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Fuel The Fighter: Get the Skinny on Essential Fats

"Fuel The Fighter" discusses each month how a mixed martial artist can apply physiology and nutrition to optimize his or her training and performance.
This article was published in
FIGHT! magazine and is reprinted on with permission. For more "Fuel The Fighter," click here.

Get the Skinny on Essential Fats
By PR Cole
MS, RD Candidate Columbia University

Not all fats are created equal. Some are essential to optimal fitness and disease prevention like the omega 6s and the omega 3s, while others may cause significant health risks like saturated fats and trans fats. Making the effort to choose the right kind of fat in your diet will keep your immune and cardiovascular systems at their peak.

What are the essential fats?

Our bodies have the ability to make all of the various fats we need to survive except for two. These essential fats are linoleic acid (omega -6 fats) and linolenic acid (Omega-3 fats).

What do essential fats do?

The omega-6s and the omega-3s play important roles in maintaining health. The following are just a few of their major functions.

Regulation of blood pressure
Blood clot formation
Regulation of blood fat (lipid) levels
Immune system response
Inflammatory response to injury
Structural components of cells

Omega-3 fats have received major media attention in recent years since research shows that they may play a role in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and cancer.

Where can I find essential fats?

Omega -6 fats are found in plant seeds, nuts, whole grains and oils. Most people consume enough of these products to meet our needs.

You'll get enough omega- 3 fats in your diet by eating two 4- ounce servings of fatty coldwater fish per week. Some fish that are both high in omega 3s and low in mercury include

Wild salmon
Atlantic mackerel
Pacific oysters

Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish since these are heavily contaminated with mercury. For the most up to date information seafood safety, check out the Environmental Protection Agency's website

For those of you who aren't big seafood fans, you can get omega-3s from ground flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil and omega 3 eggs. However, note that these sources don't offer nearly as much as the fish.

What about supplements?

Omega- 3 fats are also available in supplement form. Some of the top brands to look out for are

Vital Oils 1000
Kirkland Signature
Nordic Naturals Ultimate