For many years now, fat in foods has been villainized. Fat is not bad—it’s simply a matter of making good choices. Dietary fat is critical to create well-hydrated, supple skin. In fact, each skin cell is surrounded by two layers of fat that make up the cell wall. (This is referred to as the phospholipid bilayer).

Problems arise when we are out of balance in terms of the types of fats we eat. Our bodies require certain fats called “essential fatty acids.” There are two main types—Omega 3 and Omega 6. Omega 3s come from foods like fatty fish, fish oil supplements, walnuts, soy, dark green leafy vegetables, flax and chia seeds. Vegetable sources of Omega 3 are less potent because they are in the form of ALA, which must go through a conversion process to become Omega 3, but they are still a great choice. Omega 6 fats come from vegetable oils and are in almost all processed crackers, cookies and other packaged foods. Our bodies need Omega 6 fats, but from healthy sources like nuts, seeds, flax oil, hempseed oil, borage oil and grapeseed oil instead of from fried and packaged foods.

Omega 3 fats are critically important because they block inflammation pathways in the cells and contribute to optimal cognitive brain function. Omega 6 fats have an important role in the body too—in skin, hair and bone maintenance, as well as hormone regulation. The key is to create the right balance for optimal health.

Another important fat is GLA, which helps reduces inflammation. GLA is produced in your body from linoleic acid found in nuts, seeds, and most unrefined vegetable oils. This process can be hampered by unhealthful habits like smoking and eating a diet high in saturated fat. For direct sources of GLA, you can take supplements of borage oil and/or evening primrose oil. (People with conditions like psoriasis and eczema may benefit from topical application of borage oil and dietary supplementation with Omega-3 as well.)

When dietary fats are out of balance, the body has an inflammatory response. The ideal balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fats is 1:2, yet that ratio is 1:17 for the standard American diet! And this is why so many Americans suffer with chronic lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases where inflammation is the trigger. How does this state of inflammation affect your skin? You may develop acne, or it may appear red, dry, rashy or simply inflamed. By maintaining a healthy balance of fats in your diet, you can reduce the inflammation of your skin and improve your overall well-being.

There are so many other things to share about healthy fats that I would need to write a book to convey all the information to you. Your takeaway here is to be sure to eat two to three servings of healthy fats every day. Choose foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, extra virgin coconut oil and fatty fish. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats from fried foods, processed meats like salami, bacon and cold cuts, packaged crackers, cookies, muffins, and donuts. Challenge yourself to eat whole foods rather than foods that come in a box to cut down on Omega 6 fats. That’s the way to get your fats in balance.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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