Essential Fatty Acids
You probably know that you need fatty acids (a specific type of fat) in order to stay healthy. What you may not know is that your body can manufacture all but two that it needs, and these are the omega fatty acids, Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid. We call these two “essential fatty acids,” since it is essential that you get them from the food you eat each day.
Nutrition and diet are always in the news and recently, there has been a lot about the importance of fatty acids, particularly the Omega fats. It has been suggested that most people, while getting enough Omega-6 fatty acids, are deficient in the Omega-3 variety. This is a cause for concern since, in addition to being important for day-to-day functioning of the body, Omega-3 fats seem to protect us against a number of diseases including heart disease, cancer, and Type II Diabetes.
There is also a body of research that suggests that this lopsided Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio may contribute to an increased incidence of clinical depression.
Omega-6 fats are a family of fatty acids that includes the essential fatty acid--linoleic acid. It is the only one in the family that is considered essential, because if you get enough linoleic acid in your diet, your body can manufacture the other Omega-6 fats it needs. Aside from linoleic acid, you may have heard of arachidonic acid, which can be synthesized from linoleic acid.
The main sources of Omega-6 fats are meats and vegetable oils, two big food categories in most western diets. For this reason we are less likely to be deficient in Omega-6 fats, including linoleic acid.
The Omega-3 fats are of more interest to most healthy eating experts, because they are more difficult to find in food. Capitalizing on this concern, food manufacturers have changed the labels on their products to tout the presence of these fatty acids in their products. Supplements abound that promise to supply your body's need for Omega-3 fats.
The essential member of the Omega-3 family of unsaturated fats is called linolenic acid, (or sometimes alpha-linolenic acid--ALA) again, essential since it can't be made by your body and must be supplied by your diet. If your body has enough linolenic acid, it can make the other Omega-3 fats that it needs to function, including EPA and DHA, which you may have heard about in the news.
Excellent sources of linolenic acid are walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed and fish.
Caveat: To get the most benefit, flaxseed should be ground (A coffee grinder works great for this purpose!)just before consuming, since it will begin to deteriorate as soon as the hull of the seed is broken. For this reason, the ground flaxseed that you see on store shelves is not as good a choice as freshly ground seed.
It is usually recommended that at least 2% of your daily calories be in the form of Omega-3 fats. For a person consuming 2,000 calories a day, this would amount to about 4 grams of Omega 3 fats.