What’s fatty acid balance and how to improve it

Fatty acid balance is a measure of “good” versus “bad” fats in your blood. It is measured by analysing various health markers (also known as biomarkers). However, we summarised all these biomarkers into a single health indicator score that’s easy to understand. Here's more on how fatty acid balance affects your health and ways to improve it.

As you might know, all fats we eat are not bad. For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good dietary fats include polyunsaturated (omega- 3 and omega-6) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) fats. Excess of saturated fats (SFAs) is considered bad while trans fats are the worst. It is important to understand these different types of fats to be able to maintain a good fatty acid balance. Read more about them here.

How we calculate fatty acid balance?

To calculate your fatty acids balance score, we measure the ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) to monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) in your blood.

PUFA%: Polyunsaturated fatty acid as you know, are the “good” fats associated with lowering the risk of diabetes and heart diseases. The two main types of PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6. They are essential for building healthy cells, have anti-inflammatory properties and lower “bad” cholesterol levels. A higher PUFA level is, therefore, better for your health.

MUFA%: The second things we measure is MUFA% in your blood.

As we mentioned earlier, SFAs are considered bad as scientific studies show, an SFA-rich diet is bad for long-term health as they increase both type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk. However, SFA’s in your dietary intake is not well reflected in the blood. That’s because, SFA get converted into MUFAs in your blood, thereby increasing MUFA%. Meaning, a high MUFA% is a better indication of an unhealthy diet and long-term disease risk.

Scientific studies have also shown that a high level of MUFA is often a sign of unhealthy body weight and insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells have difficulty in absorbing glucose from your bloodstream. This may lead to type 2 diabetes and is not good for your heart health. Therefore, maintaining a lower level of MUFA% is better for you.

So, you should have a higher PUFA% than your MUFA% to have a healthy fatty acid balance.

Biomarkers that affect fatty acid balance the most

PUFA% (Omega-3 and Omega-6) and MUFA%.

One-score summary

Blood values are difficult to understand without medical knowledge. My Nightingale, therefore, summaries all these biomarker results into one easy-to-understand score that maxes at 100. The higher you score, the better your fatty acid balance is.

How to improve your fatty acid balance

Since fatty acid balance is basically a comparison of “good” versus “bad” fats in your blood, improving it means switching to consuming more “good” fats.

Replace bad fats with good fats

This is simple — you should be consuming more of “good” fat (PUFAs such as omega-3 and 6) and less of “bad” fats such as trans fats found in food items like cookies, pastries and fast-food.
Research shows that having an omega-3-rich diet can reduce your cardiovascular disease risk. Similarly, studies have found that a higher omega-6% is associated with a lower type 2 diabetes risk.

Also, as we wrote earlier, a high MUFA% is an indicator of an unhealthy amount of refined carbohydrates and saturated fatty acids (SFAs) in your food — something you should keep an eye on. Refined carbohydrates are found in foods like white rice, white bread, sweetened beverages, sweets and other bakery products. SFAs, on the other hand, are found in foods like butter, cheese and other animal fats and many studies also associate excessive saturated fats levels with an increase in harmful LDL-cholesterol level which is bad for your heart health. Most experts, therefore, recommend limiting your total carb intake to 45-55% and saturated fat intake to under 10% of your daily calories. However, that’s difficult advice to measure and follow.

The easiest way to ensure healthy fat consumption is, therefore, to concentrate on your good fat (PUFA) intake, which includes omega-3 and omega-6. You should even replace your SFAs with PUFAs as studies suggest it is a much healthier way. So, for instance, instead of cheese or butter, use plant-oil based products as a spread. Also, switching to high fibre carbohydrates helps in improving your fatty acid balance.

Here’s a list of foods that can help you increase your good fat numbers and can be added to your grocery list.

Add good fats to your grocery list

The idea here is to try and avoid food that is rich in animal fat, contains refined carbohydrates and sugar — these are bad for your fatty acid balance. In case you want to try a specific diet, give the DASH diet or a Nordic diet a shot.

Along with fatty acid balance, My Nightingale blood analysis gives you over 20 different health results from a single blood sample. It includes a health index that gives an overview of your health, 6 health indicators — heart age, diabetes resistance, fatty acid balance, inflammation, cholesterol balance and blood sugar — that provide one-score summaries of different aspects of your wellbeing and numerous other biomarkers (such as GlycA, omegas, glucose and BCAAs) that give an in-depth insight into your metabolic health.