Essential Fatty Acids

Written by Kimberly Clark
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There are approximately 50 essential nutrients, comprised mainly of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids that are required to sustain human life. Amongst these is what are referred to as essential fatty acids, or EFAs. The body can produce all other fats from sugar and starches, but unlike other fats, the body is incapable of creating EFAs from other food sources. It must acquire what it needs directly from the things that you eat.

What's So Great about EFAs?

The proclaimed health benefits of essential fatty acids include reduced susceptibility to diseases that affect the immune system and protection against inflammatory disorders such as asthma and arthritis. They have also been shown to increase metabolic rate, improve brain and mental functions, and provide greater resistance to infections. All this is accomplished by increasing the body's ability to absorb nutrients, amino acids and vitamins (the things the body needs to repair itself).

The two EFAs vital to basic body functions are known as omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Examples of substances rich in omega 3 are fish oils, flax seeds, and walnuts. Foods rich in omega 6 include safflower oil, borage oil, and pumpkin seeds. To be most effective, the EFAs should be consumed in the proper ratio.

Ideally, the ratio should be 1 to 1. However, the typical American diet contains almost three times as much omega-6 fatty acids as it does omega-3 fatty acids. Many people add supplements to their diets to ensure they're getting enough of the omega 3s.

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