Fatty Acids & Omega Oils
Not all fats are created equal. Research has shown it is the type of fat not the amount of fat we consume that is important. There are four basic types of fat that the body takes from food: cholesterol, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. The polyunsaturated essential fatty acids are the one’s the body uses to build itself. A particularly bad fifth group of fats are the man-made hydrogenated trans-fats that are found in just about all processed foods containing shortening or oil.
Animal sources contain mostly saturated fats. Many plant derived fats are unsaturated fats. Saturated fats increase the occurrence of among other things, chronic diseases, inflammation, heart problems and strokes. Unsaturated fats on the other hand not only nourish the body, they protect against many diseases and fight inflammation and infections.
· Saturated fats: Solid at room temperature. Found in meat, dairy products, and certain vegetable oils, such as palm and coconut oils.
· Trans fats: Solid at room temperature. Processed fats not found in nature that are used to make shelf-stable shortenings such as Crisco, fast-food French fries, many types of margarine, and commercial baked goods such as doughnuts and cookies.
· Monounsaturated fats: Liquid at room temperature. Includes olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. Also found in peanuts, cashews, many other nuts, and avocados.
· Polyunsaturated fats: Liquid at room temperature. Includes plant oils, such as corn and soybean. Also found in seeds, legumes, whole grains, and fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna. Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. The former is found in oily cold-water fish, walnuts, flaxseed, wheat germ, and canola oil; the latter in corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oil.
What are Fatty Acids?
Fats and oils in foods are made up of basic units called fatty acids. The oils and fats that people eat are nearly always mixtures of 3 types of fatty acids– monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated fats, with one type predominating. Two specific types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic (omega 6) and alpha-linolenic (omega 3), are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). They must be present in the diet in adequate amounts because they are literally essential to life and health. Seven critical functions of essential fats are:
Developing and maintaining gray matter in the brain
Achieving optimal growth
Maintaining the integrity of cell membranes
Keeping skin healthy
Proper visual development
Maintaining a healthy nervous system
Regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting and the body’s inflammatory response
Omega-9, Oleic Acid
One of the best types of fats is oleic acid (Omega-9). Omega 9, a monounsaturated
oil (MUFA), is not an essential fatty acid as the body can synthesize it from other nutritional compounds that are consumed. It occurs naturally in greater quantities than any other fatty acid. Oleic acid is the main fat in olive oil. Olive oil is well known for it’s health benefits, with science clearly linking oleic acid to lower cardiovascular risk, lower blood levels of cholesterol and lower levels of blood glucose.
EFAs belong to the class of fatty acids called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The unsaturated fats, Omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega 6, (linoleic acid) are considered Essential Fatty Acids because they are needed to maintain life. Like essential amino acids, they cannot be manufactured by the body and so must come from the food we eat. In addition to providing energy, Essential Fatty Acids are part of the structure of every cell in our bodies. Together, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
Omega 6, Linoleic Acid
With respect to fatty acids – balance appears to be important. Human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) of approximately 1:1. Western diets are woefully deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids with the ratio being 15:1-17:1.
In todays world, cereals – mainly wheat, corn and rice – predominate, leading to a relative deficiency of omega 3 fats compared with omega 6 fats. This imbalance is worsened by the consumption of meat from intensively reared animals fed grain relatively rich in omega 6 fats rather than wild plants with a high omega 3 fat content. Even farmed fish contain lower amounts of omega 3 than those living wild..
Research shows the proper ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is a key factor in preventing many of the modern chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, high blood pressure, some cancers, inflammatory and auto-immune disorders. Bringing the fats into proper proportion may actually relieve those conditions, as the right balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids enables the body to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, prevent irregular heart beats and promote healthy blood flow. For a healthy balance, it is recommended that the ratio be less than 5:1.
Omega 3, Alpha-linolenic Acid
Over 2,000 scientific studies have demonstrated the wide range of problems associated with Omega-3 deficiencies. The American diet is almost devoid of Omega 3’s, as there are few sources of Omega 3 except for certain types of fish. In fact, researchers believe that about 60% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, and about20% have so little that test methods cannot even detect any in their blood.
Just as muscles are made of protein and bones are made of calcium, the human brain is more than 60% structural fat. But it’s not just any fat that our brains are made of. It has to be certain types of fats, and we no longer eat these types of fats like we used to. Instead, we eat man-made trans-fats and excessive amounts of saturated fats and vegetable oils, all of which interfere which our body’s attempt to utilize the small amount of Omega-3 fats that it gets.
A Purdue University study has showed that kids low in Omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders, and to display behavioral problems. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, Omega-3 deficiencies have also been tied to many conditions, including the following: allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, depression, dyslexia, eczema, heart disease, inflammatory diseases, memory problems, and violence.