Don’t be afraid of Essential Fatty-Acids!

Fatty acids

You might have read and seen advertisements about them, but be honest to yourself, what do you really know about essential fatty acids?  Do the words “Omega-3″ and “Omega-6″ sound Greek to you?

Many people are misinformed when it comes to fats and their attempt to avoid fat all together, believing that fat causes them to gain weight. Although this is not true, I can understand why! At 9 calories per gram, any kind of fat (good or bad) packs more than twice the calories of carbohydrate and protein. However, in reality is your ‘total energy intake vs. total energy expenditure’ that determines whether you gain or lose weight. It’s a big mistake to correlate dietary fat with body fat – anyone can get body fat by eating the wrong amount of carbohydrates and protein!

So let’s talk about fat! The main components of all fats are the fatty acids, which might be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are usually derived from animal sources (beef, chicken, etc). While polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can be found in seeds, plants and plant’s oils.

Most of fatty acids are not consider essential in the diet as they can be produced by our body. However, there are some fatty acids the body cannot produce and thus they must be consumed through food or supplements. These fatty acids are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). To keep it simple, there are basically two types of essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, both are also known as linolenic acids.

The health benefits of consuming plenty of EFAs are many and they include improved blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, a healthy digestive tract, body temperature regulation and good heart and kidney health. EFAs also help with blood clotting, hormones and allergies – the risk of blood clots can be reduced thanks to the blood-thinning properties of essential fatty acids. This reduces risk of stroke and heart attack. Anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve some symptoms of autoimmune diseases as well as arthritis.

Just to give you an idea of the incredible huge benefits of these fatty acids, scientists made one of the first associations between omega-3 fatty acids and human health while studying the Inuit (Eskimo) people of Greenland in the 1970s. The Inuit consume a very high fat diet but suffered far less from coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus and psoriasis than their European counterparts. The fat from their diet is mainly derived from seal, whale and salmon. Researchers eventually realized that these fish are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are the responsible for these real disease-countering benefits.

Omega- 3 – Omega-6 ratio

Modern Western diet contains only small quantities of omega-3 fatty acids, since modern food processing destroys many of the essential ones even though most of people consume enough omega-6 fatty acid. The imbalance in the diet of omega-3 to omega-6 might cause some health problems to your body due to the fact that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation while some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote it. In order to stay healthy your body needs both, the anti-inflammatory and the inflammatory effect caused by these fatty acids.

Making a long story short: your immunity is supposed to be good for you by combating invaders before they can harm you. However, if your immunity stays too active, it starts to attack your own body which might increase the risk for heart attacks, certain cancers and even asthma and some types of arthritis.

For most of the time humans have been on earth we have eaten foods containing omega-6s and omega-3s in a ratio of about 2:1. However, over the last 50 years in United States, the ratio has changed from 2:1 to 10-20:1. Our modern diet includes huge amounts of oils that are extracted from plants and used for cooking or in prepared foods. These oils (such as corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil and soybean oil) are primarily omega-6s. On the other hand, we have decreased our intake of omega-3s, found primarily in whole grains, beans, seeds, and fish.

But don’t worry because there are simple actions that can help you get your ratio on omega-6s to omega-3s back to a more beautiful 2:1. First, decrease your intake of Omega-6 by lowering your intake of processed foods and some oils (corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil and soybean oil). Second, increase your intake of Omega-3. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, halibut, and herring – but also be aware that fish oils are considered a great source of omega-3!

Unfortunately, most of people link fish oil to cod liver oil, but keep in mind that cod liver oil caps contains 300 mg’s of omega-3 fatty acid in a 4oz serving, while Salmon has 3,600 mg of omega-3 in a 4 oz serving. Quite a difference! Other good sources of omega-3 are flaxseed and its oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, , walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, avocados, some dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, mustard greens, and collards.).

By adding some of these foods to your diet with other highly nutritional foods and exercise, you’re providing the best possible combination of disease prevention and health-boosting nutrients to your body.

See you next week,

Rafaela Carvalho

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