What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Let’s Talk about Essential Fatty Acids
People ask me all the time about why there is so much talk about essential fatty acids. They want to know why are they so important, what do they do, and where do they come from.
To answer all of these questions let us first clarify exactly what is an essential fatty acid. All fats, be they monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated are made of fatty acids, and without getting into particulars each one is different, hence the different kinds of fats. Fatty acids are part of what make up these fats. Some fatty acids are made by the body, these include arachidonic acid (AA) is an Omega 6 fatty acid, docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are Omega 3 fatty acids. There is also Omega 9, or oleic acid. They are all made in the liver.
Some fatty acids need to be consumed in food or taken as supplements. These are the Omega 3 essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the Omega 6 essential fatty acid linoleic acid (LA). Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 are polyunsaturated fats, and are liquid at room temperature. They are found in nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, cold water fish, and leafy green vegetables.
Omega 3s are important because they improve circulation by acting as blood thinners, thus preventing blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. They can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. They have anti-inflammatory properties and can help with arthritis, immune response in fighting viral infections. These benefits are lost during processing, so it is best to use cold or expeller pressed oils.
As with just about anything, too much of something is not always good. Research is showing that people are consuming too much omega 6s, and not enough omega 3s and omega 9s. This could be because people are still stuck in the fat is bad mentality. Most omega 6s are consumed in the form of vegetable oils, like corn, soy, and safflower, while people avoid eating nuts, olives, avocados, and seeds, which have higher ratios of omega 3s and omega 9s. The easiest way to increase fatty acid consumption is to eat more nuts and seeds, and use more olive oil in place of vegetable oil. Use olive, walnut, or canola oil in salad dressing, add ground flax seeds to yogurt, and avoid processed foods.
Now that we have discussed what essential fatty acids are, where they come from, and they benefits they provide, should you take them in supplement form? If you do not eat nuts and fish on a regular basis, I say yes. There are too many benefits to be missing out on and if you are going to take one supplement this should be it.
Please discuss taking supplemental essential fatty acids with your doctor if you are taking prescription blood thinning medication or aspirin.
Keywords: essential fatty acid, omega 3, omega 6, omega 9, dha, efa, olive oil, nuts and seeds
Snow peas with Sesame Ginger Dressing
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 package snow peas
Cook snow peas according to package directions. Blend remaining ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour half the dressing over snow peas. Reserve remaining dressing for another use. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes four servings.
Nutrition information: 87.25 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 156.25mg sodium, 12.225 grams carbohydrates, 2.1 grams fiber, 7.175 grams sugar, 2.6 grams protein.
What’s the Deal with Sesame Seeds?
Sesame seeds are those little white seeds sometimes found on rolls, bread, and hamburger buns. Making baked goods look nice aside, they are a powerhouse of monounsaturated fatty acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, protein, and fiber. They come whole and hulled, with whole sesame seeds having greater nutritional value because they are not processed. When toasted, they add a nutty flavor to salads and dressings. Put them in the blender for sesame butter, which can be used as a sandwich spread, made into tahini by adding water, lemon juice, and garlic, or further diluted to make sesame milk, which can be used as a non-dairy alternative to cow or goat’s milk. Use expeller or cold pressed sesame oil in salads for a change of pace from olive oil.