We all know proper nutrition and weight loss are both hot topics in society today. It is important to be aware that weight loss does not necessarily translate into proper nutrition. Many individuals believe that in order to lose weight, one must eliminate fat from the diet. Unfortunately, this can be very harmful to the body as certain types of fats are critical to proper function of the body. Typically when it comes to fat, there is one type that you want more of: the essential fatty acids aka the “good fats”. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but also they deliver some big health benefits.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS?
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans must ingest because they are biologically necessary for good health. Fats (fatty acids) will fall into two main groups: saturated and unsaturated. There are three major classes of unsaturated fatty acids: omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. The omega-6s and omega-3s are essential. The omega-9s are non-essential because the body can make them from other fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are further classified as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. EFAs are polyunsaturated. They include:
- the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), and its derivatives, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA)
- the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and its derivatives, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EFAs were discovered in 1923, and were designated "vitamin F." In 1929, research by George and Mildred Burr on rats showed EFAs were required to prevent disease, and are better classified as fats rather than vitamins. It was Michael Eugene Chevreul, a french chemist, who is credited with developing the termed fatty acid (acide gras).
EFA deficiency has been identified in many diseases including mental disorders, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, eczema, PMS, immune dysfunction, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Adequate intake of EFAs results in numerous health benefits. There are many documented benefits, which include:
● Heart Health
Studies have shown that a diet rich in ALA, EPA and DHA helps maintain a healthy heart and may protect against heart disease by reducing high blood lipids and blood pressure, and by decreasing blood clotting.
● Helps Arthritis and other joint conditions
GLA is converted to eicosanoids with potent anti-inflammatory properties. It also modulates the immune response, which can decrease joint inflammation and destruction.
● Improve Skin Disorders
Deficiencies of EFAs, most notably GLA, have been related to eczema and other skin disorders. EFAs help alleviate dry, itchy, and inflamed skin and help reduce moisture loss.
● Mental Health
Although omega-3 EFAs are best known for their heart-protecting benefits, they may also play a role in mental health. Many disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive impairment, and behavioral and learning disorders (such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder), have been linked to EFA deficiency.
The Key EFAs And Their Sources
LA: LA is present in many vegetables and most vegetable oils – sunflower (65-75%), safflower (79%), evening primrose seed (72%), corn (57%), peanut (31%), canola (19-26%), and olive (8%). LA is abundant in the food supply and thus there is no need to supplement.
GLA: The richest sources of GLA are borage (starflower) oil, GLA (20-24%); evening primrose oil (8-10%); and black currant oil (15-17%). GLA is present in small amounts in human breast milk and some foods, but the typical diet provides very little GLA.
AA: Found in high amounts in eggs, fish and meat, AA is abundant in the food supply and supplementation is not usually necessary.
ALA: ALA is found in flax seed (18-22%) and flax seed oil (50-60%), and in small amounts in some nuts, green leafy vegetables, canola, wheat germ and black current seeds.
EPA and DHA: EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Depending on the source, fish oils vary in the amount of EPA and DHA they provide. Fish oil supplements often contain 18% EPA and 12% DHA, with more concentrated oils containing 30% EPA and 20% DHA. Algal sources of EPA and DHA are also widely available.
Experts advise that one should consume a minimum of between 3% and 5% of calories from Omega-6 and about .5% to 1% from Omega-3 FAs. In a 2000 calorie diet, that is about 12 grams of Omega-6 and 3 grams of Omega
EFAs are required for the proper structure and function of every cell in the body, and are important for optimal health. EFAs increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals; nourish the skin, hair and nails; promote proper nerve functioning; help produce hormones; ensure normal growth and development; and prevent and treat disease.