In this week’s blog, we’d like to tell you about the importance of healthy fats and how they can benefit your hair and skin. But in order to do so, it is pretty obvious we first need to answer one important question – what exactly are “healthy fats”? Undoubtedly you have probably heard a great deal about “low fat diets”, so we should straighten this out first.
Why healthy fats are important?
Despite any preconceived notions, all fats are not bad and in fact healthy fats are not only beneficial for good health, but also necessary. For example, we already know that some vitamins, such as A, E and D, are fat soluble, meaning that to be absorbed and stored by your body and released when necessary, a supply of fat must be available for storage.
But often times when you purchase “reduced fat” meals, that reduced fat is often replaced by refined grains, carbohydrates from sugar or other starches, which are all digested by our bodies quickly and can lead to high blood sugar and insulin levels, which ultimately can, in fact, lead to weight gain and a whole host of other health problems. Indeed, a large study involving more than 80,000 women found that the replacement of trans unsaturated and saturated fats with nonhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats was more effective in the prevention of heart disease than simply reducing their total intake of fat.
Thus, rather than subscribing to a low-fat diet, you would be much further ahead consuming foods that contain unsaturated fats, and avoiding those that are high in saturated fat or trans-fat. You may see many processed foods that claim they are trans-fat free, but the fact is the manufacturers can state this so long as there is less than 0.5g of trans-fat per serving. So beware - if you have several “trans-fat free” cookies, the amount of trans-fat entering your body can add up. The best thing to do is carefully read the label and avoid anything that says “hydrogenated fat”.
What about saturated fats? They are not quite so bad. These are the ones you normally associate with foods such as butter, cheese, and red meat, and also in plant-based products such as coconut oil. For these, moderation is key.
The “good” fats are the unsaturated fats that include olive oils, nuts, seeds, and fish. So if you decide to cut back on your intake of saturated fats, make sure you replace them with unsaturated fats rather than succumbing to the temptation of replacement with refined carbohydrates.
We are part way there now. We know that these “good” fats tend to be great sources of omega fatty acids which are supposed to be very healthy. But are they all healthy? What is the difference between omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids? Are they all good?
How do fats help your skin and hair?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and our body cannot make them, so they must come from our diet. They are essential in the construction of our cell membranes and are excellent for our heart and mental health, infant brain development, may help you in your pursuit of weight loss, and they help fight inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids are also only obtained from your diet. Their function is mainly one of energy provision, but they are also pro-inflammatory, so a diet with an excessive omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (eg. 15:1) can lead to chronic inflammatory conditions leading to conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to obesity. Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated and differ from the others in that our bodies can produce them. Those who ingest high quantities may have less inflammation and improved insulin resistance compared to those who consume a diet high in saturated fat. For these reasons, the most important thing to know about omega fatty acids is that it is important to consume them in a healthy balance, which can be typically achieved by eating two oily fish portions each week and through the use of olive oil for cooking, while reducing consumption of other types of vegetable oils and foods that have been fried in refined vegetable oils.
And so, how can these omega fatty acids help my hair and skin appearance? Since omega-3 fatty acids are important for your cell membranes, they can help maintain moisture within your skin and thus help prevent dry skin. Not only can this help make your skin glow, but it can also help prevent acne and combat the signs of aging. Their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can also limit the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays and help prevent wrinkling as well. Ultimately, if you are not getting enough of these essential fatty acids in your diet (remember, your body cannot make them itself), your skin can become dry and more susceptible to blackheads and whiteheads.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to hair follicle nourishment and reducing the percentage of hair in the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle. Almost 90% of the participants in a study that were using an omega-3 fatty acid supplement reported that they felt they had thicker hair and were observing less hair loss. Not only that, but the anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties can help prevent scalp irritation and soothe a dry scalp.
Take away message
This week we discussed the importance of healthy fats and how they can benefit your hair and skin. We started by identifying the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats, and then taking that concept a step further by discussing the differences between the different types of omega fatty acids and how important it is to get the right balance of these (ie. not too much omega-6 relative to omega-3). Finally, we described how the moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids can help you achieve great skin moisturization, relieve scalp dryness and irritation and even help with increasing hair thickness and reducing hair loss. So what’s the takeaway message? Eat oily fish twice a week so you can reap all of these benefits!