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Health • 07 April 2021 • 2 min

What are essential fatty acids and why are they so important?

By Zinzino

Essential fatty acids are aptly named, given that the body can’t make them naturally. The only way to get these nutrients is through your diet, which is why foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids are so important to us.

There are two families of essential fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6, both of which are important for a healthy life. Both essential fatty acids support the functions necessary for the body to thrive, and as a society we have a disproportionate intake of Omega-6 over Omega-3. This throws off the all-important Omega-6:3 ratio in our bodies, resulting in the majority of the population living out of balance.

The functions of essential fatty acids include contributing to normal brain and heart health, normal vision, and blood triglyceride levels, while supporting the structural components of cell membranes.

Saturated & unsaturated fatty acids

Circling back to the Omega-6:3 ratio, culturally we’re consuming too many saturated fats and not enough unsaturated fats. Fats that are tightly packed with no double bonds between fatty acids are known as saturated fats. This includes foods such as fatty beef, lamb, some chicken products, and dairy products.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are loosely packed. They come in the form of monounsaturated (olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds) and polyunsaturated fats. The body needs the latter to function, and these can be split into two types: Omega-6 and Omega-3.

The Mediterranean diet is favored when it comes to maintaining overall wellbeing. This means opting for healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), olive oil over butter, low-fat yogurt instead of ice cream, and high-fat fish as a replacement for processed meats.

Consuming enough Omega-3: Do you need fatty acid supplements?

While it’s important to eat seafood two times per week to maximize the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA, this doesn’t guarantee an optimal Omega-6:3 ratio. ALA, the most common Omega-3, is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and leafy vegetables. While it’s not difficult to consume, ALA is generally used for energy, which limits its conversion into EPA and DHA. This tells us that simply eating these foods won’t guarantee a balanced Omega-6:3 ratio.

The Zinzino BalanceTest is one of the very best ways to determine your personal Omega-6:3 ratio, as it provides you with a measure of 11 fatty acids in your blood – all of which offer empowering data to make better health decisions.