Let’s all dedicate a little to be thankful we moved away from the low fat phase of the 90s. Avocado lovers around the world are delighted to learn that healthy fats are, in fact, Really Good for you.
When it comes to the types of fats that boost brain health and fight inflammation, there are basically different types to keep in mind. Some fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, should be consumed from external food sources (thank you, nuts and fatty fish). There are other types of fats, however, that your body can make on its own. Pretty wild, right? Small chain fatty acids belong to the latter category and according to nutritionists, have huge potential benefits for everyone’s favorite well-being issue: gut health.
What exactly are low chain fatty acids?
If you are confused about what a fatty acid is, rest assured that the idea is quite simple. Fatty acids are, in short, the building blocks of fats. When we eat a food that contains fat, the digestive process breaks it down into these fatty acids, which help them to be absorbed and used by the body. “Low-chain fatty acids are unique, however, because we do not get them directly from food,” says Jenn LaVardera, MS, RD, CDN, a Daily Harvest dietitian. “But, they are produced by bacteria in our gut. This important process actually happens in the large intestine and plays a big role in promoting our overall health.
LaVardera explains that bacteria in your gut break down indigestible fibers and resistant starches through fermentation, and short-chain fatty acids are a byproduct of this natural process. The three main short-chain fatty acids (sometimes referred to as metabiotics) produced in the gut are butyric, acetic and propionic. “Once produced, these fatty acids are absorbed by cells that line the gut where they are either metabolized or sent to the circulation to provide energy to liver cells,” says LaVardera. Once absorbed, these powerful compounds offer abundant health benefits.
How short chain fatty acids enhance gut health
LaVardera catalyzes the complex link between short-chain fatty acids and gut health: “Prebiotics are the fibers that probiotics – also known as ‘good’ gut bacteria – ‘eat’ and metabioids are its by-products.” says. These metabolites (also known as short chain fatty acids) provide energy to the cells of the colon to help them function properly and also help in the metabolism of important nutrients such as carbohydrates and other fats.
Because of their role in maintaining gut health, the benefits of adequate short-chain fatty acids in your gut include everything from reducing inflammation in your gut (which can help reduce the risk of colon cancer and leakage). of the intestine, inter alia) to the regulation of immune function. “Because of their potent anti-inflammatory properties, these fatty acids are also useful in relieving inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or IBD,” adds LaVardera.
Thanks to the gut-brain connection, short-chain fatty acids also help promote brain health and cognitive function. “While the exact mechanisms are not yet known, preliminary research shows that these fatty acids affect neurological and behavioral processes and may also play a role in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders,” says LaVardera. The basic premise of this idea is that a lack of short-chain fatty acids leads to inflammation that could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease or mental health disorders such as depression. LaVardera notes that the potential benefits of short-chain fatty acids are a new frontier of research and, while promising, more research is needed to understand exactly how these metabolites help both gut health and overall well-being.
How can we increase the amount of fatty acids in our body?
Since this form of fatty acid is a byproduct of the digestive system of fiber-rich foods, the best way to increase the amount in your gut is to eat more plants, according to LaVerdera. He cites research showing that eating more plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes is associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids. Berries, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, leeks, onions, carrots, potatoes and apples contain fiber such as pectin, inulin and resistant starch that can help produce short-chain fatty acids. LaVardera says that for most healthy people, eating a variety of plant-based foods is the surest way to get all the gut fiber they need to supply fatty acids and not have to rely on supplements or synthetic fiber.
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