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Making Sense of Essential Fatty Acids

The body can make some of the fats it needs from the foods you eat. However, two essential fatty acids cannot be made in the body and can be taken in the diet from plant foods. These basic fats—linolenic and linoleic acid—are used to build specialized fats called omega–3 and omega–6 fatty acids.1

Omega–3 and omega–6 fatty acids are important to the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. Deficiencies are responsible for a host of symptoms and disorders, including abnormalities in the liver and kidney, changes in the blood, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and skin changes, including dryness and scaliness.

Adequate intake of the essential fatty acids results in numerous health benefits. Prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain have also been documented.2,3

While supplements and added oils are not typically necessary with a vegetarian diet, good sources of omega–3 and omega–6 fats should be included daily. It is important to take these two fats in the proper ratio, as well.

Omega–6 fatty acids compete with omega–3 fatty acids for use in the body, so excessive intake of omega–6 fatty acids can be a problem. In many Western countries, including the United States, diets have become heavy in omega–6 fats and low in omega–3 fats. That is because many people consume too many processed foods and oils. The problem can be solved by eating a low–fat diet that is low in processed foods and with fat mainly coming from omega–3 fatty acids.

Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-6 >>