What are essential fatty acids?
Fatty acids are the basic building blocks of which fats and oils are composed. However, not all fats are bad for us. In fact, there are some “good” fats that offer a variety of health-related benefits. Certain fatty acid building blocks cannot be produced in the body, and must be obtained from outside sources such as food or supplements. These are referred to as “essential fatty acids”.
There are two types of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.
Omega-9 fatty acids are also important for health, but are considered “non-essential” because our bodies can produce small amounts of omega-9 fatty acids on its own.
Why are essential fatty acids necessary? What’s the difference between them?
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) each play different, but important roles in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While heart health is a major benefit of omega-3s, EPA and DHA are particularly beneficial because these special fats also help reduce inflammation, ease joint pain, and support healthy brain development and function.
Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). They help to reduce inflammation in the body associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and endometriosis. Omega-6 fatty acids are also beneficial for relieving the discomforts of PMS, and support breast, colon, and prostate health.
Omega-9 fatty acids, such as oleic acid, help to maintain the functioning of the immune system and support healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Where can I find omegas in my diet?
EPA and DHA
- Fatty, cold water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines
- Fish oil
- Krill oil
If you don’t like fish, or can’t seem to eat it at least twice per week (one serving is equivalent to 3.5 ounces cooked) on a regular basis, try a fish oil supplement like Jamieson Essentials Extra Strength Omega-3. It provides a therapeutic level of the beneficial omega-3s that you need for heart health, without any fishy aftertaste.
- Foods fortified with ALA such as milk or eggs
- Canola oil
- Flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Vegetable oils (soybean, corn, safflower, cottonseed, sunflower)*
*High consumption of these oils is considered unhealthy and can promote inflammation in the body
- Olive oil
- Grapeseed oil
The real issue: are we getting too much omega-6?
Despite large intakes of omega-6 fatty acids in Canada, many people are not consuming enough healthy sources of omega-6s (see above). Therefore, we are getting too much of the unhealthy omega-6s (mainly from vegetable oils) and not enough of the healthy omega-6s or omega-3s.
Consuming more whole foods and taking supplements that are rich in healthy omega-3 and omega-6 essential fats can help to reduce inflammation in the body and support a healthy heart.
Note: The information provided here is intended solely as a guideline and is not meant to treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Always consult a qualified healthcare practitioner prior to using any natural health product.
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