Two essential fatty acids required in the proper amounts for good health are linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is part of the Omega 6 family of fats and is found in many plant sources. Vegetable oils like corn, soy or canola oil made from rapeseed, are rich in this fat.
On the other hand, alpha-linoleic acid is part of the Omega 3 family and is not as plentiful in the plant world. Therefore, people eating strictly a plant-based diet have to be sure to get enough of it through the limited plant sources that have it or through a supplement.
Once in the body, these two fatty acids are converted to the polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, properly known as EPA and DHA, respectively. Both help maintain cell membranes and regulate many of the body’s processes including blood clotting and reducing inflammation.
Also, because the vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, if there is not enough fat in the diet to breakdown these vitamins, one can become deficient even though they are being ingested in the proper amount. Scientists know Omega 3 is essential for healthy skin, but they think it may also lower the risk of heart disease, however, research is ongoing to prove this theory.
Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of omega 3 once the outer shell of the seed is removed. Buy it ground as a meal, or whole and grind it yourself in a coffee grinder. Use it in baking, in cereal or smoothies.
Walnuts are another good source. Either add them halved on top of a bowl of cereal or chop them up and add them to a salad. Or you can make a vinaigrette dressing using walnut oil and mix it in with your salad.
The amount of Omega 3 required daily by men and women differ; men need more than women. Three teaspoons of ground flaxseed are enough for women; however, men require 4 teaspoons daily. For walnuts, the ratio is the same: three halves for women and four halves for men.
Omega 6:3 Ratio
One caution concerning Omega 6 and 3 should be noted, though. For all-around general health experts recommend a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1, omega 6 to 3. On average Americans currently have an average of 16:1! Because Omega 6 can promote inflammation and Omega 3 reduces inflammation, too high a ratio can cause distress and eventually subject the body to disease.
What happens if I don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 and omega-6 are two main essential fats. All natural/organic foods that contain omega-3 also contain omega-6, symptoms of omega-3. The symptoms of the essential fatty acid deficiency are:
- Night blindness
- Dry, scaly, flaky, dull or bumpy skin
- Dry, brittle or lackluster hair
- Soft, splitting or brittle nails
- Fatty food cravings
- Confusion and disorientation
High triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia) and low HDL
If you have adequate omega-6 but are omega-3 deficient, you may experience an increased in inflammation due to an imbalanced omega-6:omega-3 ratio.
What would happen if I have more than enough omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 naturally keeps blood from clotting. If you have too much omega-3 from diet or supplements, this may cause easy bleeding. If the supplement is fish oil, you may experience symptoms such as belching, nausea, and loose stools.