The essential fatty acid’s are described in another article here entitled “Fats for Your Performance”, that gives a brief overview of various types of fat that are most beneficial for energizing you and helping you recover through your athletic events. This would be a recommended quick read.
Briefly, there are 2 distinct types of EFA’s, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linoleic acid (omega-3). Both of these contain double bonds uniquely located that are critical in their functions and behavior within our bodies. The more double bonds in a fatty acid, the more it speeds up metabolism and stimulates energy production. This article will focus on how and why we should be eating essential fatty acids (EFA) while we are trying to lose body fat.
Here is a quick summary of benefits of EFA:
* All fats including essential fats suppress appetite.
* Fats stabilize the highs and lows of blood sugar and insulin levels, maintaining stability.
* Essential fats improve thyroid function, normalize metabolic rate and energy levels provided enough iodine is present in the diet. While dieting, our metabolic rate will have a tendency to decrease to conserve energy.
* Omega-3 (abbreviated, n-3) essential fats decrease inflammation and water retention, and help release water from inflamed tissues.
* N-3 essential fats improve kidney function, making removal of excess water more efficient.
* N-3 essential fats increase energy production, making it more likely that a person will be physically active. This, in turn, leads to more calories being burned, and increased muscle mass as a result of increased physical activity.
* N-3 essential fats elevate mood and lift depression. Recently they have been used as an alternative to treat ADD and ADHD.
Research suggests that n-3 and some omega-6 (n-6) EFA’s play a major role in the body’s ability to burn fat. These do NOT include monounsaturated, saturated, or trans-fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are still healthy fats compared to the others listed, however, for the purposes of burning fat, they are not an ideal choice compared to polyunsaturated fats such as EFA’s. This is because the body cannot make an omega−3 or omega−6 fatty acid because human metabolism cannot add a double-bond to a fatty acid that is more than 9 carbons away from the methyl end of a double bond. For the same reason, the body cannot convert an omega−3 to an omega−6 fatty acid, or vice-versa. But the body can make omega−9 fatty acids, thus they are not EFA’s.
EFA’s at the Genetic Level
The EFA’s and, more specifically the n-3’s, are powerful food components that affect us at the genetic level. The following is a list of their capabilities:
1. Decrease fat production by turning down the gene responsible for fat production (fatty acid synthase)
2. Increase fat utilization by activating at least 9 genes required for fat burning
3. Shift the body from using carbohydrates as fuel to using fats as fuel
4. Turn on gene (uncoupling protein) that is responsible for thermogenesis – the production of energy from fat without the body performing work.
As you can see, individuals on very-low to no-fat diets are lacking these benefits when EFA’s are lacking in their diet. Also, as mentioned earlier, EFA’s have other benefits such as cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, etc.
Sources of Omega-3’s
Alpha-linolenic acid, the primary dietary source of omega−3 fatty acids in the diet, is frequently found in green leaves. The leaves and seeds of the perilla plant (widely eaten in Japan, Korea and India) are the richest plant source of alpha-linolenic acid, although linseed oil is also a rich source. Fish oil contains very little lpha-linolenic acid, but is rich in the omega−3 derivatives EPA and DHA. Fish are at the top of a food chain based on phytoplankton (algae) that manufacture large amounts of EPA and DHA.
The primary source of omega−6 fatty acids in the diet is linoleic acid from the oils of seeds and grains. Sunflower, safflower and corn oil are particularly rich sources of linoleic acid, which is at the root of the omega−6 fatty-acid family. Evening primrose oil and borage oil are high not only in linoleic acid, but the omega−6 derivative gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Avocado is 15-20% oil — mainly monosaturated, but also high in linoleic acid. (Avocado has the highest fat content and the highest fiber content — soluble as well as insoluble — of any fruit.)
When trying to decrease body fat, the end goal is to be slim and trim.
Nevertheless, because of the multiple uses of omega-3’s and essential fatty acids (EFAs) in our diet, we should certainly be taking them. How much? The recommendations vary. One “fat expert” named Dr. Udo Erasmus believes that you should take enough EFAs to make your skin feel velvety. If you can scratch a letter on your hand, then it is too dry. This could range from 1-5 tablespoons of flax seed oil per day.
Dr. Erasmus also believes that we should ingest optimal ratios of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are found in abundance in our Western diet because of all of the excessive heating and processing we do to our fats. Healthy omega-3’s can be broken down into unhealthy omega-6’s (although not all are unhealthy, such as GLA). Thus, if you continue eating primarily omega-6 fatty acids, then you will become omega-3 deficient. The same is true vice versa. If you rely on a great omega-3 source of fats, such as flax seed oil only, then you can actually become omega-6 deficient. Therefore, Dr. Erasmus has his own product called Udo’s Perfected Blend in which he has what is believed to be the optimal amount of omega-3:omega-6 ratio, as well as some MCTs. This oil has a pleasant nutty taste that can be easily mixed into yogurt, protein shakes, salads, or whatever you think might work for you.
Fish oil is another alternative. At one time, the fear was ingesting fish oil from fish contaminated with mercury, pesticides, heavy metals, or an assortment of toxic substances our industrialized world dumps into the ocean. However, today, there is more public pressure to create purified oils that do not have these contaminants in them. Today there are a number of brands that have their fish oils independently lab tested for contaminants and toxins. Many brands now advertise this.
Choosing an Oil
Just like fresh produce, highly unsaturated fats are sensitive to light, oxygen, heat, processing and time and they can produce toxic substances when exposed to any of these. These substances will inhibit energy production and performance.
Therefore, choose oils that are bottled in a dark bottle in glass and refrigerated. Make sure to keep it refrigerated at home and finish the bottle within 3 to 6 weeks.