Why Are Essential Fatty Acids Important?
When it comes to healthy fat consumption, essential fatty acids top the list. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3, fatty acid and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6, fatty acid are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized by humans. In other words, you must get them from the food you eat. Also, essential fatty acids are the building blocks for all the other fats in your body.
Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are highly important for making hormone-like eicosanoids and prostaglandins in your body. Eicosanoids and prostaglandins regulate many activities in your body—not the least of which is inflammation. They also play an important role in controlling your blood pressure, digestive system and body temperature. In addition, they are necessary in regulating the healthy function of the heart and kidneys.
In the present times, omega-6 fatty acids are far more abundantly found in diets. The consumption of omega-6 fatty acids is highly increased–for example, they are prevalent in corn and safflower oil. However, it should be known that these are highly processed polyunsaturated fatty acids. Use of these oils correlates with cancer and heart diseases. Also a high omega-6/omega-3 ratios promotes many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. On the contrary, increased levels of omega-3 and a low omega-6/omega-3 ratios have numerous benefits.
The benefits from consuming omega-3 fatty acids:
1) Blood fat (triglycerides): According to a number of studies, omega 3 fatty acids can cut elevated levels of triglycerides.
2) Cardiovascular health: omega 3 fatty acids appear to lower the overall risk of deaths from heart disease and stroke.
3) Rheumatoid arthritis: A number of studies have found that fish oil supplements (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) significantly reduce stiffness and joint pain.
4) Prenatal health: Studies show that fish oil supplementation during pregnancy boosts the health of pregnant women and the development of their children.
5) Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: The evidence is preliminary, but research does suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
6) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Some studies show that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve their cognitive function.
7) Chronic inflammation: it is now known that chronic inflammation is the major cause for many diseases. Chronic inflammation can slowly spread and lead to serious metabolic breakdown causing damage to your long term health. It is now connected to diseases like obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis (hardening in the arteries), high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s diease, cancer, and even depression. Omega-3 fatty acids contain a natural anti-inflammatory substance that can help relieve the inflammation.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids in foods are canola oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil. Fish, especially cold water fish such as, salmon, bluefish, herring, tuna, cod, sardine, mackerel, and shrimp are also good sources. However, people who consume either fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements for convenience and have derived equal benefit from it.
However, it should be known that both these essential fatty acids are destroyed by light, heat, and air, making them toxic. But the omega-3 fatty acids are five times more sensitive than the omega-6 fatty acids. So handle them with care.
In addition to oils containing essential fatty acids, traditional oils possess beneficial minor ingredients that have great health value. Minor ingredients have many benefits. The best known of these include cholesterol-controlling phytosterols, protective antioxidants like carotene and vitamin E, and many minerals—magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium, and potassium. Minerals are known to have several benefits and individual functions. For example, calcium builds bones and teeth, and helps in muscle contraction. Hundreds of other minor ingredients also exist. An example of these traditional oils is extra virgin green olive oil. However, among oils extra virgin olive oil is the poorest source of essential fats. Eighty eight percent of it is monounsaturated and saturated nonessential fats that your body can make from sugar and starch. Olive oil contains 10 percent omega-6 fatty acids and less than 1 percent omega-3 fatty acids. But it is good for health. Extra virgin olive oil is the only main stream edible oil that has not been subjected to processes which remove minor ingredients. The minor ingredients in olive oil benefit the liver, gall balder, digestive, and cardiovascular functions and protect breast health. Be aware that a 100 percent extra light olive oil has lost the minor ingredients from processing. So stick to the more expensive extra virgin type.
What is the take-home message? Consume less of the omega-6 fatty acids. So, don’t go overboard on consuming the usual cooking oils—they are loaded with highly processed polyunsaturated fats. They may do more harm than good; instead, emphasis on consuming omega-3 fatty acids. Moreover, leading a healthy lifestyle which involves healthy eating that includes various micro-nutrients should be emphasized.
Fats that kill and Fats That Heal– Udo Erasmus (Father of “organic, unrefined flax oil”).
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers—Robert M. Sapolsky.