Smorgasbord Health Column – Weekly Grocery Shopping List by Nutrient – Part Six – Essential Fatty Acids by Sally Cronin

Last week I posted  Part Five of this alternative shopping list by nutrient, as well as types of vitamins, water or fat soluble, and a basic list of essential nutrients the body needs to be healthy. At the end of the the posts, I will collate the foods into nutritional groups so that you can print off and refer to when doing your weekly shop.

I believe in eating, and eating all food groups, just moderating the amount that you eat based on your requirements. Your body knows how to process fresh food, raw and cooked from scratch. It is not designed to extract nutrients from manufactured foods which includes the majority that come in a packet, jar or can.

With that in mind here is part six of a shopping list that your body might write if it was capable. It does try to tell you that it is missing elements that it needs which is when you are sick.

Weekly Grocery Shopping List by Nutrient – Part Six – Essential Fatty Acids

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.

It 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.

avocadoSo, 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.

A closer look at why EFAs are so essential.

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.

 ©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty- two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here:

Next week I will compile the complete shopping list which you can print off to check which foods you might not be eating enough of and to include more regularly in your diet.

Thanks for dropping in and I hope you have found useful.. Sally




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