PUFA, MUFA, DHA, ALA and EPA. Confused? Understand these diet acronyms.
FATS – We love to hate them. But contrary to popular belief, fat is not all that bad for the body. There are good fats and bad fats. Smart eating involves knowing what is good and what is bad.
Fats are of three types – trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat. While saturated and trans fat are termed bad for their property of increasing bad cholesterol levels, unsaturated fats like poly unsaturated fats and mono unsaturated fats are good and are known to reduce cholesterol levels.
Poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
PUFA, also known as omega-3 and omega-6, are essential fatty acids that need to be taken through food, as the body is incapable of producing these. These fats remain liquid at room temperature, unlike saturated fats that are solid.
PUFA is present in food items like soya bean, tofu, kidney beans, safflower oil, olive oil, walnuts, kale and flaxseeds. PUFA helps in the proper functioning of the body and keeps critical illnesses at bay. There are many reasons to consume unsaturated fatty acids. Apart from boosting immunity, these help in the functioning of the brain and nervous system, and control heart disease, arthritis and eye problems.
Unsaturated fatty acids are very useful sources to keep the body healthy. Where eyes are concerned, PUFA helps prevent conditions like dryness and retinal disorders.
ALA, DPA and DHA
Three major omega-3 fatty acids are alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout are said to be rich sources of EPA and DHA. While EPA guards against inflammation, skin disease and asthma, DHA is relevant for the development of brain cells.
Lack of DHA in children results in severe cognitive diseases. It plays a significant role in the initial two years of a child’s development. Harp-seal oil works effectively for grown-ups. Moreover, two units of DHA every day helps fight cancer. Fatty fish like tuna are important sources of DHA.
Unlike EPA and DHA which are animal sources, ALA is a plant source. It is found in flax seeds in abundance and in a small amount in soya, canola and walnut oil. It is important for the body to synthesize ALA into EPA and DHA in order to benefit in adequate measures. An appropriate amount of EPA guards against inflammation, skin disease and asthma. While non-vegetarians can obtain EPA from fatty fish and tuna, vegetarians have to count on supplements after consulting a doctor.
Fish are known to benefit a lot from omega-3 fatty acids. The same can stand true for human beings; provided it is important it is taken in appropriate doses. Several studies have shown that fish oil helps overcome problems including poor memory, depression, dry skin, poor circulation, and mood swings.
Fish oil is a great source of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and its consumption helps alleviate the effects of anti-depressants. Therefore, it is advisable to add fish oil to a regular diet, so as to abstain from depression apart from gaining a few other benefits. Since our body isn’t competent in synthesizing unsaturated fats, it is necessary to include these in food. Those with rheumatoid arthritis should consume more of omega-3 than omega-6, as omega-3 reduces inflammation. Walnuts, almonds, canola oil and olive oil are good sources of omega-3. and even though omega-6 is an essential fatty acid, an overdose of it may result in some complexities.
Mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)
MUFA is found in food items such as cashew nuts, oatmeal, red meat, dairy products and oils such as sunflower, canola, sesame, olive, peanut, safflower, corn, almond and avocado.
Food containing MUFA reduces low density lipoprotein (LDL). MUFA or omega-9 fatty acids are useful to the body because they not only lower the levels of LDL but also help maintain HDL or good cholesterol levels. Does that mean one can choose between PUFA and MUFA for daily consumption? One needs to maintain a balance between PUFA and MUFA because though they help reduce the level of bad cholesterol, an overdose can result in lowering the HDL or good cholesterol level.