Essential Fatty Acids: The Good Fat you should be eating!
by Shibani Chattopadhyay
The word ‘Fat’ has been increasingly vilified in our culture. It has quite a negative aura around it, and a lot of people make the mistake of cutting out fat totally from their diets in their obsession with ‘healthiness’ (and are genuinely convinced they are doing so in their own best interests).
Well, you ought not to!
Misleading information about fat can be said to be a lot more harmful than no information at all:
Understanding and then positioning the role of various nutrients in our everyday foods is not a black and white binary decision (which means to say, no group is totally ‘good’ or totally ‘bad’. On a lighter note, that is like Racism applied to Fats, where biases predominate). There is a whole mix-and-match spectrum to understand what food nutrients benefit you during different stages to affect both your mental and physical health.
Fat has many roles in our body
The importance of Fat is underrated. It is an integral component in important tissues like the brain and liver, amongst others. It helps fuel us energy-wise, provides the cushioning/padding to important organs to keep them safe in case of jolts, and plays a huge part in determining how our hormones are signaled to be secreted and affect the body. This applies to both men and women. Actually, EFAs are important for kids and newborns too (and also including unborn fetuses still in the mother’s womb), but we will get to that soon.
To give you some context: the human body can make certain essential nutrients that the body needs by itself with no active intervention needed from the human’s side. For example, Vitamin D is naturally and automatically synthesized by the melanin in our skin in the presence of sunlight. This can be said to be similar to how our heart beats automatically even though we do not voluntarily ask it to do so.
However, essential fatty acids are a group of fatty acids that the body cannot generate by itself, and hence need to be ingested via food, or even external supplementation. In one sentence: Naturally balanced Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are the good and healthy fats that cannot be produced automatically in the body and have to be taken as a part of the diet.
There are the Omega 3,6 and 9 EFAs that are useful to the body in ways that science has just begun to fathom:
- These good fats are obtained from both Vegetarian as well as Non-Vegetarian sources. Avocados and Flaxseeds give you specific EFAs, as does a serving of Salmon or fatty fish consumed immediately after cooking.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly Anti-inflammatory in nature. Which means that they reduce the inevitable inflammation caused to our bodies due to normal aging, everyday pollution, stress and toxins ingested via air, water or food. Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly EPA and DHA ( full names are eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) and are usually plentiful in fish and shellfish. These fatty acids are excellent not only for the everyday health of the general population but specifically important for pregnant mothers ( the DHA is important for the growing baby in the womb to help it develop a good retinal vision as well as healthy brain cells)
- Omega 6 fatty acids are mainly Anti-proliferative in nature and recommended for anyone suffering from skin disorders where the skin cells grow abnormally. These EFAs retard the growth of abnormal tissue cells in the body ( in the skin, and otherwise too). They are good supplements for people afflicted with Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis and Eczema, who also apply topical steroids ( for example Mometasone, Desonide etc) to soothe the burning, itching, redness and rashes on their skin. In fact, newer scientific research is even being conducted to see how Omega-6 EFAs can stop tumors and unwanted tissue lumps in the body from growing larger. Also, for anyone suffering from Liver problems ( due to age issues/Alcoholism), Essential fatty acid supplements can be very beneficial as EFAs help in anyone recovering from Jaundice, Acute & Chronic Hepatitis, Drug-induced Hepatitis, and trying to beat Alcoholism. These EFAs normalize biochemical parameters: SGOT, SGPT, Serum Bilirubin ( these are parameters in Liver function tests)
Intake of Essential Fatty acids (EFAs) for us all
Like it was said earlier, EFAs need to be taken via the diet. This means that you could consciously eat the foods that provide them (Avocados, Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Eggs, Fatty fish) without overcooking them. Overcooking tends to destroy the nutrient values in foods and is not recommended. Or, you could take over the counter supplements of EFAs. These food supplements are usually referred to as Nutraceuticals ( because they provide nutrition which can also otherwise be gained by following a healthy and customized diet). EFA supplements can come in various mixes and can be taken depending on the need of the patient.
For example, for a pregnant mother, it is important that she take high doses of EPA and DHA in her Omega-3 via supplements (or else complement the same with a proper well-planned diet of normal foods). For someone suffering from mood swings and depressions, an Omega-3 EFA supplement high in DHA helps. For someone with skin problems and Liver issues, a higher amount of Omega-6 EFAs is needed. The balances can be worked out as per the customized need of the individual. It is very important that you consult your doctor and pharmacist in detail before ingesting food supplements of any kind (because, as we said earlier, misinformation is worse than having no information at all).
Even children ( once they are old enough to chew and swallow solid foods and liquids) would benefit greatly from supplementation of either EFA oils (Usually flaxseed oils, which can be mixed with milk and given to the baby drop by drop) or else be made to chew and eat nuts (specifically Walnuts and Flaxseed, both of which consist of an EFA called ALA ( Alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in plants)
EFAs benefit us all for a wide range of reasons. Make sure you include them in your diet for your physical and mental health and well-being right from infancy to adulthood!