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Fatty Acids and Your Health

Posted May 03 2009 12:00am

The National Cholesterol Education program recommends that everyone over the age of 20 be tested for cholesterol at least once every 5 years.

Improve your health, eat foods high in essential Fatty Acids. Two decades of research has improved our understanding of the health benefits of many foods and food components, including the essential roles of fats and individual fatty acids in the diet.

The three major categories of dietary fats-saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated-have various effects on low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) levels. Saturated fats, in general, are shown to elevate LDL-cholesterol levels, and high levels of LDL cholesterol are considered a major risk factor for heart disease. In contrast, diets higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known to lead to lower LDL-cholesterol levels.

There are two subclasses of fatty acids within the polyunsaturated fat category: omega-6 (n-6) fatty acids and omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids. Vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils are rich in n-6 fatty acids. Soybean oil is also an excellent source of n-3 fatty acids, as are canola oil and deep-sea fish, or “fatty fish.”

Fats, or lipids, can be divided into three general categories: Triglycerides, Phospholipids and Sterols.

  • Triglycerides – (fats and oils) This is the main form of fat in the diet. Triglycerides provide us with energy, insulates, cushions and protects internal organs and helps our bodies use carbohydrates and proteins more efficiently. Triglycerides can be further divided into the following categories:
  • Phospholipids – (eg. lecithin) Phospholipids help transport fat-soluble vitamins, hormones and other substances through cell membranes.   Because they can dissolve in both water and fat, they act as an emulsifier, helping to keep fats suspended in body fluids and blood.  The liver can produce all the body’s phospholipids from scratch, therefore it is not an essential nutrient.
  • Sterols – Sterols include cholesterol, vitamin D and sex hormones.  The are a component of bile, sex hormones (testosterone), adrenal hormones (cortisol) and are a structural component of cell membranes.  9/10 of the body’s cholesterol is stored in cells.Cholesterol – The liver manufacturers about 800-1500 mg. of cholesterol per day, which contributes much more to total body cholesterol than does diet.  The liver can also make cholesterol from carbohydrates, proteins or fat.  Only animal foods contain cholesterol.  Excess cholesterol harms the body when it forms deposits on artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease.  Cholesterol can be further divided into HDLs and LDLs:
  • Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) – Considered “bad” cholesterol.  It is produced in the liver and circulates through the body, transporting fat to the muscles, heart, fat stores and other tissues.
  • High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) – Considered “good” cholesterol. It is produced by the liver to carry cholesterol and phospholipids from the cells back to the liver for recycling and/or excretion.   Because HDLs represent cholesterol removal from arteries and blood to the liver for breakdown and disposal, it is considered “good” cholesterol.  Therefore, high levels of HDL cholesterol is considered a negative risk factor for heart disease.Eating foods that are rich in fatty acids can reduce inflammation in your body, help prevent cancer cell growth, and reduce the risk of becoming obese, and these are just a few of the benefits of essential fatty acids.
    fatty1 Fatty Acids and Your Health
    Functions Performed By Essential Fatty Acids includes
  • Fatty acids are an important part of cell membranes, which helps to determine the fluidity and chemical activity of cell membranes.
  • They  enable the synthesis of prostaglandins – hormone like substances found in all cells which are responsible for many functions at cellular level and regulate many body processes such as: cardiovascular function, immune system processes and maintenance of the musculoskeletal system.
  • Fatty acid regulates oxygen use, electron transportation and energy production (these are the most important processes occurring in the cells).
  • It help brain & vision development of infants
  • It help to form red blood pigments (haemoglobin).
  • It support the production of secretions of digestive enzymes.
  • It help make the lubricants that allow joints to move effectively.
  • It help transport cholesterol in the blood.
  • It help to generate electrical currents and keep the heart rate regular.
  • Fatty acid are needed by the tissues of the brain, retina, adrenal glands and testes.
  • It increase memory and learning ability
  • They help immune function in fighting infection.
  • It help balance the immune system and prevent allergies.
  • It ensures  proper nerve transmission from one nerve to the next – especially in the memory and concentration areas of the brain.
  • It ensure adequate bone formation and repair

    Foods in Essential Fatty Acids
  • Flax seeds
    2 Tbs contain 146% of the RDA for essential fatty acids. Flaxseeds are slightly larger than sesame seeds and have a nice nutty flavor. You can buy flaxseeds either whole or ground and sprinkle them on your food. Many people like them on their cereal, in muffin and bread recipes, sprinkled on their vegetables, or added to smoothies. If this does not sound appealing to you, you can buy flaxseed oil.

    The benefits of fiber rich flaxseeds make up a long list. Just a few health benefits they offer are reducing hot flashes, lowering blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.

  • Walnuts
    1/4 cup contains 95% of the RDA. Walnuts improve your cardiovascular health by lowering high blood pressure and lowering cholesterol in people with Type II Diabetes.
  • Salmon
    4 oz contains 87% of the RDA. For the highest levels of essential fatty acids, try to buy Chinook or Sockeye Salmon. In addition to being high in essential fats, Salmon protects your heart against arrhythmia.
  • Cauliflower
    1 cup contains 9% of the RDA. Cauliflower contains compounds that may help protect you against cancer. In addition to having a high amount of essential fatty acids, the compounds in cauliflower also promote liver detoxification. These compounds signal your genes to increase production of enzymes to detoxify and cleanse your body and eliminate harmful toxins in your system.
  • Cabbage
    1 cup contains 7% of the RDA. Like cauliflower, cabbage is another cruciferous vegetable that helps cleanse your body and provide heart healthy fatty acids.

    Experts recommend for optimum health, consuming at least 2% of your total daily calories as essential fatty acids. For the average diet of 2000 calories, this means eating 4 grams per day.

    By adding just flaxseeds and salmon to your diet, you can quickly reach your goal of 4 grams. Two tablespoons of flaxseeds has 3.5 grams of fatty acids, while a 4-ounce piece of salmon contains 1.5 grams.

    How to improve Cholesterol Levels

  • Reduce or maintain a desirable weight
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise four days per week for 30 minutes or more can increase the level of (“good”) HDL cholesterol in your body
  • Choose monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats in small amounts in place of saturated fats
  • Avoid saturated fats
  • Eat fish once or twice per week
  • Avoid hydrogenated or trans-fatty acids
  • Reduce consumption of high-cholesterol foods
  • Consume more soluble fiber (see our Amazing Grains article)
  • Graze. Eating 5 or more meals per day keeps insulin concentrations low and slows down the liver’s synthesis of cholesterol

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