increasing your dietary intake of foods rich in omega-3s, like salmon. This type of high-quality protein- and fat-rich food is perfect for a keto diet because it provides omega-3 fats and has absolutely zero carbs.
You should also be supplementing with a fish oil supplement, as you won’t be eating seafood at a high enough frequency to support optimal intake. A supplement like cod liver oil provides omega-3 fats as well as vitamins A and D which have an additional range of health benefits.
Supplementation is easy, convenient, and can take a lot of pressure off your dietary intake. Keep in mind that supplements are not meant to be substitutes for a proper diet. You should still be relying on great omega-3 sources like salmon, mackerel, and tuna as a key part of any Ketogenic diet.
Step Two: Reducing Omega-6 Intake
As it likely you’re already over-consuming omega-6 fats, you’ll want to focus on reducing them when switching to a Ketogenic diet for the best results.
The ratio between 3 and 6 is key. As you boost your omega-3 intake, the next step will be reducing omega-6s in your diet. You should aim for a simple ratio of 1-2g of omega-6 for every gram of omega-3. This ratio has pronounced benefits for mental health and wellbeing.
You can meet this goal by adjusting your overall intake of certain “bad” foods that contribute to omega-6s such as canola and soy oils. These shouldn’t be common in your diet, and there are many better choices, such as olive and coconut oils.
Step Three: Making Omega-6 Food Swaps
This is one we mentioned above. The source of any omega-6 fats in your diet will make a huge difference to your overall health. While they all contribute to the ratio we mentioned above, they’re not all equal.
For example, linoleic acid is the worst kind of omega-6 for your overall health, and replacing this fat with high-quality alternatives (CLA and GLA) can reduce general pro-inflammatory effects.
This is obvious in small dietary changes like changing from a high-LA oil like soy to unsaturated oils like olive, or occasionally using grass-fed butter which contains a greater quantity of CLA. Quality is essential here, as the source of omega-6 plays a large role in the overall effects, as well as your overall intake.
Step Four: Omega Timings
Nutrient timing isn’t a huge deal for most people, but approaching the balance of omega fats in your diet does come with a few concerns.
We recommend trying to consume your omegas throughout the day and avoid consuming them too heavily at any one point. You want to make sure you’re getting a balanced intake throughout the day, ideally with foods, to ensure slow and continuous absorption into your body.
One simple way of doing this is to get some cod liver oil supplements and take one in the morning with breakfast and one just before dinner. You can then have fish for lunch and end up with a balanced intake, which will offset any of your omega-6 intake throughout the day.
Step Five: “Background” Fats?
This is something that is increasingly important as the research on omega fats continues to develop. It should also be a huge consideration for a ketogenic diet! Balancing out your intake of saturated and mono/poly-unsaturated fats is crucial for ensuring proper heart health while on a ketogenic diet and getting the most from this type of diet. It also interacts with your omega ratio, so it’s not something you can ignore just because you’re taking an omega-3 supplement!
Increasing your intake of unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated, is a great way to improve your blood pressure and other key health markers. This is great because omega-3s are polyunsaturated and seems to make your saturated fat intake a little healthier.
You should be aiming for a ratio of around 33% each of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats, but if you can increase the amount of unsaturated fat in your diet, it’s even better.
It should be pretty clear by now that you need to reduce omega-6 intake and increase omega-3 intake for better health.
We’ve discussed some simple guidelines for getting the most out of the essential fatty acids in your diet, and a way of improving your overall health. Leveraging these amazing compounds can really improve your experience with very little actual effort.