mixed nutsEssential Fatty Acids: Omega 3 & 6

The human body is capable of producing all the fatty acids it requires except for two: omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid. For this reason, Omega-3 and 6 are termed: Essential fatty acids (EFAs), because they need to be obtained from our diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are primarily found in plant sources such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables and in oily fish and some algae such as Spirulina. Omega-6 fatty acids are primarily found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn and soybean, and animal sources such as meat, eggs and dairy foods.

EFAs are the main components of all cellular membranes, are important for brain development and functioning and are healing within the body. The brain is composed of about 60% fat and is directly affected by the types of fat we eat. 20% of the fat in our brain is made from omega-3 and omega-6. Both are found in equal amounts in the brain, and it is generally recommended they should be eaten in equal amounts.

Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established.¹

The widespread use of vegetable oils such as palm oil and sunflower oil, which are high in Omega 6, has resulted in many people having higher ratios of Omega 6 to 3.

Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.¹

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory while some omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation.² Recommendations for ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6 vary widely but it is generally agreed that a higher ratio of Omega 3 to 6 is preferable. One way of doing this is to choose your oils carefully. The vegetable oils found to be highest in Omega-6 are grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils. Alternatives to consider include: olive, avocado and coconut oils.

The body needs the minerals zinc and magnesium, and Vitamins B3 and B6 to absorb any kind of EFA. An excess of Omega 3:6 can deplete our stores of these minerals and vitamins.

All plant-derived oils contain varying amounts of essential and non-essential fatty acids. Hemp oil has the highest percentages of Omega 3 & 6. For dressings look for cold-pressed unrefined oils such as extra-virgin olive oil, flax seed, rapeseed or sesame oil, there are many to choose from.

Symptoms of insufficient EFAs include:

  • Dry cracked skin
  • Dry eyes
  • Increased thirst
  • Water retention
  • Low energy and mood swings
  • Increased anxiety
  • Inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease

All essential fats can be destroyed by heat and are best consumed raw such as in dressings. Store oil supplements and milled seeds in the fridge to protect them. All oils have a ‘smoking point’ that means they will burn and become carcinogenic when they reach a certain temperature. Use avocado oil for cooking; it can safely be heated to 520 F (271 C). Virgin coconut oil can also withstand high heats and is great for baking or frying.

All nuts are easier to digest after soaking. They are high in proteins, fats and micronutrients. Excessive fats especially saturated and hydrogenated fats, leads to chronic health issues, If you are allergic to nuts try sunflower seeds, they are rich in vitamins and minerals, including manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin B1, vitamin B6 and folate.

References:

(1) The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Online article. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909 (accessed 04 September 2015)

(2) n−3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. Online article. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/6/S1505.short (accessed 04 September 2015)

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