You have probably been hearing about omega-3 fatty acids in recent years. The reason? A growing body of scientific research indicates that these healthy fats help prevent a wide range of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Unlike the saturated fats found in butter and lard, omega-3 fatty acids are polyuns
The three most nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Alpha-linolenic acid is one of two fatty acids traditionally classified as "essential." The other fatty acid traditionally viewed as essential is an omega 6 fat called linoleic acid. These fatty acids have traditionally been classified as ï¿½essentialï¿½ because the body is unable to manufacture them on its own and because they play a fundamental role in several physiological functions. As a result, we must be sure our diet contains sufficient amounts of both alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid.
Dietary sources of alpha-linolenic acid include flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soybeans and some dark green leafy vegetables. Linoleic acid is found in high concentrations in corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. Most people consume a much higher amount of linoleic acid than alpha-linolenic acid, which has important health consequences. For more information on the proper ratio of these fatty acids in the diet, see our FAQ entitled, A New Way of Looking at Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
The body converts alpha-linolenic acid into two important omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). These fats can also be derived directly from certain foods, most notably cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, halibut, and herring. In addition, certain types of algae contain DHA. EPA is believed to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, while DHA is the necessary for proper brain and nerve development.
How it Functions
What are the functions of omega-3 fatty acids?
Every cell in our body is surrounded by a cell membrane composed mainly of fatty acids. The cell membrane allows the proper amounts of necessary nutrients to enter the cell, and ensures that waste products are quickly removed from the cell.