Why are Essential Fatty Acids so Important?

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are considered the building blocks of the membranes for every cell in our body. The term essential means that our bodies do not produce these acids; therefore we must consume them in the foods we eat.

So far, there are twenty different fatty acids that our body’s need. Surprisingly they are all made from two basic acids, Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid. Linoleic Acid is part of the Omega-6 acids and Linolenic Acid is part of the Omega-3 acids. These two fatty acids are needed by our bodies to create and maintain the integrity of our cell membranes, regulate chemical processes that occur in our cells, and to maintain proper kidney functions.

The word linoleic comes from the Greek word linon (flax). One part of the definition of Oleic means derived from oil. Most people get plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids in their diet by consuming approximately a tablespoon of polyunsaturated plant oils per day. Flax seed contain high levels of lignans and Omega-3 fatty acids. Lignans may benefit the heart, possess anti-cancer properties and studies performed on mice found reduced growth in specific types of tumors. Initial studies suggest that flaxseed taken in the diet may benefit individuals with certain types of breast cancer. Flax may also lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels. To ensure freshness and potency, the flax seed oils must be kept from heat as heat will destroy the nutritional content.

It would be easy if simply consuming Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids would get us the needed nutrition for cell functions. Unfortunately studies on these important acids indicate that a proper balance or ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is needed by our bodies to use them efficiently. The ratio is five portions of Omega-6 to one portion of Omega-3. In Western cultures we eat an awful lot of beef, pork and chicken that we typically cook with some form of polyunsaturated oil which contains an adequate supply of Omega-6 but lacks Omega-3. When our diets do NOT consist of mainly fish and sea vegetables the ratio is adjusted to 1 to 2. That means to maintain proper cell function; we should be consuming on a daily basis one portion of Omega-6 to two portions of Omega-3.

On a daily basis our consumption of essential fatty acids should be approximately 3 to 6% of our daily caloric intake. If you consume 2000 calories per day, then it is recommended that of that 2000 calories, 60 to 120 calories should be Essential Fatty Acids. As with all guidelines, each person must find their optimal caloric intake as well as the right balance of Essential Fatty Acids.

An easy way to check if you are getting enough EFA’s in your diet is to monitor the dryness of your skin. If your skin is too dry (watch during the changing of the seasons), your body may be indicating to you that it needs more Essential Fatty Acids. If you’re getting enough EFA’s your skin should be soft to the touch.