In the course of evolution, human beings lost the ability to produce some fatty acids. Yet, these fatty acids are essential to life and must therefore be supplied through diet. They are fats required by the body for proper functioning and not just as a fuel.
There are only two Essential Fatty Acids known for humans; linolenic acid (omega 6) and alpha- linolenic acid (omega 3). There are some other fatty acids which are conditionally essential; they are gamma linolenic acid, lauric acid and palmitoleic acid. Alpha linolenic acid i.e. omega 3 fatty acid can be converted to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (decosahexaenoic acid).
Why are Essential Fatty Acids important?
Essential fatty acids are of great importance as they have got many important roles to play.
- Bactericidal Activity: Essential Fatty Acids are involved in the bactericidal activity against common pathogens like staphylococci and pneumococci. They boost the immune system and thus protect from infections.
- Growth and Development: They have an important role in the foetal growth and early human development. DHA and Arachidonic acids are important for the brain development of the infant. Thus involving sources of essential fatty acids in the diet during pregnancy and lactation is important.
- Your brain and nervous tissues requires these fatty acids for proper function.DHA is also necessary for proper vision.
- Flaunts Skin: Omega 6 fatty acids helps in maintenance of healthy and wrinkle free skin. Also it protects from skin rashes, under eye circles and acts as anti-ageing.
- Heart Friendly: Omega 3 fatty acids prevent blockage of arteries thus giving your heart a protective effect. It also helps in lowering the triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) from your blood.
- Prevents Cancer: Omega 3 has been found to prevent cancer of breast and colon in humans by inhibiting tumour cell growth.
- It is also found to have an anti-inflammatory effect thus preventing muscle cramps and relaxes muscles. It reduced abdominal pain before and after menstrual period.
Sources of Essential Fatty acids
Following foods are rich source of essential fatty acids:
- Fish ( mackerel or salmon)
- Almonds and Walnuts
- Bengal gram
- Olive oil
- Rice bran oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower oil
- Cotton seed oil
- Mustard Oil
- Groundnut Oil
Including all these sources in your diet on regular bases shows wonders on health. Deficiency of essential fatty acids may cause permanent learning defects and alterations in synaptic functions of brain.
Although a minimum amount of fat is essential to provide Essential fatty acids, fat intake above certain level is also undesirable. Studies relating fat intake to heart diseases, suggest that an intake of fat energy is at 30% or more of the total calories is undesirable particularly in sedentary individuals. For average male and female the intake of essential fat should be 20% of total calories.
All the Best!