We know that too much fat in our daily diet has a negative impact on our health and our waistlines, however we also need to know that there are fatty acids that our body needs and they are known to be “essential fatty acids”, also commonly termed as “good fats”.
Linoleic Acid (LA) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are minimally synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid and they are thus “conditionally essential”. Omega-3s (ALA, EPA, and DHA) are “healthy” fats as they do help to reduce triglycerides, blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein, inflammation, depression and cancer risk (Deckerlbaum & Torrejon 2012; de Lorgeril & Salen 2012).
The heart benefits of essential fatty acids are well established, although a recent review of 20 clinical trials with more than 70,000 patients suggested omega 3’s didn’t curb heart attacks, strokes or supplementation didn’t reduce cardiovascular events in patients with type II diabetes (ORIGIN Trial Investigators 2012) or those with a heart disease history (Kwak et al. 2012). Nevertheless, the American Heart Association continues to recommend 8 ounces of omega 3-rich fish each week, which provides about 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA (AHA 2010).
Vegans and athletes consuming low-fat diets are at risk of essential fatty acids deficiency and should make sure they are eating healthy fats (ADA et al. 2009) but it may improve oxygen delivery during exercise (Walser & Stenbbins 2008).
The Essentials of Essential Fats
Important to our bodies for growth, skin protection, and reproduction, this omega-6 is in all cell membranes, neurons, and brain tissue, and it supports the body in vasoconstriction, platelet aggregation, and pro-inflammatory processes.
Good sources of linoleic acid include almonds, peanuts and the oils from olives sunflowers, safflowers, corn and soybeans.
ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid)
This omega-3 is a component of all cell membranes and is found in high concentrations within the brain and neurons. Omega-3s helps to reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and platelet clotting. Walnuts, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, flaxseeds, canola, and soybeans are good sources.
EPA and DHA
This is found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, herring and anchovies. DHA is a structural component of the brain, and retina that is needed for proper fetal and infant brain, development. DHA also improves visual acuity in adults.
Both EPA and DHA reduce cardiovascular disease markers (Deckelbaum & Torrejan 2012).
The FDA recommends a daily intake of no more than 2 grams from supplements and 3 grams from food.
American Dietetic Association et al 2009
American Heart Association