Can you tell if my diet is actually low in fat and supplies me with the fatty acids I need?

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I’ve always been overweight (10-15 pounds), so I try to eat as little fat as possible. However, I know that I need to eat some fat in order to get the essential fatty acids. I was just wondering if there was any way to tell if my diet is actually low in fat and if it supplies me with the fatty acids that I need?

You can’t live without eating some fat and the very minimum amount you need is 1 teaspoon of polyunsaturated oil per day to prevent fatty acid deficiency. However, maintaining this very low level is practically impossible unless you only eat fruit which would be unhealthy because it would be lacking in many vitamins and minerals as well as protein.

Without writing down everything you eat and performing a nutrition analysis, you would only be making a rough guess about how much fat you eat. Sure, butter, margarine, oil, mayonnaise, salad dressing and fat in meat or milk are more obvious, but did you know that tofu, avocados, and coconut contain fat? Fish like wild salmon (not farmed), albacore tuna, herring, and sardines are high in omega 3 fats.

I would suggest you write down everything you eat and send your food records to a dietitian who can analyze what you eat. Their reports will show the percent of the different types of fat (saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) as well as the amounts of the various fatty acids.

Most importantly, a dietitian’s report could include the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Research has indicated that omega 6 fatty acids (mostly polyunsaturated vegetable oils) may only be helpful in keeping cholesterol levels in the blood low. Whereas, omega 3 fatty acids (fish oils) may decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeat, triglyceride levels, cholesterol deposits on artery walls and lower blood pressure. Omega 3 fats also reduce platelets from clumping, making them less sticky and less likely to form a blood clot. In fact, the ratio (1:1) between these two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids appears to have as much importance as the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats in the foods a person eats. This is still being studied and recommendations for Americans to change the type of fats in their food choices have not yet been made.

Your other alternative is to purchase some nutrition analysis software and do the work yourself. The problem is that very few software packages include a database of fatty acid content in foods and these packages are usually written for nutrition professionals, which are expensive.