The health benefits of essential fatty acids are enormous and could fill an entire book.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital for the production and release of many important hormones, including sex hormones and adrenal hormones. They are also an integral part of cell membranes, and they give membranes proper flexibility and suppleness.

Good fats stop your cells from drying out and give them normal cohesiveness. You know that it’s important to drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and looking plump; well it’s the oils in your skin that keep the water there. They help to keep water in your tissues.

There are two types of EFAs: omega 6 and omega 3 fats. The average person gets plenty of omega 6 fats in their diet because these fats are found so widely in numerous foods. In fact the problem is that most people consume way too much of these fats.

A great deal of research has shown that traditional hunter-gatherer human diets supplied omega 6 to omega 3 fats in a ratio of between 1:1 and 1:3. This is the ratio human beings evolved on and the ratio for optimum health. Modern American and Australian diets supply these fats in a ratio of 15:1; that is 15 times more omega 6 than omega 3.

Omega 6 fats are found abundantly in most vegetable oil. Foods that come in packages usually list vegetable oil in the ingredients list. Fast food and fried food is usually high in omega 6 fats. Margarine and non-dairy spreads are full of omega 6 fats.

Supplementing your diet with omega 3 fats can help you overcome this imbalance. Common symptoms of omega 3 fat deficiency are dry, itchy skin; dry hair, hair loss, dry eyes and vaginal dryness. Many women spend a lot of money on hair conditioner and body lotions that contain oils, herbs and vitamins. They are happy to apply oils to their skin but are afraid of eating fat for fear of gaining weight! Applying fat to the outside of your body is at best a temporary measure. The most effective way to moisturise your skin is to do it from the inside.

Essential fatty acids also have a lubricating effect on your joints; they help to improve mobility and reduce pain and stiffness. Good fats have an anti-inflammatory effect in your body; too much inflammation is an underlying feature of most chronic health problems.  Immune disorders, particularly autoimmune diseases cause a great deal of inflammation in the body. Inflammation generates the production of free radicals, which cause wear and tear in your body and age you prematurely.

Eating adequate amounts of good fats is the most effective way to keep your skin looking good longer.

How to get more omega 3 fats in your diet

Oily fish is by far the best source of omega 3 fats. The best kinds of fish are wild salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines and pilchards. Not everyone enjoys eating these fish species, and sometimes they are heavily contaminated with mercury, pesticides, flame retardants and other chemicals.

Fish oil supplements are purified of these contaminants. Cod liver oil supplements have the added bonus of being high in vitamins A and D.

The omega 3 fat linolenic acid is found in flaxseeds (linseeds), chia seeds, hemp seeds, pecans and walnuts. Most people would need to eat quite large quantities of these foods in order to obtain sufficient levels of omega 3 fats. Unfortunately the human body is just not very efficient at converting alpha linolenic acid in these plant foods into EPA and DHA, which are the active omega 3 fats already present in fish oil. That’s why I believe taking a fish oil supplement is a much more effective way of supplementing with essential fatty acids.

What about saturated fats? Are they good or bad?

For many years we have been told to keep our intake of saturated fats to an absolute minimum because they can raise our risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, new research is showing that this simply isn’t the case and saturated fats are some of the healthiest fats you can eat.

Saturated fats are mostly solid at room temperature – butter and coconut oil are good examples. Because of the structure of their fatty acids, saturated fats are extremely stable; they do not react easily with oxygen, heat or light. This is a huge advantage because if you consume an oxidized (damaged) fat, it creates a great deal of free radical damage in your body.

Fluid vegetable oils rich in omega 6 fats, such as sunflower oil or soybean oil are so prone to oxidative damage that you guarantee the oil is damaged by the time you purchase it from a store, and you will damage the oil even further if you cook with it.

Saturated fats have a long history of use in the human diet; they were really the first fats we consumed, before factory processes enabled the extraction of oils from seeds. Butter, coconut oil and animal fats like lard and tallow were the original fats that humans ate and cooked with.

While the assumption has always been that saturated fats raise cholesterol, the truth is they can slightly raise cholesterol, yet they raise both good and bad cholesterol and they don’t raise triglycerides. Triglycerides are the main storage form of fat in your body but you don’t want too much of them in your bloodstream because they will make your blood thick and sticky. Sugar, grains, cereals and starches, as well as alcohol are the foods that raise triglycerides and therefore increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Saturated fats have some remarkable health benefits, including:

  • They provide structural integrity to cell membranes.
  • They enhance immune system health.
  • Some short and medium chain saturated fats have antimicrobial properties.
  • Some saturated fatty acids are the preferred source of energy for the heart and brain.

You can read more about good and bad fats in our book Cholesterol: The Real Truth.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

 

References
Simpoulos AP Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6:omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases.  Biomed & Pharmaco 60(2006) 502-507
Hudgins LC, Effect of high-carbohydrate feeding on triglyceride and saturated fatty acid synthesis. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 2000 Dec;225(3):178-83