Melissa Benoit

Healthy Diet Healthy Fats

Why do people with Cystic Fibrosis need more fat in their diet?

Since fat is the highest calorie source in our diet, eating more of it can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight! There are four main types of fatty acids. Most fats are a combination of these:


1. Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are an excellent source of energy. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Many common vegetable oils, fish oils, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, soybeans and some nuts contain a lot of polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two main types: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Both play an important role in inflammation in the body: the omega-3 fatty acids are 'anti-inflammatory' whereas omega-6 fatty acids are believed to increase inflammation. Most of us eat too little omega-3 and a lot of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids include: fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines) as well as flaxseed, canola oil, soy oil and some nuts (such as walnuts and pecans).


2. Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are also an excellent source of energy. Foods rich in monosaturated fat are generally liquid at room temperature and semi-solid when refrigerated. Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are all rich in monosaturated fat as are natural peanut butter (most other peanut butters have added vegetable shortening which is a trans fatty acid), almonds, peanuts, other nuts.


3. Saturated Fats

They are solid at room temperature and are found mostly in foods from animals. For most people saturated fat is considered a "bad fat" because it raises blood cholesterol levels. Because most people with CF have low cholesterol levels, saturated fats are not considered a problem and may even be a good fat for you. Foods high in saturated fats include red meats such as beef, veal, lamb, and pork, as well as lard, poultry fat (found in the chicken skin), butter, cream, 3.25% milk, cheeses and other dairy products made from whole milk. These foods also contain dietary cholesterol. Saturated plant fats include coconut oil, palm oil (often called tropical oils), and cocoa butter.


4. Trans Fats

Trans fats are created by food processing companies to increase the shelf-life of high fat processed foods. The process called hydrogenation turns liquid oil into semi- solid fat. Although there is a small amount of naturally occurring trans fats in some foods (such as milk, cheese and other milk products) that are not harmful, most of the trans fats in our diet are artificial and should be eaten in moderation. "Hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils or fats are another name for trans fats.


Trans fats are found in commercial foods such as:

- Bakery products, crackers, cookies, snack foods like potato chips, commercially fried foods, and breaded foods.

- Shortening is a trans fat

- Margarine sold as solid 'sticks' rather than soft margarine 

How can we avoid trans fats?

More companies are producing trans fat free commercial foods. Look for this claim on the food label. Homemade bakery products made with liquid oil (i.e. canola oil) are free of trans fatty acids. Avoid using shortening (trans fat). If you use margarine, avoid the solid sticks of margarine and buy those made from healthy fats such as canola oil.


Should I supplement my diet with DHA (also known as fish oil or omega-3 supplements)?

Much research is being done to see if DHA supplements might be helpful in CF. The Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is not recommending omega-3 supplementation at present. More studies need to be done. Eating 1-2 meals per week of fatty fish high in DHA is, however, recommended for everyone! Speak to your clinic dietitian or CF doctor for more information on increasing DHA content in your diet.


Tips for adding healthy fat to your diet:

- Try to eat fish twice a week, especially salmon, herring or mackerel.

- Choose frozen breaded products made with hydrogenated fats less often.

- Use olive or canola oil in salad dressing.

- Choose cookies, chips and crackers that are not made with hydrogenated oil.

- Sprinkle walnuts, cashews, almonds or peanuts over salads, add them to baking or eat as a fast snack.

- Add an avocado to your salad. It's a great source of monounsaturated fat.

- Buy omega-3 eggs, which come from hens fed on flaxseed. They contain seven to 12 times more omega-3 than regular eggs.