The Importance of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) in Health and Fitness

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You can be forgiven if you have always believed that fats are bad, it’s been given so much attention that it has almost been impossible to think anything else, but what if I told you that this notion is WRONG? Welcome Essential fatty acids…

Fats are a vital macronutrient that are responsible for an incalculable amount of functions on the micro and macro level within our bodies. Fats are essential to health, essential to well being and it gives us a rich source of energy to keep our bodies functioning daily (1 gram of fat contains 9 calories).

However it is important to establish the difference between the fats. Most of us will be familiar with the terms saturated fat and unsaturated fat, but blindly go by in our day to day lives without fully understanding their make up.

Saturated Fat 

Saturated fat is what I will define as ‘hard fat’, which at room temperature is solid. The main sources of saturated fats come from animals e.g. cheese and fatty meats. Surprisingly for most there are some saturated fats derived from vegetables, palm oil and coconut oils being examples.

Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are the more common oils used in cooking today. The majority of unsaturated fats come from vegetable and seeds, but we also acquire them when we eat fish. These are what are referred to as the good fats we hear about all the time.

This is where most peoples knowledge of fats end, but unsaturated fats are divided into a further two groups: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated

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Monounsaturated fats are ‘mono’, meaning that they have one unsaturated carbon bond  in its chemical structure, as shown in the image above (photo credit),  and have a powerful protective function against heart disease. Typical sources of monounsaturated fats are olive, avocado, safflower, peanut, canola and sesame oil.

Polyunsaturated fats have multiple unsaturated carbon bonds. These fats are particularly important to the body as some of the fats are essential to the body and essential for life. We know these fats are omega 3 (linolenic acid) and omega 6 (linoleic acid) and omega 9. Our bodies cannot make these EFAs without the help of the food we eat and it cannot store them either, making it crucial for us to have a regular consumption of omega 3 and 6’s.  Sources of polyunsaturated fats include fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, herring), soyabean, sunflower and corn oil.

What do we need them for? 

EFAs are crucial to many functions of the body, and without them our body simply cannot operate optimally. Listed are some examples:

Cell division, transportation of oxygen, blood clotting, maintaining a healthy heart, cognitive functions such as memory, healthy joints, healthy skin, maintains muscles, assists immune response, bodily secretions, optimal kidney function, nerve function and regulation of hormones.

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