Fatty acids in nutrition

A well balanced diet is based on the consumption of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. Lipids have a very important role to play in nutrition, as they are vectors of taste and texture. Fatty acids must account for 20 to 35 % of daily caloric intake for the body to function normally.
For a long time, lipids have suffered from a bad reputation: they were said to promote weight gain, an increase in body fat or the appearance of cellulite. However, dietary fats are essential for the proper functioning of the body and play only a minor role in weight gain if they are of good quality. More important than reducing the quantity of fat consumed, it is much more important to improve its quality and diversify its sources.

The importance of diversifying fatty acid intakes

Despite popular belief, fat consumption does not lead to weight gain. Generally, under-consumption of fat leads to over-consumption of carbohydrates. It is these carbohydrates that cause weight gain and body fat to increase, because if they are not consumed for providing energy, they are stored in the body as fat. Consuming lipids is therefore rather beneficial, provided that the composition of fatty acids is balanced.
A balanced diet should provide 20-35 % of daily energy in the form of fat. As part of a varied diet, the profile of fat consumed varies from day to day, depending on the season, country, culture or lifestyle. Overall, the fat consumed should be distributed as follows: 1/3 saturated fatty acids, 2/3 unsaturated fatty acids.

The shortcomings of current diets in the West and industrialized countries

Dietary changes in recent decades have led to an imbalance in the proportion of fatty acids consumed by industrialized populations.
The growth of the food industry has shifted the balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acid intakes towards the over-consumption of saturated fats.
The change in agricultural model has also changed the diversity of cereal crops and the way we feed the animals we eat.
In prehistoric times and in the course of human evolution, omega 3 fatty acids were present in almost all foods consumed from meat to wild plants, eggs, nuts and berries. The animals we eat today are mainly fed on flours derived from oleaginous seeds rich in omega 6, and no longer from green grass pastures rich in omega 3. The intensive production of vegetable oils from oilseed crops that are very rich in omega 6 such as sunflower or rapeseed has also led to changes in culinary habits in Europe, where butter and animal fats have gradually been replaced in cooking by vegetable oils.

As a result, industrialized societies currently consume too many saturated, trans and omega 6 fatty acids compared to their omega 3 intakes. This imbalance is harmful to human health in the long term. Rebalancing your consumption of fatty acids is therefore essential to ensure well-being and health.

The best way to restore the balance is to limit the consumption of industrial ready meals as much as possible and diversify your fat intake: eat more fatty fish, alternate the different vegetable oils during seasoning (prefer adding them at the end of cooking to avoid the formation of trans fatty acids), eat seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts to allow the intake of minerals and vitamins. Food supplements produced from algae or microalgae can also provide an interesting supply of omega 3 fatty acids with very long chains such as EPA and DHA.

1. Vannice, G.; Rasmussen, H., Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2014, 114, (1), 136-153.
2. Calder Philip, C., Functional Roles of Fatty Acids and Their Effects on Human Health. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition 2015, 39, (1S), 18S-32S.
3. Simopoulos, A. P., The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio: health implications. OCL 2010, 17, (5), 267-275.