Essential Fatty Acids - Facts About Good Fats
What are fatty acids?
The major components of all fats are fatty acids. There are about twenty specific fatty acids that are used by the human body to maintain normal function. Of these fatty acids, there are two that cannot be synthesised by our bodies. These two essential fatty acids (EFAs), known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an Omega 3 fatty acid and linoleic acid (LA), an Omega 6 fatty acid, must be obtained in proper balance from our diet. An excellent source of these essential fatty acids is unrefined Flax Seed Oil.
Essential Fatty Acids function as building blocks for membranes of every cell in the body. They also produce "prostaglandin families", which are hormone-like substances necessary for energy metabolism and cardiovascular and immune health.
What are saturated and unsaturated fatty acids?
Fatty acids are classified as saturated, mono-unsaturated (Omega 9), poly-unsaturated (Omega 6) and (super) poly-unsaturated (Omega 3), referring to their carbon-hydrogen makeup. The more hydrogen there is in oil products, the greater the degree of saturation and solidity. Vegetable oils, such as sunflower, sesame and safflower largely contain unsaturated fatty acids. Butter, margarine and animal fats, which are solid at room temperature, have high levels of saturated fatty acids.
What are essential fatty acids?
Essential Fatty Acids are classed by nutritionists and scientists alike as the "good fats" while trans fats and saturated fat are considered 'bad fats'. These good fats compete with bad fats, so it's important to minimize the intake of trans fats and cholesterol (usually from saturated animal fat) while consuming enough good fats.
Also, essential fatty acids or 'good fats' raise your HDL or 'good cholesterol'. One of the jobs of this High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or "good cholesterol" is to grab your bad cholesterol, LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), and escort it to the liver where it is broken down and excreted. In other words, these good fats attack some of the damage already done by the bad fats. This is very important in an age when so many people are struggling to get their cholesterol down, and fight heart disease and obesity.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesise, and must be obtained through the diet. Essential Fatty Acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acids. There are two families of EFAs: Omega 3 and Omega 6. Omega 9 is necessary yet "non-essential" because the body can manufacture a modest amount on its own, provided essential EFAs are present.
Essential Fatty Acids support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. The human body needs EFAs to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and expel harmful waste products. A primary function of EFAs is the production of prostaglandins, which regulate body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility, conception, and play a role in immune function by regulating inflammation and encouraging the body to fight infection.
Essential Fatty Acids are also needed for proper growth in children, particularly for neural development and maturation of sensory systems, with male children having higher needs than females. Foetuses and breast-fed infants also require an adequate supply of EFAs through the mother's dietary intake.
Omega 3 (Linolenic Acid)
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the principal Omega 3 fatty acid, which a healthy human will convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and later into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and the GLA synthesized from linoleic (Omega 6) acid are later converted into hormone-like compounds known as eicosanoids, which aid in many bodily functions including vital organ function and intracellular activity.
Omega 3s are used in the formation of cell walls, making them supple and flexible, and improving circulation and oxygen uptake with proper red blood cell flexibility and function.
Omega 3 deficiencies are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, tingling sensation of the nerves, poor vision, increased tendency to form blood clots, diminished immune function, increased triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol (LDL) levels, impaired membrane function, hypertension, irregular heart beat, learning disorders, menopausal discomfort, and growth retardation in infants, children, and pregnant women.
Omega 3 is found in the following foods:
Flax Seed oil (flax seed oil has the highest linolenic content of any food), flax seeds, flaxseed meal, hemp seed oil, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, avocados, some dark leafy green vegetables (spinach etc.), canola oil (cold-pressed and unrefined), soybean oil, wheat germ oil, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna
One tablespoon per day of flax seed oil should provide the recommended daily adult portion of linolenic acid.
Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid)
Linoleic Acid is the primary Omega 6 fatty acid. A healthy human with good nutrition will convert linoleic acid into gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which will later by synthesized, with EPA from the Omega 3 group, into eicosanoids.
Some Omega 6s improve diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, skin disorders (e.g. psoriasis and eczema), and aid in cancer treatment.
Although most western diets are rich in linoleic acid, often it is not converted to GLA because of metabolic problems caused by diets rich in sugar, alcohol, or trans fats from processed foods, as well as smoking, pollution, stress, aging, viral infections, and other illnesses such as diabetes. It is best to eliminate these factors when possible, but some prefer to supplement with GLA-rich foods such as starflower oil.
Omega 6 is found in the following foods:
Flax seed oil, flax seeds, flax seed meal, hemp seed oil, hemp seeds, grapeseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds (raw), olive oil, olives, starflower oil, evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, chestnut oil, chicken, among many others.
Omega 9 (Oleic Acid)
Essential but technically not an EFA, because the human body can manufacture a limited amount, provided essential EFAs are present. Monounsaturated oleic acid lowers heart attack risk and arteriosclerosis, and aids in cancer prevention.
Omega 9 is found in the following foods:
Olive oil (extra virgin or virgin), olives, avocados, almonds, peanuts, sesame oil, pecans, pistachio nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.
One to two tablespoons of extra virgin or virgin olive oil per day should provide sufficient oleic acid for adults. However, the "time-released" effects of obtaining these nutrients from nuts and other whole foods is thought to be more beneficial than consuming the entire daily amount via a single oil dose.