Essential Fatty Acids

About Healthy Fats and Oils...

Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are the good fats or healthy fats we all need (for example Omega 3 and Omega 6.) Lipids (fats and oils) have acquired a bad reputation. Articles and news reports often associate fat consumption with weight gain and a host of medical problems. The emphasis in the media - and in people's minds - is on reducing fat intake. Fat free and low fat products crowd store shelves.

The result: After years of emphasis on cutting back on fat, North Americans are fatter than ever. This result, along with emerging information on the powerful benefits of essential fatty acids (EFAs), is finally awakening nutritionists, medical professionals and the media to the knowledge that eliminating fat from the diet is not the answer.

To be healthy, each of us needs fat -- just like we need protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Every single cell in the body requires healthy fats to function properly.

But not all fat is created equal. The human body metabolizes different fats differently. The state of our health is influenced less by the amount of fat than by the types of fat we eat.

So, to be healthier, eat healthy fats and oils.

Which oil should you choose? It depends largely on personal preference and what you're planning to do with the oil. A good rule of thumb is to choose the least-processed oil suitable for the application for which it will be used. It is better to use a refined oil than to use an unrefined oil at a heat level that is too high for the oil.

Some oils provide essential nutrients. Some oils hold up better to high heat or long storage. Some are more flavorful. Some contain no pesticide residues and are better for the environment. And yes, some are just plain bad for you.

Here is information to help you use each type of oil to its best advantage.

Some Oils Provide More Nutrients

Every food oil contains a unique assembly of fats in molecules called fatty acids that vary in shape, size and biological activity. You're probably familiar with the three naturally occurring types of fats:

  1. saturated
  2. monounsaturated
  3. polyunsaturated

The saturated fats, easily obtained in the diet, primarily provide caloric value. Some saturated fats provide additional benefit; for instance, coconut oil, high in lauric acid and containing trace amounts of caprylic acid, has been shown to provide a number of benefits including antiviral properties, antifungal properties, and support of proper immune function.

Oils high in polyunsaturates are the most nutritious and are easily metabolized by the body. Polyunsaturated oils contain essential fatty acids -- nutrients your body needs and that you must get through your diet. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) are called omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid).

The EFA's are MAJOR nutrients needed in tablespoon amounts each day (adults need about one tablespoon for every 50 pounds of body weight). If you eat enough of the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance, then they are used by the body to produce energy (improving strength and endurance, plus faster recovery from fatigue), they improve the quality of your blood so that oxygen and nutrients are transported more efficiently, and the mind is more alert. Animals also benefit from eating a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, though the quantity they need will vary according to body size and other factors.

Other benefits from consuming the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance include:

  • you have more energy so you feel inclined to exercise more, with all the benefits that exercise brings;
  • cravings for sugar and carbohydrates are less. If not used by the cells as fuel, these carbohydrates are converted by the body to saturated fat and stored. Here is a reason why eating the right fats helps you lose weight;
  • the brain is made mostly from fat. Eating omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in proper balance leads to better brain development, higher IQ, greater alertness and calmness of mind. It is very important that pregnant mothers consume these essential fats for proper development of the fetus. These essential fats are of great help for children with learning problems, hyperactivity and other behavioral problems;
  • improvements are seen in many disease situations including depression, mental illness such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and multiple sclerosis;
  • skin becomes softer, tans better, and problem areas (dry, flaky, oily) tend to clear up. Hair and nails improve. The EFAs are sometimes considered to be "edible cosmetics";
  • the EFA's come out as part of sweat, and carry with them fat soluble pesticides and other harmful chemicals that they encounter in the body. This makes the essential fats a useful aid to hyperthermia;
  • the EFA's help prevent "leaky gut", food allergies, and reduce inflammation;
  • all the organs and glands require the essential fats in order to function properly;
  • the EFA's are required for sperm formation;
  • women need more EFA's than men because EFA's are taken up by the fetus during pregnancy. Not knowing this, many women experience extreme deficiency in EFA's, with all the problems this involves. This is a reason why women experience more of certain diseases than men, including depression (including post-partum depression), fibromyalgia, lupus, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's, and other degenerative conditions. The health of the fetus is also at risk as the mother's EFA's become depleted;
  • blood platelets are less "sticky" leading to improved circulation, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, the kidneys function better resulting in removal of excess water from the body (a partial cause of overweight), mineral metabolism is better resulting in stronger bones, the immune system functions better.

Monounsaturated oils, high in oleic acid (omega-9), are also important to your health. Recent research links these oils, such as canola and olive oils, to the management of cholesterol in the blood. In addition to laboratory studies, scientists note that while Mediterranean diets are high in fat because of all the olive oil consumed, populations in the region show a low incidence of heart disease when compared to North American populations.

One quick way to identify a saturated fat is by its consistency: saturated fats are firm at room temperature. Examples include butter, lard, animal fat, palm oil and coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are liquid, and monounsaturated fats get thick when they're chilled, but they return to fluidity at room temperature.

All of these fats are natural, but there is a fourth type of fat, a manufactured one, that's prevalent in the American diet. It is hydrogenated fat, produced by using a metal catalyst and high heat to saturate unsaturated fat molecules with hydrogen. This process changes the natural form of the fat (to make it like a saturated fat) and destroys its essential fatty acid nutrients. In fact, some researchers suspect that hydrogenated fats (common in margarine, peanut butter, cookies, and processed foods) are the leading cause of health problems associated with fats in the diet. But many food manufacturers like to use hydrogenated fats because of their thick texture, good mouthfeel, and long shelf life.

Nutrition Guide

The most nutritious oils are the unrefined polyunsaturated oils, such as unrefined safflower, sesame, and flaxseed oils. These oils provide omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Oils high in monounsaturates (canola, olive, and high-oleic safflower oils) help the body deal with the saturated and cholesterol-containing fats frequently used in cooking.

Proper nutrition and a balanced diet supplement is essential. When this is accomplished, any individual can enhance their health. At Supplement Central, it is easy to find just what you need and get information about essential fatty acids, omega 3 and other nutrients. If you have questions, or are ready to start experiencing these benefits in your life contact us today.

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