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Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's)

Why are they essential?

Our bodies create/require/use many different types of fats (see previous ‘FATS’ post), but those which we cannot make ourselves are labelled ‘essential’ because we must consume them in our diet. There are 2 EFAs; omega 3 / alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) & omega 6 / linoleic acid (LA).

In the body these essential fatty acids are required to maintain the quality of cell membranes affecting cellular signaling, inflammatory pathways, and immune function.

We need ALA & LA for specific functions but also need the fats they are converted to for other functions. With the help of enzymes, we convert ALA & LA into other types of omegas (such as EPA, DHA, GLA & AA fatty acids), depending on our requirements. We can consume EPA/DHA (algae, oily fish) and AA (animal products) directly, although ALA & LA rich foods would also need to be consumed to meet all of our requirements.

These conversion enzymes are inhibited by deficiencies of magnesium, zinc & vitamin B6, insulin resistance, alcohol, refined sugars, high saturated fat intake and more. So, its really important to consider your omega 3 & 6 intake as part of a holistic, balanced nutrient-rich diet and to not assume you are converting them amazingly well all the time. It’s for this reason that some people supplement with algae oils or fish oils (fish eat algae) to ensure optimal EPA & DHA status.

Sources of Omega-3 (ALA): flaxseed oil, chia, hemp, walnuts, soybean, dark green leaves

Sources of Omega-6 (LA): sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, nuts

One of the main areas to consider is the balanced ratio between your intake of Omega 3 & 6, since too much of 1 type can dominate the conversion rate of the other. It’s common for western diets to contain very high amounts of omega 6 fats (animal foods, veg oils) and not enough omega 3 fats, so often omega 3 supplements are taken in a bid to balance out the ratio. Unfortunately, while this may help the ratio, other factors are at play and ‘more of everything’ is not necessarily better! An ideal ratio is around 5:1 omega-6:Omega-3 or less, although the comon ratio in the standard western diet is around 15:1!

Focusing on reducing animal foods & vegetable oils and increasing intake of ground flax & chia, would be a great place to start. Eating nuts such as walnuts are great too, containing both O-3 & O-6.

This is my favourite algae based Omega-3 Supplement: Vegetology Omega-3

As I mentioned above, we shouldn't be using supplements in place of a well balanced diet, but a quality supplement such as this can be really useful for getting you started if you are a long way away from optimal health. Check with your health practitioner before taking any supplements as many may interact with current medications or may be contraindicated during pregnancy or with some medical conditions.

Here's an easy way to include plant based omegas in your daily menu:

> add ground flax and chia seeds to breakfast cereals, smoothies, soups

> have a handful of nuts and seeds each day. Natural, unroasted and unsalted nuts are best

> drizzle a small amount of UDO's oil on salads and add to soups & smoothies (do not heat)

> include quality soy products & dark leafy greens in stir frys, salads, soups, roasted veg, stews

> have 2* palm sized portions of oily fish per week (salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines, herring). *Not more than 2 portions as this can increase the risk of mercury poisoning from polluted seas.


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For a tailored nutritional plan that suits your specific essential fatty acid needs, book a consultation today. Head over to the booking page here for more information.

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