Nutrients are divided as either being essential or non-essential based on whether or not they’re required for normal and healthy metabolic functioning. The term essential is also used to refer to nutrients that the human body can not produce on its own and therefore needs a de novo source for them.
Fats have been implicated as being the ‘root of all things unhealthy.’ You’ve probably heard people say you need to avoid anything with fats as much as you possibly can. Science says otherwise.
In fact, fats are one of three (the other two being proteins and carbohydrates) essential building blocks of human functioning. Without fats, we wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, breathe and live our lives as healthy and functioning human beings.
Fats are therefore understood as being important for normal functioning. Essential fatty acids are fats that the body can not produce themselves and needs an external source. These are polyunsaturated fats, namely omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Lets take a look at the best essential fatty acids you need in your diet!
Fatty acids are straight chain, hydrocarbons with a methyl group at one end and a carboxyl group at the other. Fatty acids can be broadly classified as being either:
- Saturated, or
As the name implies, saturated fat has all four of the carbon atom’s valance electrons paired with other electrons in single bonds. An unsaturated fatty acid, on the other hand, has a double chain somewhere on the hydrocarbon. Unsaturated fatty acids can therefore be classified as being either:
- Monounsaturated, or
Fatty acids that are usually the root of all things unhealthy are saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are actually important for the normal and healthy functioning of human beings. While the body has the capacity to produce monounsaturated fats, it can not produce polyunsaturated fats making them essential.
Why? The human body does not have the capacity to introduce double bonds beyond carbon atoms 9 and 13. With a polyunsaturated fatty acid, multiple double chains are extending throughout the length of the fatty acid.
Omega-3: Linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
The terminal carbon atom attached to the methyl group is written as carbon atom alpha, the next is beta, then comes gamma and every other succeeding carbon atom is designated as an omega with a numeric value attached to it.
Hence, omega-3 fatty acids have their first double bond attached at the third omega carbon atom. They are commonly referred to as linolenic acid (although there are two other, lesser-known variants).
Where Can You Find Them
- Fish (herring and salmon)
- Canola Oil
What Can They Do For You
- Used as supplements to overcome cachexia (a sudden loss of weight during cancer and cancer therapy).
- Reduces inflammation.
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Improves normal heart functioning with an increase in good cholesterol.
- Form endocabinnoids (mood boosters).
Omega-6: Linoleic Acid (LA) and Calendic Acid
Omega-6 are polyunsaturated, essential fatty acids that have the first unsaturated carbon atom located at position omega sixth from the terminal carbon atom. Because omega-6 fatty acids can be used to make several inflammatory mediators (primarily arachidonic acid), it is a useful pharmaceutical agent in relieving problems in the inflammatory cascade.
Where Can You Find Them
- Vegetable Oils
- Corn Oil
- Nuts, Seeds, and Vegetables
What They Can Do For You
- Used in treating prostate cancer
- Treatment of arthritis
- Treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases
- Mood boosters
- Aiding in cellular signaling
Our body needs polyunsaturated fatty acids that it cannot synthesize itself (hence the term essential) to function normally. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids found in a range of nuts, plants, and animals (primarily fishes) and help in promoting healthy functioning.