Once upon a time, all fats were bad. These days, health education has taken us far enough to know that the term “good fats” is not an oxymoron. We understand that some fats promote good health while others increase the risk for disease. The omegas (also referred to as polyunsaturates) are essential fatty acids (EFA’s); acids which every living cell in your body needs (hence the term “essential”) but cannot manufacture itself so they must be obtained through our diet. The exception to this is omega-9, which your body does produce in small quantities providing there are adequate amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 on hand.
EFA’s are the basic building blocks of the “good” type of fats. Fats are combinations of many different fatty acids that all play specific roles in the body. They are usually named based on their chemical structure; either “saturated” or “unsaturated”, referring to the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon chain (hydrogen bonds) of a fatty acid. In the case of fatty acids, “saturated” means all bonds are full; “unsaturated” means all bonds are not full. For a brief glossary of EFA terms, see the end of this article.
In the end, it isn’t so much the total amount of fat you eat, but which types of fat you’re consuming. Sticking with unsaturated fats and avoiding saturated and trans fats will help you think clearer, give your skin and hair a healthy glow and lower your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Every living cell in your body needs omegas because every cell has a membrane. The function of this membrane is to allow nutrients into the cell and all toxins to pass out of the cell. A healthy membrane is fluid and flexible. A cell without a healthy membrane cannot retain water or vital nutrients. And, believe it or not, an unhealthy membrane also disallows a cell to communicate with other cells around it, called “cell signaling”. Why is this important? Researchers are beginning to understand that this loss of communication is how cancerous tumors may begin. As all dietary fats become incorporated into cell membranes in our body, a diet high in saturated fats can produce problems with a cell membrane’s ability to stay flexible and fluid as saturated fats become solid at room temperature.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the diet is the key to balancing the intake of the two. Most evidence to date highlights the beneficial role that both omega-6 and omega-3 fats play in reducing the risk of disease, not their relationship to each other. 1 However, if you’re really stuck on ratios, a few studies suggest that a…ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, raging between 2:1 and 5:1 is optimal.
Other researchers indicate that the ratio between the two fatty acids is unimportant, but the absolute amounts of each type of fatty acid are critical. They cite the well-established role of linoleic acid to lower blood cholesterol levels; further they recognize the clinical and epidemiological evidence for the value of omega-3 fats, especially fish oils, to reduce coronary heart disease risk. This research suggests that it is not necessary to change the omega-6/omega-3 fats ratio by lowering intake of omega-6 fatty acids; it is beneficial to raise omega-3 intakes, especially from fish, to the levels recommended by dietary guidance. 2
Some researchers have suggested that the perfect ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is 1:4. They base these figures on enzyme studies carried out in tissue cultures. Our more practical experience working with people shows that the ratio that gives the best results consistently comes from oils blended to be richer in omega 3 than omega 6. This may be because human beings are more complex than tissue cultures. They use EFA’s for brain function, hormone production, and many other functions that don’t pertain in tissue culture.
Some people suggest that the traditional perfect balance was 1: 1. But ratios in traditional ratios varied widely. The Inuit ratio was 2.5:1. It did not produce omega 6 deficiency. The ratio in Mediterranean diets was about 1:6, and did not produce omega 3 deficiency. The brain of both traditions contains a balance of 1:1. Which tells us that the brain takes what it needs from what the body gets, provided that enough of both EFAs is present. 3
In the end, it’s down to you and your primary health care provider to find the perfect balance for your unique metabolism and set of circumstances.
EFA’S and PROSTAGLANDINS
Omega-3’s are instrumental in the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins act as regulators of many essential physiological processes like blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transmission, inflammatory and allergic responses, kidney function, gastrointestinal tract function and the production of other hormones.
Omega-3, in the form of EPA and DHA, serves as a direct precursor for series 3 prostaglandins which are involved in blood thinning, improving blood flow (and, in turn, better oxidation throughout the body), reducing inflammation and are important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Omega-6’s serve as precursors for series 1 prostaglandins. Omega-6’s also serve as precursors to series 2 prostaglandins which are not as helpful as their other series partners. This is why it is important to get your omegas in the right ratios for you.
Omega-3 is converted in the body to EPA and DHA by a series of complicated chemical reactions. Unfortunately, the enzymes responsible for this conversion have proven themselves to be poor performers in a large portion of the population resulting in a reduced amount of omega-3 ingested in the diet being converted to EPA and DHA and, ultimately, to prostaglandins. What can help with this? Ensure that your diet is well-rounded and includes varied sources of vitamins B6, B3, C, magnesium and zinc. Already eating fish on Fridays? Consider increasing your intake of salmon, halibut and tuna to 2-3 times per week.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE OMEGAS
|Essential Fatty Acids||Omega 3||Omega 6||Omega 9|
|Primary Fatty Acids found in each:||ALA – Alpha-linolenic Acid (essential); converted to EPA & DHA in the body.|
EPA – Eicosapentaenoic Acid
DHA – Docosahexaenoic Acid
|GLA – Gamma-linolenic Acid|
LA – Linolenic Acid (essential)
|Oleic Acid(non-essential) Our body produces omega 9 in small amounts if sufficient omega3 & 6 are present in the body.|
|Conditions which benefit from Omega 3, 6 & 9:||Cardiovascular disease|
Type 2 Diabetes
Dry, itchy skin
Brittle hair and nails
Brain & nerve development
|Coronary heart disease.|
Beneficial for the brain, eyes and kidneys.
