Omega-3, 6 and 9
Two important polyunsaturated fatty acids are linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Linoleic acid is used to build omega-6 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid is used to build omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body and must be supplied by the diet. They are called essential fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. You should make sure you include good sources of omega-3 and omega-6 each day.
Pregnant women have an increased need for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are needed for the fetal growth, brain development, learning and behavior. Lactating women should also increase their fatty acids intake, since infants receive their essential fatty acids through the breast milk.
Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). Most diets provide adequate amounts of omega-6. Unless you eat a diet that is extremely low in fat, it is very easy to get more than enough omega-6. Supplementation of omega-6 is usually not necessary.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in far less foods than omega-6 fatty acids. Many people have a very low intake of omega-3s. Since omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body, it is important to take these fatty acids in the proper ratio. The World Health Organization recommends a ratio of 5:1 to 10:1 omega-6 to omega-3. While a ratio between 1:1 and 4:1 is often considered as being optimal. Since most diets are very rich in omega-6 and low in omega-3, the ratio is often somewhere between 10:1 and 20:1. This is especially a problem with diets that are high in processed foods and oils. Oils like corn, safflower, sunflower and cottonseed are usually low in omega-3s. To balance the fatty acids out, it is important to eat a diet that is low in processed foods and with fat mainly coming from omega-3 fatty acids.
Many people have a deficiency of omega-3 without realizing it, since the symptoms can often be attributed to other health conditions or nutrient deficiencies. Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency include fatigue, dry and/or itchy skin, brittle hair and nails, constipation, depression, frequent colds, poor concentration, lack of physical endurance and joint pain.
Omega-3s are damaged by heat, so the oils should not be cooked with. They are also damaged by oxidation; that's why you should store the oils in dark bottles in the refrigerator or freezer.
The absolute best source of omega-3 are flaxseeds. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed will supply the daily requirement of omega-3. Flaxseeds need to be ground for your body to be able to absorb the omega-3 from them. You can grind flaxseeds in a spice grinder. Once flaxseeds are ground, the shells don't protect them from oxidation anymore and you will need to store them in the refrigerator or freezer, just like the oils.
Omega-9 is a family of fatty acids which includes two major fatty acids called stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat which can be converted to oleic acid, which is monounsaturated. Oleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid found in nature and the primary oil produced by skin glands.
Omega-9 is a nonessential fatty acid, since it is produced naturally by the body. It does not need to be supplemented. Omega-9 is mainly used when there is an insufficiency of either omega-3, omega-6 or both. When the body doesn't have enough omega-3 or omega-6, it tries to compensate by producing omega-9 fatty acids to take their place. Omega-9 derivatives aren't as effective as omega-3 or omega-6 though and our health will eventually suffer.
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