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Essential Fatty Acids


There is much confusion and misinformation surrounding the whole issue of fats and health and hopefully this information will begin to clarify things.


Saturated Fats:  May cause cholesterol deposits, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and some types of cancer.  Coconut oil is the most saturated choice.  Hemp seed oil is the lowest in saturated fats and therefore the healthiest choice.

Monounsaturated Fats:  May be preferable to saturated fats, but only if the total percentage of the first two groups remains small and if there are also considerable polyunsaturated (essential) fats.  Olive oil and pork lard do not contain significant amounts of essential fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats are Essential Fatty Acids:  Eaten with protein foods, they may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, increase metabolism, burn fat, and prevent heart disease and stroke.  They also promote cell membrane fluidity and reduce inflammation with beneficial effects on those with arthritis, tuberculosis, and other inflammatory diseases. 

Gamma Linolenic Fatty Acid: This Acid is rarely found in vegetable oils.  Hemp oil may be the only practical source of this essential fatty Acid for those who are not sufficiently healthy to synthesize it from Linoleic fatty Acids.

Omega 6 to Omega 3 Balance:  A ratio of about three or four to one is thought to be very important.  Hemp oil is the only oil that is naturally occurring in this ideal range.

Fatty Acid Percentages:  This may be the most important basis for evaluating the health benefits of different oils.  Hemp oil with 78% polyunsaturates may be able to neutralize the negative effect of some poorer oils in a diet. 

Why Fats?

As the name suggests, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are fats.  There are three types of fats; saturated, mono-unsaturated (MUFAs) and poly-unsaturated (PUFAs) which, without getting too technical, is to do with the number of double (unsaturated) bonds in the molecule.  You can tell which is which by a simple test; highly saturated fats such as butter or lard are solid at (European) room temperature, highly mono-unsaturated such as olive oil are liquid at room temperature but if put in the fridge will start to solidify, whilst highly poly-unsaturateds such as sunflower oil will be liquid both at room temperature and in the fridge.

Similarly the higher the number of double bonds the greater the chemical reactivity, which is why lard or beef dripping, which are high in saturated fats, have traditionally been used for deep frying as the molecules are stable to heat.  Oil high in poly-unsaturates such as sunflower oil should never be used for cooking and indeed should be kept in the fridge and always buy 'cold-pressed' extra virgin oils which haven't been exposed to heat during the pressing process.  Olive oil is safe to use for shallow-frying or stir frying but should never be reused or used for really hot deep frying.

Why Essential?

The body is a wonderful biochemical factory which is able to make complex molecules from simple beginnings however, there are certain molecules that are essential for the body to function, but which it cannot make and which therefore have to be obtained through the diet.  Most people are aware of the importance to health of vitamins such as vitamin C, but not many people realize that certain fats are required by the body in order for it to function properly, which is why they are called “essential” fatty Acid and indeed, people generally have made things worse by eating 'low-fat diets' in the mistaken belief that all fats are bad.  Let your mantra rather be "Bad fats out: good fats in".

What Are They?

Now it starts to get confusing, EFAs have a variety of names (and a host of initials) depending on where the first double bond is placed and how many carbon atoms are in the molecule.  The two types are the Omega-3 fatty Acids and the Omega-6 fatty Acids.

Molecule length




18 carbons

Alpha-Linolenic Acid (LNA)

Linoleic Acid (LA)

18 carbons

Stearidonic Acid (SDA)

Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA)

20 carbons

Eicosatetraenoic Acid

Dihomogamma-linolenic Acid (DGLA)

20 carbons

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

Arachidonic Acid (AA)

22 carbons

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosapentaenoic Acid

Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA) is a major component of both Evening Primrose Oil and Starflower (borage seed) oil and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) are found in fish oils.

What Do You Need?

The proportions of fatty Acids in our diet are important: The total amount of fat should be less than 30% of calories, of which the majority should be poly-unsaturated and the saturated fats should be no more than 5 to 10%.     We need both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty Acids and opinion is divided as to the ratio of these.   Some people think it should be 1:1, although the consensus figure seems to have settled at a ratio of 1:3. Certainly our average diet has changed dramatically in the last century and the amount of Omega-3 fatty Acids in food is much reduced.

Fish Oil is high in Omega-3, but so are some seeds, notably Hemp Seeds (flax seed, another name for linseeds), but also pumpkin seeds and walnuts.   Hemp Seed Oil is now also available in capsules and is a renewable resource, whereas fish oil now runs the risk of being contaminated with environmental pollutants such as organo-chlorines.


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This Page was last updated on : 2016-12-08

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