Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Essentials About Essential Fatty Acids

Probably by now you've heard about the numerous potential and proven benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike most other natural products, omega-3 fatty acids really are approved by the US FDA, which allows the statement "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

Omega-3 fatty acids are unquestionably good for you, but they aren't the only essential fatty acids. This group also includes the omega-6's. Basically, omega-6 fatty acids make sure the body can defend itself. They are involved in the production of hormones that give the body the ability to respond to stress by clotting blood to seal a wound, increasing the heart rate and respiration for fight or flight, and in any number of hormonal processes related to sex.

Omega-3 fatty acids put a brake on the omega-6's. The body uses them to produce anti-inflammatory hormones, to relax the arteries at rest, to lower blood pressure, etc. Both omega-3's and omega-6's are essential to survival.

The problem is, a modern diet provides way more of the omega-6 essential fatty acids than the omega-3's. Ideally, diet should provide equal amounts of both, but the body can achieve balance even if the ratio is as high as 4:1. Unfortunately, in many diets the ratio is about 25:1.

So how do you get the right balance of both kinds of essential fatty acids?

Some foods provide useful fats but don't have much of either omega-3 or omega-6. These include olive, canola, and peanut oils. Other foods have a natural balance of the two kinds of essential fatty acids:

  • Grass-fed dairy
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Omega-3 eggs
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel and
  • Sardines.

Some foods, on the other hand, will skew the body's balance of omega-3's and omega-6's to even higher levels of omega-6's:

  • Most conventionally raised red meat
  • Most conventionally raised pork
  • Most conventionally produced dairy products
  • Lard
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Palm oil

Soybean oil and soy products are about neutral in their effect on fatty acid balance. Some foods, however, improve fatty acid balance by providing both omega-6's and omega-3's in a ratio the body can use efficiently:

  • Chia seed
  • Flaxseed
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Walnut oil
  • White beans
  • Kidney and pinto beans
  • Perilla seed oil
  • Kiwifruit seed oil
  • Cranberry and lingonberry seed oil
  • Seaweeds, and, of course
  • Most green leafy vegetables and most fruits.

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