Lowering cholesterol levels.
High blood pressure
|Dietary Sources||ALA – flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soybeans, some dark green leafy vegetables, fresh salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, flaxseed oil, walnut oil.||Linolenic Acid – corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil.||Olive oil, olives, avocados, almonds, peanuts, sesame oil, pecans, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts.|
|Recommended Daily Intake||Men, 19-50 1600mg/day|
Women, 19-50 1100mg/day
|Men, 19-50 17g/day|
Women, 19-50 12g/day
|Adults: One to two tablespoons olive oil spaced thru the day.|
|Signs of a Deficiency||Fatigue|
Dry and/or itchy skin
Brittle hair and nails
Lack of endurance
|Dry skin and hair; hair loss|
Dehydration & thirst
Impaired nail growth
Decreased learning ability
Poor handling of stress
Dry skin, dry eyes
Craving fatty foods
Stiff or painful joints
CAN WE OVERINDULGE IN EFA’s?
Can one get too much of a good thing when it comes to EFAs? If you take EFAs too close to bed time, you may have too much energy to sleep (many people would like that problem), so take EFA-rich oils before 8 p.m. if you want to sleep, and after 10 p.m. if you want to party.
If you take more oils at any one time than your liver can handle, you may feel full, heavy, or nauseous. That’s the liver, which must process oils and EFAs, protecting itself from overwork, from what you put in your stomach. Take less oil at any one time, and mix it in foods. That way you will never give your liver more work to do than it can cope with.
If this problem arises because of weak liver function, it may help if you lower the dose to begin with, and gradually build up your intake as your liver improves in its capacity to handle oils. Often, liver weakness results from lack of the EFAs needed in its work. This is one of the results that adherence to a low fat diet can have.
Occasionally, someone has an allergic skin response from an EFA-rich oil; take it with digestive enzymes. If that does not work, find another source of EFAs.
Reaction to oil is rare, even in allergy-prone individuals. Proteins trigger most allergy reactions, but oils are protein-free. In fact, good oils usually helpful in relieving allergies. Your body will tell you. It is your most reliable expert.
Let’s put these problems that EFAs can cause, into perspective. Of far greater concern is not getting enough of the EFAs, because so many cells, tissues, glands, and organs need them – desperately – to work normally. 4
COOKING, STORAGE AND PROCESSING OF OILS
As you can see from the chart above, most of your omega-6 sources are oils. The best types of oils to buy are cold-pressed. This means that at no time during the processing did the oil become exposed to heat. This preserves the nutrients and integrity of the oil. Oils that are not cold-pressed still have nutrient value.
Avoid cooking with oils such as walnut, grape seed or flaxseed. Stick to cooking with olive oils (regular for cooking, extra virgin for salads), canola oils and vegetable oils. And when considering a cooking method, also consider that some foods lose a portion of their nutrient value when fried; baking or broiling helps retain omega-3’s. Obviously, some foods such as meats need to be cooked, but try to eat as many of your fruits and veggies raw if you can.
Once oil has been produced from its source, it can become rancid quickly. For example, when a walnut is removed from the shell, exposure to air induces oxidization; or more simply put, the walnut can become rancid. When purchasing and storing oils, keep them in a dark, tightly sealed bottle in a cool, dry place; the best place is in the refrigerator.
NUTTERS CAN SUGGEST…
Scientists have given essential fats (a.k.a. essential fatty acids or EFAs) their name because the body must have them to survive, but cannot synthesize them from any other substance we eat, so a direct food source is required. Hence, the name essential. There are many kinds of fats, but only two kinds of essential fats: omega 3 (n-3 or w3) and omega 6 (n-6 or w6), both of which are unsaturated fats. Each EFA is turned into several derivatives by the body, provided enough n-3 and n-6, in the right ratio, and made with health in mind, are supplied. All other fats, such as omega 9 (monounsaturated), omega 7, and saturated fat, are non-essential because the body can produce them from sugars and starches.
Udo’s Choice Oil Blend is a carefully blended mix of the finest Omega 3, 6 and 9 varieties of Essential Fatty Acid sources. This premium-quality product has a pleasant light nutty flavor and is easily mixed with health shakes, protein drinks, or, added as a topping to salads and vegetables!
Saturated Fats: Solid at room temperature.
Polyunsaturated Fats: Liquid at room temperature, remain liquid when refrigerated or frozen. In moderation, contributes to good health.
Monounsaturated Fats: Liquid at room temperature, harden when refrigerated. In moderation, contributes to good health.
Essential: Means the body cannot produce this nutrient by itself; diet and/or supplementation are the only means of obtaining this nutrient.
1. and 2. International Food Information Council Foundation
Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Health Fact Sheet, June 5, 2009
3. and 4. “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill” by Udo Erasmus, 2002
Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, Seventh Edition, Elaine Marieb
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
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replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.