Thursday, November 20, 2014

Essential fatty acids—yum

Human beings can make nonessential fatty acids. This means we don’t have to get these particular nutrients from our food. There are, however, a group of essential fatty acids (EFAs) that, as their name implies, are essential for our health and vitality although they are not produced by our bodies. Therefore, we must get EFAs from outside sources, either in our food or through supplementation. If you are not getting enough EFAs, deterioration, inflammation, and improper functioning of certain systems of the body can begin to occur. Day after day, year after year, this will lead to your body’s downfall. Just like a car that has run out of oil, your body will eventually break down. Essential fatty acids are necessary in order to maintain not just physical health, but also mental and emotional wellness.

Two of the classifications for essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Within these categories are both short- and long-chain acids. It is important to remember that you want to concentrate your efforts on getting the long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids more than any other. Short-chain EFAs have to be converted in the body into long-chain; therefore, depending on whom you ask or what book you read, taking anything but long-chain omega-3 is a waste of time. However, there are many sources that recommend flax oil, for instance, as a good way to get omega-3s even though it is the short-chain variety. Long or short, another important point is to get twice as much omega-3 as omega-6, or a ratio of 2:1.

I’m a huge Barry Sears fan.
The best source for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an important component of the brain and also a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, is found in fish oil (from food or supplements). Dr. Barry Sears, in his book, The Omega RX Zone, likens trying to maintain proper brain function without enough DHA to trying to build a sturdy brick house without enough bricks—it just can’t be done. So if you take anything away from this article, I hope you will research DHA and figure out how much you are currently getting in your diet. Not enough? Consider supplementation with fish oil capsules.

Cod liver oil is an excellent source for omega-3 fatty acids. I take a lemon flavored cod liver oil from Norway that contains the omega-3s DHA 500mg; EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) 460mg; and ALA (alphalinolenic acid) 45mg. It also has vitamins A, D, and E. Taking cod liver oil, to me, is the easiest way to supplement these all-important nutrients into your daily diet. The recommended dosage is one or two teaspoons daily. (I highly recommend taking a lemon flavored brand. Cod liver oil on its own tastes very fishy.)

Because you need to get twice as much omega-3 than omega-6, you want to limit the amount of foods you eat that contain omega-6 fatty acids—especially the “bad” kind. These foods include red meat, dairy products that are high in fat like butter, fatty cheeses and ice cream, along with margarine, and partially hydrogenated oils found in many snack foods. Corn, safflower, soy, or other hydrogenated oils are also high in omega-6 and should be limited or avoided when possible.

Sometimes I take flax oil; it is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Even though they are short-chain omega-3s, I still think it is beneficial to take this supplement. Flax oil is unique because it contain both omega-3 and -6, but in the correct 2:1 ratio. The flax oil I take is high in lignans. These are fiber-like substances that are also powerful antioxidants. Lignans help balance the metabolism of estrogen, so for women this can help with PMS; it may even help with hot flashes and other conditions associated with perimenopause.

For those of you who take evening primrose oil, although it is a source of omega-6 fatty acids, it is one of the “good” omega-6s, unlike the undesirable omega-6s from hydrogenated oils and fatty foods. Among its many other attributes, evening primrose oil is high in gamma linoleic acid (GLA), another fatty acid that is hard to come by in the average diet. GLA is vitally important for healthy cells (including skin) and cell function. Borage oil and grape seed oil are two more good sources for this essential nutrient. It is doubtful you are getting enough in your diet, so supplementation may be required.

Essential fatty acids is one of those subjects where the more you learn, the more complex the subject seems to become. I am just skimming the surface in hopes of giving you the most important points when it comes to EFAs, but I highly recommend reading up on this subject.

There can be no doubt that for most of us living in America (surely for anyone reading this) there is no lack in the quantity of food available. It is the quality of food that might be lacking. Genetically you may be blessed, but if your cells are not healthy, you are not going to be healthy. Good health is not an accident, so expand your awareness of the quality of your diet and if you need to, supplement—for your health.

EFAs at-a-glance:
  • You want to get a 2:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Whenever possible, you want to get long-chain omega-3s vs. short-chain omega-3s.
  • You want to avoid “bad” omega-6 fatty acids, like those found in snack foods and hydrogenated oils. Start reading labels!
  • DHA is super-important to the brain. Unless you are eating coldwater fish every day, taking high-grade (pharmaceutical grade) fish oil is a good way to get enough DHA.
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