healthy fats: the ABC’s of essential fatty acids
Here is another guest post by my sister, Diana. She has nearly completed her nutrition degree. And I’ve asked her to contribute on a regular basis since we had such an overwhelmingly positive response to her first post on water here. In the post below, she’s taken on the sometimes confusing world of fats. Did you know certain fats are essential for life? These fats, known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), must be supplied by our diet because our body is unable to make them on its own. While essential fatty acids provide dozens of amazing health benefits, EFA deficiencies are correlated with a number of degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.
What are EFAs?
Two fatty acids are classified as essential – the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha- linolenic acid (LNA). Their names are derived from their chemical structures and properties.
Essential fatty acids are necessary for every life-sustaining process in our body. EFAs are structural parts of all cell membranes and are involved with producing energy in our body to maintain life. They are also used for the production of prostaglandins, which are important hormone-like substances that regulate various body processes. EFAs are required for proper brain function in adults, and proper brain development in children and fetuses. They even have positive effects on cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, candidiasis, and other ailments.
Some other amazing benefits of essential fatty acids include enhanced immune function, shortened muscle recovery time after exercise, increased vitality, faster healing, reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fewer PMS symptoms, reduced risk of blood clot formation, silkier hair, and smoother skin.
Are you getting enough EFAs?
Next to water, fats are the most common substances in our bodies. Fats are one of the major components of the foods we eat (along with carbohydrates and protein), and should constitute about 20% of our daily caloric intake. At least one-third of these fats and oils should be essential fatty acids. If either of the EFAs is lacking in the diet, deficiency symptoms will gradually develop.
Signs of an LNA (omega-3) deficiency include:
Neurological and visual problems
Increased susceptibility to infection
Learning impairment and poor recall capacity
Lack of motor coordination
Tingling sensation in arms and legs
*All deficiency symptoms can be reversed by adding LNA (omega-3) to the diet.
Signs of an LA (omega-6) deficiency include:
Kidney and liver disorders
Neurological and visual problems
Increased susceptibility to infection
Poor wound healing
*A prolonged deficiency of LA is fatal. All deficiency symptoms can be reversed by adding LA to the diet.
The following are not “classic” deficiency symptoms but respond very well to omega-3 fatty acid supplements; high blood triglycerides, high blood pressure, edema, and low metabolic rate.
The jury is still out on specific daily requirements for essential fatty acids; there is no government-issued recommended daily allowance (RDA) for EFAs. Daily requirements depend on your state of health, physical activity, stress, diet, and other unique individual needs. Of the two EFAs, LA (omega-6) has a higher daily requirement. That’s because our body’s content of LA (omega-6) is higher than LNA (omega-3). In general, an optimum amount is approximately 3 to 6% of calories, or about 1 tablespoon of LA (omega-6) per day.
The optimum amount of LNA (omega-3) needed for health is approximately 2% of daily calories, or 1 to 2 teaspoons per day. This is between one-fifth and one-half the dosage of LA (omega-6).
For optimum health, essential fatty acids should be consumed in a ratio of 3 parts LA (omega-6) to 1 part LNA (omega-3). This ratio can be created by blending oils rich in EFAs to achieve the proper balance.
Hemp seed oil is a good choice as it naturally contains both essential fatty acids in the 3:1 ratio. Two quality brands of pre-mixed oils (in the proper ratio of EFAs) include Udo’s Oil and Barlean’s. These can both be found in the refrigerated section of your local health food store.
Which foods are the richest sources of EFAs?
safflower and sunflower oils,
borage and black current seed oils,
Safflower oil is the richest source of LA (omega-6 ) acid. Flax oil is the richest source of LNA (omega-3).
LNA (omega-3) consumption has decreased dramatically in this country over the last 150 years, while LA (omega-6) consumption has steadily increased. It has been estimated that 95% of the population gets too little LNA (omega-3). This has no doubt contributed to the declining health of our nation. The over-consumption of LA (omega-6) causes an imbalance of essential fatty acids that leads to degenerative disease.
Essential fatty acids cannot perform their critical work in a malnourished body. Government surveys have shown that over 60% of the population is deficient in one or more essential nutrients. A total of about 20 minerals and 13 vitamins are essential for human health. Nutrients in the body are interdependent – meaning they depend on each other for their ability to function. In this way, EFAs should be part of a healthy diet containing all of the essential vitamins and minerals, protein, fiber, pure water, fresh air, and sunshine. In particular, vitamins A, B3, B6, C, E, and the minerals magnesium and zinc are important for EFA function.
Where do I go from here ?
Remember the old adage “you are what you eat” may help you to remove some of the nutrient-void foods from your diet. Start by lowering overall fat consumption. Cut out high-fat processed and packaged foods containing margarine and shortening, limit intake of butter and refined vegetable oils, and remove visible fats and skin on meats. Eliminate oxidized fats and oils. These oils are often present in fried, aged, processed, and cured foods. Eliminate all hydrogenated fats and trans fats. These are found in many processed foods on the market today. These “fake” fats act like saturated fats in the body. They raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also increase inflammation and insulin resistance.
Eliminate refined sugar and starch, and products made with them. Refined sugar increases our blood triglyceride levels, inhibits immune function, interferes with vitamin C function (a powerful antioxidant), and robs our body of needed minerals. Eliminate toxins such as environmental chemicals, including pesticides (eat organic foods), drugs, coffee, cola, tobacco smoke, etc.
A good goal could be to eat a balanced diet including a variety of organic, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and quality proteins. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of pure water each day. Strive for at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. Venture outside to take in plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Balance it out with some fun, relaxation and good quality sleep!