What are Essential Fatty Acids?


Essential Fatty Acids You’ll find this term in the titles of many supplements. Look on the back of the label and you’ll see even more terms such as DHA, ALA, GLA, etc. So what exactly do you need to know?  Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are simply fats that cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from diet. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are the only two currently known essential fatty acids. Terms such as DHA and GLA describe different types of EFAs.

DHA and omega 3 fatty acids

With the politically correct dietary guidelines always changing, you might find yourself asking this question: Are they just another fad or are they the real deal? The general consensus is that omega-3 fatty acids play vital roles in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They have also become very popular for their potential role in reducing the risk of heart disease. For example, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish with omega 3 at least twice per week. But don’t just take their word for it. Consider the fact that the modern American diet contains excessive amounts of omega-6’s and is deficient in omega-3’s. One study found that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 increased from 6.4 in 1909 to 10.0 in 1999. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see diets going as high as 30 to 1. The optimal ratio, thought to be 4 to 1 or lower, can be found in the diets of native populations that contain no refined vegetable oils which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. For example, the traditional Inuit diet contains large amounts of fat from seafood, yet heart disease is virtually absent from these populations. DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and retina, may be of particular interest. For one, it has been found that fish oil higher in DHA than EPA could help fight neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

Fish with omega 3

Fish are undoubtedly among the best foods with omega 3. According to the American Heart Association, “fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have demonstrated benefits at reducing heart disease.” When comparing these fish, the levels of omega 3 in salmon are highest. Including plenty salmon in your diet will insure that you get enough omega 3’s.

Omega 3 in chia seed

Most of us know this seed from Chia Pets, the clay animals with Chia seeds covering their bodies. But it is a little known fact that these seeds may have tremendous nutritional value, particularly their high levels of omega-3’s. One study explored the chia seed as a potential sports enhancer. It found that athletes substituting chia seeds for Gatorade in the carbohydrate loading phase performed just as well, but of course were able to include healthy omega-3’s while decreasing their intake of sugar.