Smorgasbord Health – Nutrient of the week – Essential Fatty Acids

smorgasbord health

In the last week I have looked at our brain, its structure and how it develops. On Monday I covered dementia and in particular Alzheimer’s Disease. Tomorrow there is the final part of this series, looking at the food that is needed to keep our brains healthy.  One of the essential nutrients contained in some of that food are essential fatty acids. As you will see from this post, these fatty acids are worryingly deficient in our modern diet and this has been linked to brain disease.

In recent years over 2,000 scientific studies have identified that there is a wide range of health problems associated with Omega-3 deficiencies. Unfortunately our modern diet is almost devoid of this essential fatty acid and in fact it is believed that around 60% of us are deficient in Omega-3. What is far more concerning is that a quarter of us may be so deficient that current test methods can detect none in our blood. Omega-3 is one of the most important nutrients for our health, and a lack of it in our system holds far more risk than any vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Our ancient ancestors were opportunistic hunter/gatherers and their diet was rich in Omega-3. It is estimated that through the seasons they had around 125 foods that they would consume. Today in the poorest countries of the world, some subsist on one or two staple foods. In our own ‘civilised’ cultures we rarely eat more than 25.

Before the inclusion of wild grains in the diet, ancient humans would have eaten meat, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Whilst I believe that we should also include fish and wholegrains, this is a good basis of a healthy diet.

The ramifications of not obtaining sufficient Omega-3 is long-term and apart from overall health, we are more at risk of heart disease, strokes, cancers, depression, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. Therapeutically taking additional Omega-3 in the form of supplements may alleviate some conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. This should only be done however after consulting a doctor or qualified nutritional therapist or other health advisor.

If you have found it difficult to lose weight there might also be a link to a deficiency in Omega-3 as it can result in the inefficient digestion of the food you do eat, even if it is classified as healthy.

Let’s look at Essential Fatty Acids in more detail.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesise and must be obtained through diet. There are two families of EFAs Omega-3 and Omega-6. Omega-9 is necessary but non-essential as the body can make it if the other two fatty acids are present.

EFAs are essential because they support our cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. We need these fats to manufacture and repair cells, maintain hormone levels and expel waste from the body. They are part of the process that regulates blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility and conception – and they also help regulate inflammation and stimulate the body to fight infection.

Omega-3 (Linolenic Acid) is the principal Omega-3 fatty acid and is used in the formation of cell walls, improving circulation and oxygen delivery. A deficiency can lead to decreased immune system function; elevated levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) high blood pressure and irregular heart beat. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps prevent heart disease.

pumpkin seedsIt is found in flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkinseeds, avocados, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, sardines, tuna and salmon.

Omega-6 (Linoleic Acid) is the primary Omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 can improve rheumatoid arthritis, lower blood cholesterol, PMS, skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

salmonFound in flaxseeds, pumpkinseeds, olive oil, evening primrose oil, chicken and poultry, salmon.

There is growing evidence that the non-essential Oleic acid, Omega 9, may help to lower cholesterol by decreasing the unhealthy cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), while at the same time raising the level of healthy cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein).
Oleic acid is also emerging as a regulator of blood-sugar levels and as a possible protection against breast and prostate cancer.


So, including half an avocado in your diet every day may well protect you from the harmful long-term affects of a number of diseases. Found in olive oil, olives, avocados, almonds, and walnuts.


First and foremost EFAs provide us with energy but unlike saturated fats their effect is beneficial. The body cannot manufacture them and that is why it is ESSENTIAL to include them on a daily basis in your diet.

Both of the important EFA families – omega-6 and omega-3 – are components of nerve cells and cellular membranes. They are converted by the body into hormone like messengers such as prostaglandins – which are needed on a second-by-second basis by most tissue activities in the body.

A summary of the functions in the body that EFAs are involved in:

  • Regulating pressure in the eye, joints, and blood vessels.
  • Dilating or constricting blood vessels
  • Directing endocrine hormones to specific cells
  • Regulating smooth muscle reflexes
  • Being the main constituent of cell membranes
  • Regulating the rate of cell division
  • Regulating the inflow and outflow of substances to and from cells
  • Transporting oxygen from red blood cells to the tissues
  • Maintaining proper kidney function and fluid balance
  • Keeping saturated fats mobile in the blood stream
  • Preventing blood cells from clumping together (blood clots that can be a cause of heart attack and stroke)
  • Minimising the release of inflammatory substances from cells that may trigger allergic conditions
  • Regulating nerve transmission and communication
  • If the diet is deficient in either omega-6 or omega-3 long-term degenerative illnesses can result such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2005

Thanks for popping in and I hope you found this post useful.. look forward to your feedback and please feel free to share.  Sally

18 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health – Nutrient of the week – Essential Fatty Acids

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  3. Really interesting, Sally. I shall up my consumption of avocado, which I love. I look forward to tomorrow’s post on more of the foods we should be eating. One question – when you mention things like pumpkin seeds and walnuts, what sort of quantity should we be eating?

    Liked by 1 person

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