What Are Essential Fatty Acids

In an effort to lose weight, many Americans rely solely on nonfat or low-fat foods. What they're forgetting is that some fats are good for you, even essential to proper immune function, blood clotting and cellular structure and growth.

Usually referred to by name, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are fats the body cannot produce on its own that must be consumed through diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between the two essential fatty acid levels in the body is thought to lower the risk of developing some diseases and easing symptoms of certain medical conditions.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found to be lacking in most Western diets. The most important omega-3 essential fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

EPA and DHA are the essential fatty acids that produce anti-inflammatory hormones that control the body's immune system, blood-clotting abilities, and cellular structure and growth. Low levels of these omega-3 essential fatty acids have been linked to poor memory, vision and immune functions, and tingling nerves.

The most common source of omega-3 essential fatty acids is the fat found in cold-water fish. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are all good sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts, flaxseeds or hemp contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) that the body converts to EPA and DHA. ALA has is also associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).

What are the other sources of these essential fatty acids? Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocados, spinach, kale, collard greens are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids as are canola oil, soybean oil, wheat germ oil and mustard oil. You'll even find omega-3 essential fatty acid fortified eggs.

Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
The average Western diet consists of an abundance of omega-6 essential fatty acids-up to as much as 10 to 30 times the amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Why so much? Omega-6 essential fatty acids aren't found only in seeds and nuts, but also in the oils made from them. The more processed baked goods and snack or fast foods that you eat, the more omega-6 essential fatty acids you're consuming.

Linoleic Acid (LA) is the primary component of omega-6 essential fatty acids and is most commonly found in red meat, pork, dairy products, and polyunsaturated fats found in processed foods like safflower, corn and soybean oils.

Like omega-3 essential fatty acids, the body uses omega-6 essential fatty acids to construct hormones, however the hormones constructed from omega-6 essential fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, blood clotting and cellular growth. Omega-3 essential fatty acids decrease each of those functions, making maintaining a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids important for overall health.

Balancing Omega-6 and Omega-3 EFAs
There is some debate among health professionals about the exact ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Some nutritionists advocate a strict 1:1 ratio, while others see no risks associated with higher ratios. A reasonable guideline to follow is ratio of approximately 2:1 to 4:1.

Achieving that balance means increasing your consumption of omega-3 essential fatty acids while decreasing your omega-6 intake. Generally speaking, you can reduce your omega-6 levels by cutting down on processed and fast foods and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower and soy to name a few).

To raise your omega-3 essential fatty acid levels, choose extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil for cooking and dressing salads. Eating more oily fish, like mackerel and salmon, or taking fish oil supplements along with adding walnuts or flaxseed to your diet will also raise your omega-3 essential fatty acid levels.

Consult Your Doctor
If you're considering increasing your essential fatty acid intake, consult with your doctor before you begin. Although essential fatty acids offer many health benefits, people with certain medical conditions or who are taking blood-thinning and other medications may experience more severe symptoms or harmful side effects when they increase the amount of essential fatty acids in their diet.

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Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids, which mean that it cannot be synthesized by the body and must result from the diet. The best source for this fatty acid is found in fish especially sardines, salmon and herring.

If you are health-conscious and have an interest in vitamins and nutritional supplements, you more than likely have taken notice of the Omegas: Omega-3 and Omega-6. They are also known as "Essential Fatty Acids," or EFAs.

Many health professionals and health organizations, including the American Heart Association, agree that there are many nutritional health benefits of Omega-3 fats

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