Essential fatty acids (EFAs) have become known as the "good" fats, and they perform many essential functions in the human body. Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the human body and must be procured via diet. EFAS can be broken down into two categories: Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids. Although there is an Omega-9 essential fatty acid, because the body can make Omega-9 on its own from other essential fatty acids, it is not considered one of the "essential fatty acids."
- Omega-3 acid: There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids that the body uses. The primary is alpha linolenic acid which the body converts into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and later, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) themselves are available in marine food sources.
- Omega-6 acid: Linoleic acid, or Omega-6, is converted by the body into gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Along with EPA, GLA is then converted into eicosanoids, which assist in many vital bodily functions.
Westerners tend to get far more Omega-6 than they need while being deficient in Omega-3 There is believed to be an optimal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of 4 to 1 or even less, while typical Western diets have ratios of 10 to 1 or even higher. Studies have also found a link between high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids and depression.
Here are some tips on how best to get your Omega-3 essential fatty acids:
- Fish oils and plant oils are the primary dietary source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Fish oil supplements and Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are widely available in drugstores and online.
- Other foods that contain alpha linolenic acid are hempseeds, hempseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, soybeans, soybean oil, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, sesame oil, avocados, dark green leafy vebetables (like kale, spinach, purslane, mustard greens and collards), cold-pressed and unrefined canola oil, perilla seed oil, wheat germ oil, salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, anchovies, and albacore tuna.
- The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish (see list above) per week. A high intake of essential fatty acids benefits the heart by increasing the level of the high-density lipoprotein HDL (or "good" cholesterol) in your body. HDL carries low density lipoprotein LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it can be eliminated, thus preventing it from attaching to the walls of the coronary arteries (and beginning the process known as atherosclerosis).
Heat, light, and oxygen destroy essential fatty acids. This means that you can't use your flaxseed oil for cooking, you should choose plain nuts over roasted, and you need to store your supplements in a cool location away from sources of heat and light.
Use fats that are based upon essential fatty acids in place of butter, shortening, and margarine.
Remember that flax seeds that have not been broken pass right through our system. For our bodies to process them, flax seeds must be broken open. Flax seeds can be ground up in a blender or coffee grinder and and then sprinkled atop salads, cooked cereal, vegetables, an any other foods that will be complemented by their nutty flavor.