Natural fats and oils vary in their physical and nutritional properties depending on their chemical structure and fatty acid composition. Edible fats and oils, often referred to as food lipids, that have been used for thousand of years by mankind for cooking or adding taste, are mainly triglycerides. Triglycerides consist of one part glycerol and three parts fatty acids. Fatty acids found in food lipids are either saturated (solid at room temperature) or unsaturated (liquid at room temperature) and primarily of carbon chain lengths of 16, 18, 20, and 22. All fatty acids contain a methyl end (-CH3) often referred to as the omega (ω) end. The opposite end of the molecule is called the carboxyl end (-COOH). The preceding information is often used in designating structural features of fatty acids and important in identifying and differentiating the so-called healthy oils.
Today, science recognizes that certain types of fatty acids, the so-called essential fatty acids (EFA), not only promote health but their dietary absence or improper balance is detrimental to health. These EFA are very important to hormone production as well as cellular synthesis and integrity.
EFA are the types of fatty acids our bodies cannot make, so we must obtain them from food and/or supplementation. The two main types of EFA are omega-3 (ω-3) and omega-6 (ω-6) families of fatty acids. Omega-3 oils are usually found in three types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although ALA comes from plant sources such as flaxseed oils and EPA and DHA from marine sources such as fish oils and algae, experts agree that ALA, when ingested, is eventually converted to DHA and EPA, the two long-chain omega-3s mostly cited in scientific literature as having various health benefits. On the other hand, Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA), which is converted by the body into gamma-linolenic (GLA). The main sources of omega-6 fatty acids are primrose, borage, and black current oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate a number of bodily functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, immune response and may have anti-inflammatory benefits in conditions such as arthritis. Emerging studies link omega-3 EPA to heart disease protection (learn more..) whereas omega-3s EPA and DHA slow mental decline (learn more..). Studies indicate that dietary imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 and inadequate intake of short (ALA) and long-chain (DHA and EPA) omega-3 are thought to aggravate disease and possibly play casual role in disease development. To prevent cardiovascular disease mortality, the American Heart Association recommends the consumption of fish (preferably fatty fish) at least twice a week. Some experts claim that we need more ALA than any other type of essential fatty acid. Currently, there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance for EFAs in U.S. However, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, which establishes nutrient requirements, recommends 1.6g/day of ALA for men and 1.1g/day for women. The American diet is often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. To ensure that you meet your nutritional needs and simplify your dietary supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, consider optimal blends of healthy oils or select from products' links above.