Worried about the amount of fat you eat? Many people have become so obsessed with the fat content of food; they are eating almost completely fat-free diets. But for good health, we need fat in our diet, as much as we need protein, carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals. It is the type of Fats that’s important. Saturated fats – animal fats from meat and dairy are generally solid at room temperature (e.g. butter, lard). Saturated fats are unnecessary and potentially harmful. They are vital to the body, yet we cannot make them ourselves. However, they need to be a regular part of our daily diet. What makes saturated fats “bad” and EFAs “good” relates to their function in the body.
Cell Membranes – EFAs are crucial for the integrity of membranes, fluid balance and functioning of cells.
Hormones. We need EFAs for the production of hormones and prostaglandins. That, in turn, regulates many vital functions in the body, including inflammation, nerve transmission, heart function and hormonal cycles. Essential fatty acids, found in evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil or borage oil, can be taken daily to promote the healthy functioning of the uterus and help regulate hormone production. We should take these essential fatty acids with vitamin E, which also helps stabilize hormones.
Brain development – brain tissue contains a very high concentration of fatty acids and is particularly high in DHA from fish. Adequate levels are particularly crucial for the rapid brain and neural development that occurs in early life.
Unsaturated EFAs – they tend to go rancid quickly. If you are deficient in EFAs, you will probably start to see subtle warning signals such as dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, dry eyes and high blood pressure. Over time, if the body does not meet its needs, the problems become much more severe and can include depression, heart disease and cancer.
Boosting your level of EFAs, by diet or supplementation, can help skin conditions. It can also increase mental clarity, reduce the risk of heart disease and help inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Some of the best foods for linoleic acid are sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds (and cold-pressed oils from these sources), almonds, pecans and walnuts. Plants such as borage and evening primrose contain a direct source of GLA – a fatty acid one step down from linoleic acid.
Some of the best foods for Omega 3 fatty acids are oily fish in the form of salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. These are particularly high in both EPA and DHA – Omega3 fatty acids which are very important for brain and heart health.
If healthy, you can make prostaglandins from linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Still, if you have a history of allergies in your family, you may be atopic and have a problem with the conversion. In this case supplementation of GLA may be appropriate.
Some essential vitamins and minerals act as co-factors for the fatty acid conversion; a deficiency of these nutrients can inhibit prostaglandin formation. Try to ensure your diet is high in Vitamin B6, magnesium, biotin, calcium and zinc. Avoid trans-fats, coffee and alcohol – all of which inhibit essential fatty acid metabolism.
Balance of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids is critical to prostaglandin metabolism. Omega 3 fats help drive the Omega 6 pathway.
A diet that includes a regular serving of oily fish and a daily handful of seeds – sunflower, pumpkin and sesame mixed (or oils from these sources) should provide a balanced intake of both Omega 3 and 6 EFAs.