What are Essential Fatty Acids?


What are essential fatty acids? Here we will attempt to explain them.

There are 20 different types of fatty acids, all of which the body can manufacture itself, except two of them: omega 3 and omega 6 – these two are called the essential fatty acids.

Through the Standard American Diet most people get more omega 6’s in their diet than omega 3’s, this is due to the improper balance of the two essential fatty acids.


But aren’t Fats bad for you?

This is a great question! To answer it: certain fats yes, but all fats, no. There are certain fats out there that your body runs off of, like the essential fatty acids. In fact both omega 3 and omega 6 fats are found in the membranes of every cell that your body contains. So yes, there is such a thing as “good fat”.

Omega 3 – Essential Fatty Acid

Omega 3 is considered an essential fatty acids because we need them in order for our bodies to work properly. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA – we’ll explain these below) are not made in the body we must get them from our diet.

There are several types of omega 3 fatty acids, two of the most important ones are: EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA – docosahexaenoic acid. These can be obtained through superfoods such as flaxseed and chia as well as certain types of fish.

Quite a few of the health benefits that are associated with omega 3 fats are linked to the animal-based sources, EPA & DHA instead of the plant-based sources – ALA. However, once in the body ALA has been shown to convert to EPA and DHA, but at an extremely low and slow rate.

Animal-based sources of omega 3 fats are by far seen as more desirable because of their better absorption rate. However, if you need to stay away from meats there are plenty of good plant-based sources of omega 3 other than meats (fish).

Other than seafood, here are some good sources of omega 3:

Omega 6 – Essential Fatty Acid

Omega 6 fatty acids are part two of the “essential” thing. This particular fat is often known as “the bad fat” which is only true in excess – too much is not good, too much omega 6 can result in an increase in inflammation, while omega 3’s help to reduce it.

Omega 6 is often consumed in excess due to an imbalance in people’s diet that is too high in processed foods made or cooked in hydrogenated oils also known as trans fats.

A healthy balance between the two fats is crucially important. For optimal health, the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio should be somewhere between 1:1 & 4:1. The average American on the Standard American Diet can be in excess of up to 10:1 and still going up.

Good sources of omega 6:

  • Corn Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Canola Oil

What about Omega 9 Fatty Acids

Omega 9 fats are not considered an essential fatty acid because your body can make them from other unsaturated fats that you eat. Omega 9 is found in most olive oils, peanuts and avocados.

So, What About Trans Fats?


Honestly, the only really “bad” fat are the ones not naturally found in foods which would be: trans fats. Hydrogenated oil came to the surface when people starting adding extra hydrogen atoms to the molecular structure, thus creating a product that the body does not handle well.

It’s hard, but in order to avoid trans fats you have to watch what processed foods you eat – if you want to completely eliminate trans fats from your diet, avoid processed foods and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

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