Essential Fatty Acids and Why We Need Them

Omega-3 and omega-6 are considered “essential fatty acids” (EFA) because our bodies need them for building healthy cells, and maintaining nerve and brain function. Our bodies can’t produce EFAs, so our only source is from food. This is one area where your diet will greatly affect the balance of omega-3 vs. omega-6 and your overall health. Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that can protect us from diseases likes type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and age-related brain decline.

Omega-6 fatty acids primarily comes in the form of linoleic acid from plant oils. The main source that the western diet provides these are in the form of corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. But the healthier source of omega-6 should come from seeds and nuts. We really should only be getting 5%-10% of our food calories from omega-6 fatty acids in our diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids come from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Unfortunately, with our polluted oceans, tuna and mackerel contain unsafe levels of mercury, and other contaminates, while salmon is only best as wild caught Alaskan salmon. There are other sources such as flaxseed, walnuts and green leafy vegetables. Flaxseed oil, for example, contains about 55% omega-3 fats. Canola oil has about 10%.

All of these foods are healthy choices, but there’s still some debate about whether they have all the benefits of fish oil. The reason: the omega-3 in flax, canola, walnuts, and other vegetable sources are in the form of alpha linoleic acid, or ALA. Although the body can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3 fats with proven heart protection benefits, it’s not clear how much is converted. Diets high in omega-6 fats interfere with the conversion of ALA to DHA in omega-3s.  As you age that conversion becomes even more inefficient, at a time when your brain and nerves really need the protective benefits from EPA and DHA.

Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 in the body, so the ratio of these two forms of polyunsaturated fats is very important. We need more omega-3 in a ratio of 1:1 to 1:4 (omega-6:omega-3).  With all the fast food, prepared convenient foods and packaged foods in the America diet, this ratio is way off since it’s flooded with omega-6 fatty acids in the form of vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil.

So if you don’t eat fish, or want to limit the amount you eat due to exposure to toxins, a supplement is recommended in the form of omega-3 that is high in DHA.

BENEFITS OF EFAs

Essential Fatty Acids, particularly Omega-3s (high in DHA) supports brain function with focus, concentration and mood. About two-thirds of the brain is composed of fats. Myelin, the protective sheath that covers communicating neurons, is composed of 30% protein and 70% fat. DHA reduces oxidative stress, enhances learning and memory, and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes within the brain. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and the primary building material for cell membranes, which let nutrients in and toxins out.

  • Our bodies cannot produce Omega fatty acids, so we must get them through our diet and supplementation.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are utilized by our eyes, brain, heart, joints, digestive system and many other tissues and systems.
  • Omega-3 improves your ability to concentrate as well as your energy level.
  • Omega-3s in the form of DHA are beneficial to kids and adults with ADHD or autism.
  • Through it’s anti-inflammatory effects, cod liver oil is a promising treatment for arthritis sufferers.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils keep platelets in the blood from sticking together, which reduces blood clotting and lowers the risk for heart attacks. They may also provide protection by reducing inflammation in the blood vessels.
  • Omega-3s help with mood disorders, such as depression.
  • Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. Diseases like heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s thrive on cell inflammation. Diets rich in omega-3s reduce inflammation and disease risk.
  • Grass-fed cattle are higher in omega-3s vs. omega-6s.  Conventional beef is fed diets high in omega-6s with grains like corn and soybeans.  Organic beef doesn’t necessarily mean they are grass-fed, which is the type of beef we should be consuming. It just means the grains they are fed are organically grown.

Our family has reduced our intake of omega-6s and eat a diet richer in omega-3s, yet we still take a dietary supplement of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA.  Remember, our bodies may not be efficient at converting enough of the ALA (from EFAs) to DHA.

An informative source with a great list of FAQs on this subject is the DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute.

http://www.dhaomega3.org/

 

Is it OK to eat that?!

