For decades Americans were told to avoid fat, especially saturated fats from meat, dairy and cheese because it was bad for our heart and our health. We were bombarded with advice promoting low fat, high carbohydrate diets, yet as a nation we just got fatter and sicker. A few years back we are told that fat in your diet isn’t bad after all, even saturated fats! Then this past spring, evidence emerges once again indicating that saturated fats increase the risk for heart disease. The truth is that dietary fat is an essential nutrient and is beneficial to our health. However, when it comes to bone health, the type of dietary fat you eat truly matters. There are numerous types of fats. Our body makes fat from taking in excess calories, but we also get fat from the plants and animals we eat.
- Saturated fat is mainly found in animal meat, dairy and cheese products and a few plant foods such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
- Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Unsaturated fats can be categorized as polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat
- Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in olive, peanut and canola oils, olives, avocados, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and pecans and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds and fish
- Essential Fatty Acids are an important type of polyunsaturated fat because they are critical for our health and cannot be made by our body. Although there are many essential fatty acids, there are 2 prominent ones that are necessary for good health.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and some plants such as flax seeds, walnuts, soybean oil and seaweed
- Omega 6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, such as corn and safflower oil and evening primrose seed, black currant seed, and borage seeds
Dietary fat provides energy for our body and it also plays key roles in our overall health and health of our bones. For instance, fat is needed to aid in the absorption and transportation of key bone building vitamins such as vitamin K, D, and A. These vitamins work synergistically and aid in calcium and magnesium absorption along with regulating calcification in the bone. However, when it comes to building bones, not all fats are equally beneficial.
What fats are most beneficial to bone? Let’s look at the research!
Studies indicate that high-fat diets, particularly diets high in saturated fats, can adversely affect bone. A recent study found that saturated fat intake was inversely associated with hip bone mineral density and therefore may reduce bone mass.(1) A variety of mechanisms may account for the effects of saturated fats on bone, including altering calcium absorption and osteoblast formation, increasing oxidation and inflammation, and impairing fat metabolism that may indirectly prevent the resorption of osteoclasts. (2,3)
Monounsaturated fat intake has also shown beneficial effects for bone health. One study showed that this type of fat reduces the loss of bone mineral density in older female mice and several studies suggest that the consumption of extra virgin olive oil is associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis related fractures in middle-aged and elderly Mediterranean population. (4,5) The beneficial effects of olives and olive oil could be attributed to their ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. (6)
Polyunsaturated fats have also been shown to be beneficial for bone. The intake of polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, have been associated with higher bone mineral density in older adults. Omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit osteoclast (bone break down cells) formation as well as increase osteoblast (bone building cells) formation and survival. (7) These essential fats are also known to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that may affect bone metabolism. (4)
The over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from vegetable oils and processed foods, resulting in a high ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats, may also contribute to bone loss and the development of osteoporosis. (8) Low-grade chronic inflammation is linked with excessive omega-6 fats in the diet which can be detrimental to the bone. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. A lower ratio of 2-3:1 omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids may be more desirable for supporting bone health.
- Decrease saturated fat in your diet by reducing animal meats and dairy products
- Increase the use of olive oils by making homemade salad dressings and using olive oil for low heat sautéing of vegetables
- Add avocados to your diet
- Increase the consumption of nuts and seeds
- Increase the consumption of fatty fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also take fish oils to ensure you are getting adequate omega-3 fatty acids
Quality and quantity of dietary fat has consequences on skeletal health and overall health. The regular consumption of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids benefits the cardiovascular system and also has a positive influence on metabolism and inflammation, making them beneficial for women of all ages.
Want to learn more about how you can improve your bone health? Contact me for a free 15 minute phone consult to learn more about the BONES Method™ and how it can help you achieve strong, healthy bones for life!