Are PUFAs The New Gluten? We’re Investigating These Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Another day, another diet designed to make us feel one part righteous and three parts guilty? Could going PUFA-free make us healthier?

Raw salmon

A recent article‘s caused some water cooler chatter in the office of late. Describing the dangers of PUFAs, it argued that the consumption of these edible acronyms was doing more harm than good. So in true STELLAR fashion we investigated the claim.

Within the PUFA category you’ll find omega-3 PUFAs and omega-6 PUFAs.

But first up, what the what is a PUFA? Simply put, they’re a group of fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids. Within that category you’ll find two sub-groups, omega-3 PUFAs and omega-6 PUFAs. Both fats are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies can’t make them, so food’s our only source (how bad).

Oily fish is a source of PUFAs, as are nuts and seeds – all good, right? Sure, but here’s the kicker: vegetable oils like palm and soy oil are PUFAs too, and we know we need to keep those on low. It’s all a smidgen confusing, so we asked an expert.

According to research nutritionist, Ann-Marie Tierney, who studied dietary fats in the Irish population as part of the National Adult Nutrition Survey, “fat is key in the diet, we need it to produce hormones, protect against disease and as an energy source too.”

The ratio of omega-3 PUFAs to omega-6s should be the focus, not removing an entire nutrient from our diet.

Does she think we should go entirely PUFA-free? Well, no, but we do need to be aware of moderation. “Limiting highly processed foods while incorporating whole foods into our diet is the best advice,” she says. “Omega-3 PUFAs for example, like those in salmon, sardines and some leafy greens, are known to have a beneficial impact against things like heart disease and arthritis.

Omega-6s, on the other hand, although required in small quantities, are available in everything from crisps to mayonnaise to fast food, and that’s the problem – not only are they found in foods we should be restricting, we’re also eating too many of them.” Aha.

It’s the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s that should be the focus, not removing an entire nutrient from our diet. It pays to pick your fat carefully, so when you’re shopping, go for olive or coconut oil, and remember this: “18-to-35 year old females (and males!) in Ireland were the lowest compliers for omega-3 EPAs and DHAs fatty acid intakes in our study,” Ann-Marie warns.

It just makes sense to stock up on real food and avoid the processed junk, huh?