Do you know that “fat” and “weight loss” can go hand in hand? I’m sure you’ve always heard that to lose weight, you practically have to exclude fat from your diet. That’s only half true, because Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are an exception to that rule. Because their properties are so important to the body, no one should miss them. We’ll tell you all about them here.
What are essential fatty acids?
Before dealing with the concept of essential fatty acids, let’s take a brief look at another basic previous concept.
What is fat? Fat is the main source of energy available to the body. It also participates in various essential physiological processes, such as the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and carotenoids.
Dietary fat consists of 98% triacylglycerol or molecules composed of an esterified glycerol with 3 fatty acid molecules, together with a small amount of phospholipids and steroids.
What about fatty acids? Fatty acids, on the other hand, consist of hydrocarbon chains containing one methyl (CH3-) and one carboxyl (-COOH) at the end. They vary according to the length of their chain and the degree of saturation (number of double bonds in the chain).
Learn how to classify them!
- Saturated fatty acids
- Polyunsaturated (contains the Omega 3 and Omega 6 families)
- Trans-fatty acids
Know your type! 2 important families: Omega 3 and Omega 6
The 2 main classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) are the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
The most important difference between PUFAs and saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids lies in the presence of two or more double bonds between the carbons within the fatty acid chain.
Within each Omega there is another series of fatty acids:
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids with the subtypes: alpha linoleic acid (AAL or ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While ALA contains 18 carbon atoms, EPA and DHA, which are considered long-chain, contain 20 and 22, respectively.
- Omega 6 essential fatty acids with the subtypes: linoleic acid (AL), gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
The human body can only take on double carbon-carbon bonds after the ninth carbon of the methyl end of a fatty acid. For that reason, ALA and linoleic acid are considered essential fatty acids, which means they must be obtained from the diet.
ALA can be converted to EPA and then to DHA, but conversion (produced mainly in the liver) is very limited, with reported rates below 15%.
Metabolic pathway of Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFAs and their conversion.
What are the benefits of these protectors of your health?
The many benefits of essential fatty acids will surprise you. Here are the main ones! EFA’s are good for:
- Reducing inflammation
- Strengthening the immune system
- Improving resistance
- Accelerating recovery
- Enable more regular training by reducing the symptoms of overtraining
- Promoting the healing process of injuries
- Improving concentration
- Helping to maintain the condition of the skin
- Allowing for better absorption of liposoluble vitamins
- Useful for treating arthritis
- Lowering blood pressure and triglycerides
- To promote oxygenation and serve as a means of transport via the bloodstream through the red blood cells
- Improve cardiovascular function
- Sleep aid
Identify the symptoms of your deficit, listen to the signs!
The above list is quite extensive, given the importance of essential fatty acids for the human body, even more so if you practice sport
It’s no wonder that a lack of EFA’s will have a significant impact on certain health problems. Are you looking for muscle growth and fat loss? Then keep their levels right or their deficit may end up badly for you.
The signs are clear! If you are missing these essential elements you may notice:
- Skin problems such as dryness, stretch marks or premature wrinkles
- Hair loss and/or dryness, loss of shine…
- Weakening of nails
- Increased menstrual pain
- Dry mouth or throat
- Joint pain
- Allergies, asthma, hives or eczema
What is the recommended daily amount?
The recommended dose of Omega 3, set at around 0.5 g per cent of the total number of kilocalories consumed, may be exceeded, as recent research suggests that even higher levels would be beneficial.
- Men: 3-3.5 g/day from all sources
- Women: 2-3 g/day from all sources
- Men: 9-14 g/ day from all sources
- Women: 5-12 g/day from all sources
Why essential fatty acid supplements?
Because EFA supplements, beyond their usefulness in supplementing your daily requirement of fatty acids, regulate the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio so that there are no major gaps, which would result in problems.
The various Omega 3 supplements from fish oil or linseed oil, as well as blends of EFA’s, are marketed in capsule, pearl or oil format.
If you hate the taste of oil, capsules are made for you. If not, you may want to consume them in the form of oil mixed into your own food or even in protein shakes or oatmeal. Look for the formulation that best suits your lifestyle and personal preferences and enjoy one of the essentials of a healthy diet.
Go to HSN’s online shop where you can view the full catalogue and buy the best essential fatty acid supplements.
And in food, where do we find them?
You can ingest essential fatty acids through diet and/or supplementation. Either way is good, although you should assume that most foods in the daily diet include a high concentration of Omega 6 compared to Omega 3.
How can you solve it? Through the supplement route, obtaining the optimal amount of Omega 3 that your body demands.
The ranking of Omega-3-rich foods is led by:
- Fish oil
- Linseed oil
- Sesame seeds
- Whole eggs
- Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens or mustard greens)
- Grapeseed oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Borage oil
- Flaxseed oil
Conclusions about EFAs
Whenever muscle development comes to the fore, protein is the king. Despite this, all possibilities must be considered and, as far as nutrition is concerned, fat takes on great importance.
There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that fat and/or essential fatty acids play a decisive role in contributing to a proper muscle growth and fat loss scenario.
While protein gets all the spotlight, fat is kept behind the scenes.
Take fish capsules, eat nuts, almonds or pistachios, consume linseed oil and watch the results slowly, they will stand out!
- Institute of Medicine. 2005. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Institutes of Health
- Essential Fatty Acids. OregonStates University
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Harvard Health Publishing.
- Ergas D, Eilat E, Mendlovic S, Sthoeger ZM. N-3 fatty acids and the immune system in autoimmunity. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002 Jan;4(1):34-8.