Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’) are fats that are essential to the body’s optimum functioning. They cannot be made by the body so must be obtained from the food we eat.
The main EFA’s are:
• Omega-9 (non-essential as the body can make some as long as it has plenty of Omega 3 & 6).
Why do we need EFA’s?
They have a large number of roles within the body, including:
• They generate and maintain the fatty membranes which surround every body cell.
• They are important for memory and brain function.
• They help maintain healthy hair, skin and nails.
• They are essential for maintaining a healthy hormone balance, good eyesight and a strong immune system.
• They offer protection against heart disease by helping to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. They increase the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and decrease the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
• They can be converted into prostaglandins which help transmit important information vital for controlling inflammatory reactions and activity of the immune cells.
Deficiency of EFA’s can cause symptoms such as dry skin, eczema, dry, itchy eyes, PMT and other hormonal imbalances, poor memory, weight problems and depression.
Balancing Omega 3 & 6.
The ideal intake of these EFA’s should be in the ratio of 1:1 Omega-6:3. However, in the UK, our average intake is approximately 12:1. This is due to our large intake of convenience foods that are high in hydrogenated and refined vegetable or sunflower oils which increase the intake of Omega-6 and our relatively low intake of oily fish, nuts and seeds which are high in Omega-3.
Sources of EFA’s:
Oily fish - salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout (eat 2-3 times/week)
Flax seeds or flax seed oil (1 tablespoon/day)
Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds
Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flax seeds and their oils.
Conditions for which EFA’s are beneficial include:
Having an excess of Omega-6 in relation to Omega-3 EFA’s increases inflammatory prostaglandins. These circulate around the body leading to pain and inflammation especially at joints and muscles and contribute to symptoms of arthritis. This can be eased by reducing intake of Omega-6 and saturated fats from convenience foods, red meat and cheese and increasing intake of Omega-3 fasts from flax oil and oily fish.
Since EFA’s maintain the fatty membrane surrounding cells they help prevent excess drying out of skin.
Including hyperactivity especially in children and disturbed behaviour.
High blood pressure and cholesterol can be improved by EFA’s.
Depression and memory problems
Pregnancy and breast feeding
Hormonal imbalances e.g. PMT, Menopause
Easy ways to increase intake of EFA’s:
• Add 1 tablespoon flax oil to a smoothie, yoghurt dips or hummus.
• Make salad dressings using flax seed oil instead of olive oil.
• Add 1 tablespoon unsalted raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and flax) to cereal or salads.
• Buy Omega-3 enriched eggs (Columbus or Intelligent Eating eggs) – chickens fed on flax seed so rich source of Omega-3 EFA’s.
• Drizzle potatoes and vegetables with flax oil instead of butter.
• Eat oily fish 2-3 times/week. Mackerel, sardines, tinned salmon are ideal quick snacks for a lunch or have trout, herring and salmon for a main meal.
• Use tahini – a sesame seed based spread on crackers or as a dip with crudities.