All you need to know about the fatty acid family
Essential Fatty Acids explained in detail for you to understand the foods best to help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
Previously I discussed the essential fatty acids, which belong to the polyunsaturated fats group. They are ‘essential’ because our bodies need them for biological processes, but we cannot make them, so we need to consume them. Essential fatty acids are found in plant foods such as nuts and seeds and their derivative oils. Fatty acids help our bodies to make lipids called prostaglandins, which have the job of controlling inflammation in the body.
In simple terms, non-essential fatty acids create the prostaglandins that increase inflammation, and essential fatty acids create the prostaglandins that decrease inflammation - these are both important functions in our bodies because they promote healing, but we need to ensure that we have the right balance.
Non-essential fatty acids explained
Non-essential fatty acids (NEFAs) are fatty acids that our bodies can produce and that we can also obtain from the foods we consume. They are called non-essential because our bodies do not need them to survive and as we have discussed in our previous blog, some kinds are healthier than others. We should choose the healthiest kinds of fat and consume them in moderation to avoid high-calorie intake and weight gain. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are the healthiest fat options – saturated and trans are the fats to avoid.
Omega 3 is the essential fatty acid (EFA) that gets the most press. Our bodies need Omega 3 to support brain development, heart health, mental health and bone health and the western diet is thought to not contain enough Omega 3, contributing to a prevalence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, green leafy vegetables, avocados, salmon, mackerel and sardines are all good sources of omega 3, but just beware of the high level of fat and cholesterol in the fish sources – the plant sources make better options. 1 tablespoon of flaxseed (2 tablespoons if ground) on your daily breakfast dish provides all the Omega 3 that you need.
By contrast, the EFA Omega 6 is more prevalent in the modern diet and is found in foods such as vegetable oils, olive and seed oils, nuts, seeds, dairy and eggs. Omega 6 is primarily used for energy, but it also helps to fight inflammation – including inflammation caused by chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's. It also helps to reduce nerve pain and high blood pressure as well as lowering the risk of heart disease. The best sources of Omega 6 are to be found in flaxseed, hempseed and grapeseed oil, pine and pistachio nuts. Dairy and eggs, as part of a balanced diet, are also good sources.
Omega 9 is the fatty acid that gets the least press. It is a NEFA - our bodies can produce it, and so it is not essential that we consume it or supplement it, but it IS essential to good health. However, it is important to understand that it is only produced naturally by the body when there is sufficient Omega 3 or Omega 6 to support its production – if your diet does not include Omega 3 or Omega 6 then you must get Omega 9 from your diet. Omega 9 supports healthy and balanced cholesterol, and immune function and great sources include avocados, cashews, almonds, olives and olive oil
Don’t avoid the good fats
There is much advice widely available about the positive effects of diets that are very low in fat for those wanting to lose or watch their weight, and this is one of the reasons why people find themselves deficient in the important fatty acids. Fats are not to be avoided. Deficiencies in fatty acids can be seen outwardly often before any inward effects are noticed. Dull, dry, flaky skin, hair and nails are all indicators of EFA deficiency. Mental and emotional problems are also linked to lack of EFAs in the diet, so it’s worth giving some consideration to your diet composition if you are experiencing unexplained depression, anxiety or mood swings. By ensuring your diet is as healthy as you can possibly make it, you will not only take care of your appearance and general health and wellbeing, you will also give yourself greater protection against longer-term, serious health conditions. Healthy fats in moderation are far more beneficial to our long-term health than very low fat, processed and often high sugar ‘diet foods’.
(Sources: draxe.com, healthline.com, webmd.com, pcrm.com, perriconemd.com, livestrong.com)