A millennia ago, the diet of an average human included an excellent balance of both oils and fats from animals and plants. Sadly though, in modern day society, this is simply not the case with many individuals avoiding meat altogether, particularly fish. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many of us are not receiving the essential fatty acids we require.
So why are these fats so essential? The answer is simple. The term ‘essential’ in biological terms literally refers to a compound that your body cannot produce on its own, a compound you therefore need to extract from food sources. Whilst our body can synthesise most fats we need to survive, there are some that our bodies simply cannot. To be precise, there are two essential fatty acids that our bodies are incapable of producing – Omega-3 linolenic acid and Omega-6 linoleic acid.
The importance of these two essential fatty acids cannot be underestimated. Although many people are unaware of the fact, numerous health problems have been directly linked to a lack of essential fatty acids in our diet. Deficiencies in either can lead to a whole host of problems including depression, decreased immune function, dry skin and abnormalities in the liver and the kidneys. That’s the bad part. The good part is that by taking in these essential fatty acids, you can potentially reduce heart incidents, diseases and strokes, menstrual pain and general joint pains. Omega-3 has even been associated with decreased breast cancer risk and helping to prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels).
So where do we find these essential fatty acids? The following sources are excellent and will give you plenty of essential fats if taken in the right amount.
- Grass-fed meat
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Chia seeds
- Fish oils
- Whole grain foods
- Olive oil
Out of the list above, fish is probably the most well-known Omega -3 source as it contains the essential fat in bucket loads. Omega -6 is much easier to come by as the fatty acid occurs naturally in almost all nut varieties and vegetable oils such as sunflower, soy and corn.
Whilst there is some debate surrounding how much fatty acids should be eaten, the general consensus is to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and stick to a ratio of 4:1 omega-6s to omega-3s. This may sound obvious, but the average ratio in todays diet is upwards of 20:1 which is inevitably leading to a rise in health issues.
So there is your answer – essential fatty acids are quite literally ‘essential’ and can make all the difference when it comes to obtaining a healthy and balanced diet. It is therefore super important that you understand what you are eating and analyse your day-to-day diet regularly. For without taking in these essential fatty acids that your body cannot produce, you are greatly increasing your chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
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