Essential fatty acids are fats that our body cannot produce by itself, therefore we have to obtain it from our diets. There are two essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), more commonly known as an omega 3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA) which is an omega 6 fatty acid.
Most of us may know about the essential fatty acids but may not know what they are, their importance or where they should get it from.
LET’S GET DOWN WITH SOME FATTY FACTS!
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega 3 fatty acids that are derived from ALA
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are omega 6 fatty acids that are derived from LA
Because the derivation of these fatty acids can be impaired by a number of factors, it’s beneficial to obtain them from dietary sources as well which is why they’re often referred to as conditionally essential fatty acids.
Experts recommend essential fatty acids to be 2 to 3 % of our daily caloric intake and we must consume 2 to 3 times more Omega 6 as compared to Omega 3. Despite this, our modern diets is deficient in Omega 3 and abundant in Omega 6 and this type of imbalance is associated with significant health issues including heart disease, stroke, cancer, mood disorders, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, and obesity.
The popularity of industrially farmed foods and processed foods is the primary reason why essential fatty acid imbalances have become so common. Most processed foods are made with grains and vegetable oils which makes them excessively high in omega 6 fatty acids as well.
Because processed food and conventionally farmed meats and produce are so popular, many people are consuming much more omega 6 fatty acids than they should be and not nearly enough omega 3 fatty acids. In contrast, because the importance of omega 3 fatty acids has been emphasized so strongly, some people are overcompensating with excessive omega 3 supplementation and are actually creating an imbalance in the opposite direction.
Many people are now going out of their way to include additional essential fatty acids in their diet and food manufacturers are now boasting of omega 3 and omega 6 content on the labels of their products. Some of these claims are based primarily on omega 6 content which is the opposite of what most people need. The mere fact that a product contains omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids doesn’t mean that it’s a healthy food. Some of these products are highly processed, may even contain dangerous trans fats, and are unhealthy enough to outweigh any benefits that may be obtained from the essential fatty acids that they contain.
As with most nutrients, the most natural and sensible approach is to obtain essential fatty acids from natural whole foods which is what we’ve been doing for millions of years.
- Walnuts, flax seed oil, chia seeds, and hemp seed oil are common sources of the essential omega 3 fatty acid ALA
- Seafood is an excellent source of the conditionally essential fatty acids EPA and DHA which aren’t always properly derived from ALA.
- Vegetable oils are the most common source of the omega 6 fatty acid LA, and it’s conditionally essential derivative GLA is found in borage oil, black currant oil, evening primrose oil, and hemp seed oil
- Meat, dairy, and eggs from pasture raised animals are all good sources of both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids
By following a diet that’s based on a healthy balance of these foods that doesn’t include excessive amounts of vegetable oils, essential fatty acid balance should take care of itself and be of little concern.
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