Essential Fatty Acids

“Essential” fatty acids or EFA’s are the building blocks of fats that are necessary for good health and cannot be manufactured within our body. They must come from our diet. Fortunately, there are only two essential fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6 which should be consumed in balance to support cellular health. The modern American diet contains from 14 to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, upsetting a critical balance.

Health Canada recommends a ratio of 4:1 to 10:1 (omega-6 to omega-3) particularly for infants and pregnant and lactating women.

Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, an international authority on essential fatty acids, indicates that this lopsided ratio is now being understood as a major factor in many of today’s diseases. New research shows that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can have profound and opposite effects on your health.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids block inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and colitis while omega-6 fatty acids may promote them. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce your risk of cancer while omega-6 fatty acids may increase it. Omega-3 fatty acids are linked with a low risk of Alzheimer’s disease while omega-6 fatty acids are linked with an increased risk.

To eat a more balanced ratio, we should limit our intake of oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils which contain relatively high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Meanwhile, we should eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Only omega-9 fatty acids can be synthesized by our bodies. We must obtain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from the foods we eat.

Omega-3 is found in oily cold-water fish, flax and certain vegetable oils, legumes and dark green vegetables. Omega-6 is found in grains, plant oils, poultry and eggs. If you don ‘t like fish, omega-3 is also found in plant foods such as flaxseed oil, flax seeds, canola oil, nuts, tofu, omega-3 eggs, whole grains and leafy greens.

Using flaxseed ground and sprinkled on yogurt, cereals or in baking as well as using flax oil drizzled on rice, vegetables, salads or in smoothies – are all great ways to increases omega 3 fatty acids in our diets.

You can also use cold-pressed canola oil – which has an excellent ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 – in baking or light sautéing. Mix half butter with half cold-pressed canola oil to replace the saturated fats within butter and use in moderate amounts to improve your diet. Omega-3 eggs are available in most supermarkets as well.

Dietary fats and oils are divided into three main categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Within the polyunsaturated category are the EFAs: “omega-3” and “omega-6” fatty acids.

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