The Importance Of Fatty Acids In Your Diet
Fatty acids form the building blocks of fat in the body and are derived from the food that we consume. During digestion, these fats get broken down into fatty acids making it easier to get absorbed into the bloodstream. The importance of fatty acids in the diet can be assessed from the various functions that they perform in different bodily mechanisms.
But first, a look at the different types of fatty acids.
Fatty acids are broadly divided into four categories of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Among these, saturated fatty acids and trans fats are especially linked with a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are linked with lowering the risk of heart disease.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
Fatty acids vary by the number of hydrogen bonds and carbon atoms that they contain. The body requires a variety of fatty acids as they cater energy, constitute cell membranes, assist absorption of vitamins and minerals along with many other functions.
The body can produce most of the fatty acids it needs from other fats. However, essential fatty acids are those which the body is not able to produce on its own, but must be sourced from the diet. Two of these that the body cannot synthesize include alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, also known as omega 3 and omega 6 respectively.
Fatty acids have a part to play in various aspects of health. Since they can assist in improving immunity, brain and mood health, cell signalling and reducing inflammation, it is important to get enough of these in your diet to prevent deficiencies and consequent health issues.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Alpha linolenic acid goes by the more common name of omega 3. These are a type of polyunsaturated fat that the body cannot make on its own. The three most well-known types of omega 3s include EPA, DHA and ALA.
Briefly, EPA reduces inflammation, DHA is critical for normal brain function and development while ALA is primarily used as an energy source for the body.
Upon consumption, ALA is converted into EPA and DHA, the active forms of omega 3s.
- Boosting heart health
- Promoting mental health
- Weight reduction
- Lowering liver fat
- Supporting brain development in infants
- Fighting inflammation
- Preventing dementia
- Supporting bone health
- Preventing asthma
A deficiency, on the other hand can lead to chronic disease like diabetes, obesity as well as heart disease.
Common food sources for this essential fatty acid include:
- Chia seeds
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body. Once again, these need to be sourced from food and are mainly used as an energy source. The most common among these is linoleic acid.
Since both these essential fatty acids need to be taken from food sources, it is very important that the right balance of the two is consumed. This is because too much omega 6 in the diet can have a pro-inflammatory effect rather than counter inflammation.
The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 that experts recommend is 1:4, but the Western diet disrupts this to an alarming 1:10 – 1:50. The result is often seen as chronic inflammation and associated inflammatory diseases.
When consumed in the correct amounts, omega 6s can present the following benefits:
- Help reduce nerve pain
- Fight inflammation
- Treat rheumatoid arthritis
- May help reduce ADHD symptoms
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Support bone health
Foods that are good sources of omega 6 include:
- Refined vegetable oils
- Sunflower seeds
Omega 7 Fatty Acids
Although not technically an “essential” fatty acid, since it can be produced by the body, omega 7 is a monounsaturated fat. Also known as palmitoleic acid, omega 7 can be helpful in the following ways:
- Support healthy cholesterol levels
- Promote healthy glucose metabolism
- Help manage body weight
- Help maintain normal C-reactive protein levels
- Provide superior appetite control
- Convert calories into energy instead of fats
Foods that are good sources of this fatty acid include:
- Sea buckthorn
- Macadamia nuts or oil
- Fish oil
- Whole milk and whole milk products
There’s an Omega 7 supplement called Ultra Omega Burn that has been growing in popularity. It is sold as a weight loss supplement but provides many other health benefits too.
Check out the Ultra Omega Burn Review.
Omega 9 Fatty Acids
Another non-essential fatty acid, omega 9s are another type of monounsaturated fat. The most common among these is oleic acid which is also the most common monounsaturated fatty acid in the diet. It also happen to be the most abundant type of fat found in most of the body’s cells.
In terms of benefits, omega 9s can offer the following:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Increase energy
- Enhance mood
- May benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s
Omega 9s are most commonly found in vegetable and seed oils along with nuts and seeds. The following are some of the best sources:
- Olive oil
- Cashew nut oil
- Almond oil
- Peanut oil
- Avocado oil
As can be seen, not all dietary fat is bad. In fact, healthy fats and essential fatty acids are a crucial component of good health. It is important for us to consume both essential and non essential fatty acids for the best results.
In most cases, it isn’t hard to incorporate these into the diet as essential fatty acids are plentiful in nuts, seeds, oils, fishes and supplementation.