Lately it seems that we keep hearing about produce or meat recalls due to one of the many types of bacterial contamination.  Or that lead, antimony or mercury is found in unsafe quantities in our kid’s juice. Our ocean’s are polluted and the fish aren’t safe to eat. Tap water is not a viable option for the most part due to chlorine, flouride, and numerous other contaminates that leach into the supply. You know, growing your own garden, raising farm animals and digging a well is about your best option these days…unless you live in a populated city like Los Angeles. 

We live is such an area and I’m constantly having to research what foods are not only healthy for our bodies, but which ones to look out for that are not. I recently saw another article on this subject by Prevention Magazine and it summed up some of the most important foods to eat “clean” or avoid altogether. Here is a summary of their article that lists seven foods to avoid:

  1. Canned tomatoes. The lining of the cans they come packaged in contain bisphenol-A (BPA) and the acidity of the tomatoes cause it to leach into the food. BPA is a synthetic hormone that wreaks havoc in the human body. Can’t live without your canned tomatoes? Suggestion: buy them in glass containers or grow your own.
  2. Corn-fed beef. Not sure if you know this or not, but cattle evolved from eating grass, not grains. They don’t graze on corn fields or soybean plants. It’s grass…green, unfertilized, grass. Grass fed beef is richer in the good omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E, A and minerals. Corn-fed beef is high in omega-6 which is pro-inflammatory and proven to increase cancer, diabetes, and heart disease risks. Suggestion: buy grass fed beef and if it’s too costly, eliminate it from your diet. You’ll do just fine without it.
  3. Microwave popcorn. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s not for a lot of people. We have really gotten lazy and dependent on instant gratification. At least that’s what packaged food manufacturers think of us. Chemicals line the bag (shocker!) vaporize and migrate into the popcorn as it heats and pops. These chemicals stay in your body and accumulate there. Another factor that contributes to cancer risks. Suggestion: pop your own on the stove top in a pot, the old fashioned way. Or buy an air popper. It’s infinitely less expensive and you can control how much salt and butter to put on it.
  4. Non-organic potatoes. Root vegetables absorb pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that are in the soil. Potatoes are treated with fungicides while growing then sprayed with herbicides after harvested. If potato farmers won’t eat conventionally grown potatoes they grow and sell themselves, then you know it’s bad. Suggestion: buy organic. Don’t compromise on this one. Washing the potato does not remove the chemicals that absorb into the flesh.
  5. Farmed salmon. Atlantic salmon is farmed in crammed pens and fed soy, antibiotics, hormones and dye to make it’s sick flesh pink. There are high levels of antibiotics, pesticides and other contaminates in the fish that outweigh the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Suggestion: buy wild, fresh, Alaskan salmon when in season. When it’s not, buy canned salmon that is from wild Alaskan salmon.
  6. Milk produced with artificial hormones. Avoid all dairy, not just milk that is made from cattle treated with the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST). These hormones increase milk production in cattle, are passed on into the milk and leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in milk. In humans, high levels of IGF-1 increases risks of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. It’s pro-inflammatory, and cell inflamation feeds cancer growth. Suggestion: buy milk and dairy with the label rBGH/rBST free or organic milk. A lot of dairy farmers produce milk without these hormones, so it’s easy to find.
  7. Conventional apples. Yes, that means any apple that is not organically grown. It’s one of the “dirtiest” fruits grown. The high level of pesticides are sprayed on them due to their inability to develop a resistance to pests. Recent studies have shown that higher level of pesticides in children contributes to ADHD and Parkinson’s disease as adults. Suggestion: buy only organic apples and applesauce. The phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was coined long before we grew pesticide laden fruit.

We need to take care of our health by first feeding our bodies good, healthy foods that aren’t artificially produced or poisoned with chemicals. Today’s consumer need to be aware of the dangers in certain food supplies and stay educated in making good food choices. We can’t leave our health and well-being up to the food manufactures and FDA. They are not looking out for our best interest. Only you can do that for you and your family.

To read the extended article referenced above, click on this link:

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/12/01/7-foods-should-never-eat/?intcmp=obinsite

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