Foods that contain essential fatty acids include fish, shellfish, hemp seed, flax seed (linseed), soy oil, chia seeds, canola oil (rapeseed), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, olive oil, eggs, wholegrain foods and leafy vegetables. Essential fatty acids support brain function and development, skin health and cardiovascular health while offering many other health benefits.
Human bodies can synthesize most essential fats from their diet. However, linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid are two essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by the body and have to be supplied by food. These basic fats are used to build essential fatty acids known as omega-3 and omega-6, which are vital for proper functioning of all body tissues.
Deficiencies in essential fatty acids lead to a number of symptoms and conditions, such as reduced growth rates, liver and kidney abnormalities, dryness of skin, decreased immune function and depression. Adequate consumption of these acids results in several health benefits, such as reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, prevention of atherosclerosis and relief from symptoms associated with menstrual pain, joint pain and ulcerative colitis. Omega-3 has also been linked to a decrease in breast cancer risk.
It’s important to include good sources of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in any diet, as well as consume them in the right ratio. Omega-6 acids compete with omega-3 acids in the body, so excessive consumption of omega-6 can inhibit omega-3. Preferably, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be between 1-to-1 and 4-to-1.
While the easiest way to consume essential fatty acids is to use dietary supplements, it’s also necessary to consume food sources of these fats. This promotes overall health and well-being.