What’s the difference between fats and Fatty Acids?

Over the years, there has been a lot of talk about Fatty Acids, their importance, and where you can get them. But, how much do you know about fatty acids themselves?

Although there are many different types, learning more about them may encourage you to make them a significant staple in your diet.

What are Fatty Acids?

Similar to how amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, fatty acids are the building blocks of fat. Your body digests the fat you eat and breaks it down into fatty acids, which are then absorbed into your bloodstream.

They make many of your body’s functions possible starting with energy storage. Your body usually burns sugar in the form of glucose for energy. However, whenever glucose is not available, your body burns fatty acids for energy instead.

The weight loss connection

This burning of fatty acids is the same fat-burning you are aiming for when you you want to lose weight and when you exercise. In fact, burning fat for energy is not only preferable, but also healthier for your body.

Why are they called ‘Essential’ Fatty Acids (EFA’s)?

When fatty acids are referred to as ‘essential,’ it simply means that your body cannot produce them. Rather, they must be consumed through the food you eat as well as a supplement you may take.

However, the EFA’s—LA and ALA—have a few derivatives that may sound familiar to you. So these fatty acid derivatives can be considered as conditionally essential!

Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFA’s… by name

The Omega-3s

  • Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the essential omega-3 EFA
  • ALA derivatives include:
    • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) = best for brain health
    • Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)  = best for inflammation

The Omega-6s

  • Linolenic Acid (LA) is the essential omega-6 EFA
  • LA derivatives include:
    • Arachidonic Acid (AA) = best for membrane flexibility and permeability
    • Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) = best for inflammatory skin conditions

Why supplement with Fatty Acids?

You’re probably already taking a fish oil supplement daily, and this is the best source of Omega 3 EFA’s apart from eating fatty fish such as sardines. However your body needs more of these vital fats than you can obtain from your diet alone and that’s where supplementation comes in.

When it comes to Omega 6, polyunsaturated vegetable oils are the primary source of these. With the proliferation of oils such as sunflower, safflower, soya for cooking and also contained in many processed foods, it is likely that you will already be getting enough Omega 6. In fact you may be getting too much, with the ideal proportion of Omega 3:Omega 6 being 1:1.

Which EFA’s are good for what?

The Omega 3’s from fish oil and krill oil benefit your brain health, including memory and mental acuity. They are also particularly important for their anti-inflammatory properties, hence their use for people with Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

The Omega 6’s from the plant world help skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate your metabolism, and assist the reproductive system. One of these, Evening Primrose Oil, is specific for women’s health and menstrual problems

For more information on the essential fatty acids or their derivatives, feel free to ‘Ask a Naturopath.’

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Mr Vitamins