Essential Fatty Acids Defined
Two main essential fatty acids are present in food. Essential means our bodies cannot produce them. Therefore, we need to eat foods in order to obtain these important fats. These two essential fatty acids are Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) and Linoleic Acid (LA). These two fatty acids give rise to the words you have probably heard a lot about: Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a double bond in the long-chained fatty acid at the 3rd carbon. Hence the name: Omega-3. (Omega is derived from the Greek alphabet). When we consume plant forms of ALA’s, the properties get broken down in our bodies to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). When we consume animal sources of Omega-3's, we directly obtain DHA and EPA. These two components of the Omega-3's are what provide many health benefits.
One important health benefit is EPA's anti-inflammatory component, which helps unblock clogged blood vessels. EPA and DHA have also been proven to strengthen the retinal and central nervous system membranes. Omega-3's also increase High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, decrease Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, and decrease overall cholesterol levels. In addition, two studies pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline with aging showed Omega-3s can protect against macular degeneration.
Animal: Salmon, Mackerel, Halibut, Sardines, Herring.
: Ground Flaxseed, Flaxseed Oil, Soybeans, Soybean Oil, Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Walnuts, and Walnut Oil
Omega-6 has also been named according to the first double bond in the long-chained fatty acid occurring at the 6th carbon position. Omega-6 fatty acids are derived from essential Linoleic Acids. When Linoleic Acids are broken down in the body, the components are converted to Arachidonic Acid (ARA) and Gamma-Linoleic Acid (GLA). ARA’s stem from meat and GLA’s stem from plants. ARA’s are known to promote inflammation and GLA’s are known to reduce inflammation.
The benefits of Omega-6’s are the possible prevention of nerve disease due to the GLA’s which can reduce numbness and lack of sensation, especially in people who have diabetes. Additional benefits may include decreased dry-eye conditions, protection of the body’s organs, support and structure, and insulation under the skin.
Currently there does not seem to be a relationship between Omega-6’s and cholesterol levels.
In order to maintain a proper balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6, one should have a 1:4 ratio for optimum health and disease prevention. Too much Omega-6’s can cause increased inflammation which can promote mutative cell growth. Unfortunately, the average American consumes a diet with a 1:10 ratio. Therefore, take note to consume less Omega-6 sources compared to Omega-3 sources.Sources
Plants: Safflower Oil, Sunflower Oil, Corn Oil, Sesame Oil, Pumpkin Oil, Soybean Oil, Walnut Oil, and Evening Primrose Oil.
Omega-9’s are not essential fatty acids meaning the body can produce them as long as some essential fatty acids are currently present. Once again, the name is derived from the placement of the first double bond carbon which occurs at the 9th position of the fatty acid chain. They are derived from Oleic Acids.
The benefits of Omega-9’s may include a lowered risk of heart attacks and arteriosclerosis as well as reduction of cholesterol levels.Sources
Plants: Olive Oil, Olives, Avocados, Canola Oil, Almonds, Peanuts, Sesame Oil, Pecans, Pistachio Nuts, many other Nuts, and Animal Sources.
Created by: Sarah Koszyk, Dietetic Intern.
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