Food With Essential Fatty Acids. Essential fatty acids are essentially fats that are necessary for the body. They’re essential because the body cannot produce them, hence the name “essential”. There are two families of essential fatty acids and they have a number of different health benefits. Here’s a look at foods with essential fatty acids.
Food With Essential Fatty Acids
These eight foods are some of the best sources of healthy fatty acids:
Two of the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA), are known as the” marine fatty acids” because they occur almost exclusively in fish. The best sources are salmon, herring, sardines, and other fatty fish.
2. Flaxseed Oil
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is another essential fatty acid. The recommended amount of ALA ranges from 0.5 to 1.6 grams (g), depending upon age and sex. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains over 7g of ALA. To get the full benefit of ALA, it needs to be converted into EPA and DHA, and the body doesn’t do that efficiently. Flaxseed oil is good for you, but still not as good as fatty fish.
3. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, making it a good dietary substitution for unhealthier saturated fat. Extra-virgin olive oil is minimally processed without using chemicals or heat. It is one part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
4. Chia Seeds
Tiny black chia seeds are rich in omega-3s, and they also contain protein and fiber. Unlike some seeds, they release their nutrients without being crushed.
Walnuts pack a double punch, as they contain both omega-3s and omega-6s. One ounce of walnuts contains about 2.5g of ALA, which is about twice the average recommended daily intake. Still, you should consume walnuts in moderation as they contain about 185 calories per ounce (about seven nuts).
6. Canola Oil
Canola oil is lower in saturated fat than other commonly used cooking oils. One tablespoon of canola oil contains more than 1g of ALA. It is a highly processed oil, but food purists can look for the cold-pressed version.
7. Sunflower Oil
While it has always been considered a source of healthy unsaturated fats, sunflower oil is now available in a high-oleic version, which has a healthier fat profile than olive oil. All types of sunflower oil also contain more Vitamin E than any other oil. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights inflammation. It may help protect the body from cardiovascular disease, cancer, eye disorders, and cognitive decline.
Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated oils, and they contain a wide spectrum of other nutrients as well. They are a high-calorie food, with just half an avocado containing about 161 calories.
Why You Need Fatty Acids
Although fatty acids are the building blocks of all fats, discussions on fatty acids often focus on the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated varieties. Omega-3s and omega-6s are particularly significant. Because the body cannot produce them, they are known as essential fatty acids. They have to be eaten with meals.
Most foods are composed of various types of fats. Saturated fats can be found in meals even if they contain beneficial fatty acids. Choose meals with the optimum balance of healthy and harmful fats by reading labels. Additionally, it’s critical to keep in mind that all fats are calorie-dense and have to be consumed in moderation. If they don’t, obesity and its related health problems may result.
If you’re wondering if you consume enough “healthy” fatty acids, the answer is not straightforward. The majority of fatty acids are not covered by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. For children and young adults, linoleic acid (an omega-6) and linolenic acid (an omega-3) are advised. The ideal diet for most people should be one that is well-balanced and in which the majority of the saturated fats have been replaced with healthy fatty acids.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the main sources of fatty acids’ health benefits:
One of the best things you can do for your heart is to replace saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats. Healthier fats reduce your cholesterol levels and cut your risk of heart attack and stroke.
The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their intake of saturated fats to less than 7% of their caloric intake and their intake of trans fats to less than 1%.
Omega-3s and omega-6s are both necessary for skin health. They keep skin elastic and reduce the effect of UV rays on the skin. They also help the skin function as a barrier, keeping moisture in and irritants out. A deficiency of omega fatty acids may cause various skin conditions.
Fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3s. Older adults who eat a lot of fish show less cognitive decline than those who eat a diet high in saturated fats.
Pregnant women need a good supply of omega-3s to ensure normal development of their babies. Omega-3s are especially important for fetal development of the brain and eyes. These essential fatty acids may also prevent depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
The importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids receive much less attention in the media than omega-3 fatty acids, although having many of the same health benefits. What exactly are fatty acids, and why is it crucial to achieve the proper balance?
Understanding omega-3 and omega-6 structure
Triglycerides, which are composed of fatty acids and glycerol, make up around 90% of the dietary fats we consume (figure 1). A chain of carbon atoms called a fatty acid has an acid group at one end and a methyl group at the other. Depending on whether the fat is saturated or unsaturated, the exact quantity of hydrogen atoms that are connected to each carbon atom varies. The highest number of hydrogen atoms are present in saturated fatty acids, however some hydrogen atoms are absent from unsaturated fatty acids and have been replaced by double bonds between the carbon atoms.
Figure 1. Structure of a triglyceride and saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
If there is only one double bond, the fat is referred to as “monounsaturated,” and if there are two or more, it is referred to as “polyunsaturated.” The polyunsaturated fats omega-3 and omega-6 are both kinds of fatty acids. The location of the first of the double bonds makes a difference. Counting from the methyl end (designated as omega), the first double bond in omega-3 fatty acids occurs on the third carbon atom, whereas the first double bond in omega-6 fatty acids occurs on the sixth carbon atom (figure 2).
Figure 2. Structure of an omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid.
Omega-3 and omega-6 in the body
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are crucial parts of cell membranes and serve as building blocks for a variety of other compounds in the body, including those that control inflammatory and blood pressure responses. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which may be helpful in this and other disorders. Evidence supporting their role in preventing deadly heart disease is growing. The use of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of diabetes and some cancers is also gaining popularity.
With the exception of two fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, the human body is capable of synthesizing all the fatty acids it requires. These are referred to as “essential fatty acids” and must be obtained through food. Both of these fatty acids can be converted into other fatty acids and are necessary for both development and repair. For instance, ALA can be used to create the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is advised to include sources of these in the diet as well because conversion is limited. Plant and seed oils contain ALA and LA. Rapeseed oil and walnut oil are excellent sources of ALA despite the fact that LA levels are often substantially greater than those of the latter. Fish that are oily contain EPA and DHA (e.g., salmon, mackerel, herring). Animal products like meat and egg yolks contain AA, as do other animal products.
The omega-3/omega-6 ratio
LA and ALA compete with one another in the human body to be metabolized by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase. As a high intake of LA would decrease the quantity of delta-6-desaturase available for the metabolism of ALA, thus raising the risk of heart disease, it has been argued that this is crucial for health. Data demonstrating that consumption of omega-6 has increased while consumption of omega-3 has declined during the past 150 years in tandem with the rise in heart disease provided support for this. The idea of a “ideal” ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet was created as a result.
However, the ratio that is linked to a lower risk of heart disease has not yet been discovered, and some experts now argue that the ratio is less significant than the absolute intake levels, which are what we should be more concerned about. According to a workshop report on the subject, consuming more ALA, EPA, and DHA would be sufficient to enhance the levels of these fatty acids in bodily tissues, while cutting back on LA and AA intake was unnecessary. 3 Furthermore, the ratio approach cannot tell the difference between diets that are sufficient in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and diets that are insufficient in both.
LA and ALA recommended sufficient intakes of 4 and 0.5 percent of total energy, respectively, from the European Food Safety Authority. The recommended daily intake for EPA and DHA was 250 mg. Additionally, it was found that the average daily consumption of total omega-3 in Europe ranged from 0.7 to 1.3 percent of total calories. The average daily consumption for EPA and DHA was determined to be between 20 and 40 mg and less than 100 to 130 mg, respectively.
Most people’s intakes are too low, thus most people would benefit from increasing their intake of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. This can be accomplished, for instance, by eating fatty fish once or twice a week and sometimes substituting rapeseed oil for sunflower oil.