Heart Healthy Essential Fatty Acids

Posted: July 3, 2012 in Anti-Aging, cardiovacular health, Diet, Energy, food choices, Healthy Living, human body, Macronutrients, Nutrition Counseling

Earth Cuisine for Longevity

**Ancient researchers discovered that the oils in the deep water fish were rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  These early scientific observations spawned extensive studies that led to the current understanding of how important fish oil is to heart health.  

In the 1980’s, researchers began noticing the native Inuit (Eskimo) populations of Greenland and Alaska had a very low occurrence of heart disease despite a very high fat diet.  The researches discovered the oils in the deep water fish these natives consumed (and continue to do so this very day) are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

While we generally think of fats as harmful, there are fats that have expansive health benefits.  The central objective of this article, is to assist you in sorting through the confusion that has grown from “diets” such as, The Atkins Diet, Sugar Busters Diet and other fads that have bombarded us with profit driven information.  Last week I publish the article entitled, Lipids, which covered fats as a whole, and was rather general.  I believe, it’s paramount to have an understanding of “healthy fats” and more specifically “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFA’s) and their role in cardiovascular health.

All natural fats are mixtures of different types of fatty acids.  Fatty acids are made up of carbon atoms comprised of short or long chains.  Each carbon atom has four bonding sites (think of imaginary arms) where it can attach to other atoms.  When all binding sites are attached to hydrogen atoms, the fatty acid chain is saturated.

When some binding sites on a carbon atom are attached to a neighboring carbon atom, made by a double bond, the fatty acid is unsaturated.  If a fatty acid chain has two or more double bonds, it’s referred to as polyunsaturated.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids are further classified by where on the carbon chain the double bond is located.  Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid with the first double bond located at the sixth carbon atom from the omega end; thus, it is an omega-6 fatty acid.  Linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, has it’s first double bond at the third carbon atom from the omega end.  Both linoleic and linolenic fatty acids are essential fatty acids.  These polyunsaturated fatty acids are needed to sustain life.  It is possible for some fatty acids to be made within the body, however, these cannot.  Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids must be consumed in the diet and/or through supplementation.

Monounsaturated fats are fatty acids that have one double bond in the fatty acid chain and all of the remainder of the carbon atoms in the chain are single bonded.  Fatty acid viscosity and melting point increases with the decreasing number of double bonds.  Therefore, monounsaturated fats have a higher melting point than polyunsaturated fatty acids.  This makes monounsaturated fats the ideal choice for cooking.  Common monounsaturated fatty acids are palmitoleic acid, cis-vaccenic acid and oleic acid.

Although polyunsaturated fats protect against cardiovascular disease by providing more membrane fluidity than monounsaturated fats, they are more vulnerable to lipid peroxidation (becomes rancid).  On the other hand, foods containing monounsaturated fats reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while increasing high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.  These are just a few examples of the cardiovascular and overall health benefits that EFA’s and monounsaturated fatty acids provide the body.  One other important thing I feel necessary to note; many more variants of polyunsaturated fatty acids exist, in this article I intended to highlight the specific fatty acids that were studied in the research of Native Inuit Eskimos.  Another objective in regards to the article content was to cover the cardiovascular benefits these fatty acids provide.

**The next logical question you are probably asking yourself is, “so what foods should I eat to incorporate these fatty acids into my diet?”  A full categorized list will be up this week….I got you guys!  No worries 😉

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Comments
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