In recent years, we have been hearing so much about essential fatty acids and what they can do to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes while also helping us to maintain a healthy body weight. However, most of us haven’t the first clue as to what an essential fatty acid is let alone being able to list them. The good news is there are really only two groups of them so they shouldn’t be hard to memorize. They have been identified as the omega-3 fatty acid group and the omega-6 fatty acid group, and jointly are commonly referred to as EFA’s. The trick is in learning which foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids or omega-6 fatty acids in order to get adequate amounts of them in your diet.
About Fatty Acids
In 1923 fatty acids were first discovered and were originally called vitamin F, but later in 1930 it was discovered that they would be better classified as fats. Essential fatty acids are considered to be essential because the body requires them for certain biological processes and not just for fuel. Some of the functions they serve are on a cellular level which may affect inflammation, or anti-inflammation, as the case may be. Other essential fatty acids can affect mood, behavior and the way other fats are broken down in the body. The key point here is that they are essential to bodily functions but the body cannot manufacture these fats. As a matter of fact, because most Americans eat diets that are rich in fats and over-processed foods they have a greater need for essential fatty acids.
The Mighty Omega-3 Family
Although there are a number of omega-3 fatty acids, the primary one responsible for so many biological functions is Alpha Linolenic Acid. It is responsible for the formation of healthy cell walls by making them flexible and supple while also improving circulation in the bloodstream. The omega-3 fatty acids also foster mental acuity, a healthy nervous system, immunity, reduction in blood clots, reduction in triglycerides, reduction in LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), regular heart rhythm and healthy growth in children. In some cases omega-6, linoleic acid, works in conjunction with the omega-3 fatty acids to carry out some of these processes.
Precursors to Today’s Omega-3 Supplements
Unless you were born in the mid part of the last century you probably have never heard of oleum percomorphum. Many children used to dread getting up in the morning because mom would place a spoonful of oleum percomorphum or cod liver oil in their orange juice. That was one of the vilest tasting concoctions on the face of the earth. Today we have fish oil gelcaps which have been substituted for cod liver oil in many cases, even though it is still available in liquid form. I’m not quite sure what ever happened to oleum percomorphum, but undoubtedly it is still around out there somewhere, much to the chagrin of anyone who is subjected to it. In any case, it has since been determined that it is really much healthier to get your daily intake of essential fatty acids from foods since the process of digestion provides a ‘time released’ supply of them throughout the day.
Obtaining Essential Fatty Acids From Food
Actually, there are a great number of foods which are rich in essential fatty acids so it shouldn’t be a problem to get enough of them if you eat a healthy diet. Flaxseed, in any form, is the richest source of linolenic acid of any food on earth. This includes flaxseed oil, flax seeds themselves and flaxseed meal. Other seeds and nuts which are high in linolenic acid are walnuts, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and Brazil nuts. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard greens and mustard greens are also a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids. While you should avoid many types of oil, certain kinds are high in linolenic acid, including soybean oil, canola oil and wheat germ oil. Of course, we all know that certain types of fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. This is why we’re advised to eat salmon and albacore tuna at least twice per week each. Although sardines and anchovies are an acquired taste, they too are very high in linolenic acid.
So, when looking for a list of essential fatty acids it is easier to understand that there are simply two families of them to be concerned with. It is easier to learn what foods are rich in essential fatty acids and to keep them in mind when planning your menu. If for any reason you are unable to eat certain of those foods or cannot find in the grocery stores, which is highly doubtful, omega-3 supplements are widely available over-the-counter. Just remember that essential fatty acids are just that, essential to a healthy mind and body, and that your body cannot manufacture them. For this reason, incorporate as many foods rich in essential fatty acids into your diet as you possibly can.