Essential Fatty Acids

Despite the low- or no-fat food trend, some fat is necessary to sustain health and well-being. Fat is a source of energy, it insulates the body and is needed to help you absorb fat soluble vitamins. Fat helps make cell membranes, enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters. However, it isn't the saturated fats and trans-fatty acids found in junk food that contribute to these important bodily functions, it's the essential fatty acids.

Omega-3, also known as linolenic acid, helps make prostaglandins which regulate pain and swelling, blood clotting and hormone production. They also help control blood pressure, the heart, the kidneys and digestive system. Omega-3 is found in seeds (especially flaxseed, which is rich in ALA), nuts, canola oil, soybeans, egg yolk and cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and herring. Fish oil (which contains EPA and DHA) has been touted to help prevent cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and treat intestinal problems like Crohn's disease.

Omega-6 also helps make prostaglandins, although different ones than Omega-3. It is found in foods with polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, walnuts, peanuts, almonds and sunflower seeds. It is also found in evening primrose oil, which has been found to relieve symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome).

Omega-9, otherwise known as oleic acid, is found in olive oil, avocados, peanut oil and nuts. The diet of the Mediterranean tends to be high in this essential fatty acid, and people there report lower incidents of heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers.

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