Essential fatty acid foods are vital to include in your diet since the body can not synthesize in the body. You’ve probably heard of omega-3 before
We’re going to cover what essential fatty acids are, why they’re important, the crucial essential fatty acids, and 16 foods you can consume to enhance your diet (we even covered some vegetarian essential fatty acid options).
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential fatty acids are required for the body to perform vital health functions. They play important roles in the body’s immune response, metabolism, heart health, and cognitive function.
The most important fatty acids are linoleic acids (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acids (omega-3), which the body can not produce independently.
Why Are Essential Fatty Acids Important?
Studies show that an increase in fatty acids in one’s diet can significantly improve one’s overall immune response, metabolism, heart health, and cognitive function. Both fatty acids are needed. The body can not produce omega-3 or omega-6 on its own, so it is required through foods or supplements.
While both essential fatty acids are important, the balance between the two is vital. Our ancestors had a balance of 1:1 and didn’t present the health issues we have today, such as heart disease. In the U.S., the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is closer to 16:1 (omega-6:omega-3).
Omega-6 is commonly found in nuts and has been shown to support heart health and healthy cells. It may help with inflammation in the body by converting it into gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). GLA can reduce cell growth and inflammation that can lead to health conditions like arthritis. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and in this case, too much omega-6 in a diet can lead to high inflammation.
Western diets contain a high source of omega-6 due to cooking oils and refined foods, which is a leading cause of the imbalance between the fatty acids.
Omega-3 is most commonly talked about during the consumption of fish, such as salmon. It provides several benefits to the body, including lowering triglyceride levels, inflammation, and improving cognitive function.
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Omega-3 deficiency can appear in several different ways, including depression, anxiety, difficulty paying attention, trouble sleeping, dry skin and hair, dandruff, and increased thirst.
Omega-6 vs. Omega-3
A quick overview of omega-6 foods will show that they can be found in nuts and seeds, whereas omega-3 foods are more aptly found in various fish. Omega-6 is also more aptly found in our diets due to the high amount of vegetable oils we consume through refined foods and cooking. Omega-6 is also considered to be inflammatory, while omega-3 is anti-inflammatory.
5 Omega-6 Foods
Many of the omega-6 food options are vegetarian friendly because they’re more often found in nuts and seeds. Here are five great healthy options to choose from! Keep in mind these are not the only options, just popular choices.
While tofu contains a healthy dose of protein, iron, manganese, and calcium, it also provides the body with omega-6. Roughly 3.5 ounces of tofu contains 4,970 mg of omega-6.
Walnuts are a popular choice in providing the body with omega-6 because they’re easily added to dishes like salads or yogurt to bolster the nutritional content. They are one of the highest nut sources of omega-6 (besides hazelnuts), with 3.5 ounces providing about 10,800 mg.
3. Sunflower Seeds
Another high source of omega-6 is sunflower seeds. In 3.5 ounces, you can expect to gain 37,400 mg of omega-6. Sunflower seeds also contain selenium and vitamin E (antioxidant) to protect the body from cell damage.
4. Peanut Butter
Yep! That’s right. Peanut butter is an excellent source of omega-6 as well! You can expect about 12,300 mg from 3.5 ounces. It’s very versatile and can be added to smoothies, desserts, and used as a dip. Plus, it provides the body with protein, magnesium, vitamin E, manganese, and niacin.
Eggs contain a smaller portion per ounce than the choices listed above. For 3.5 ounces of eggs, you can expect roughly 1,188 mg of omega-6. However, they provide protein, riboflavin, and selenium as well which are also important.
5 Omega-3 Foods
Eating fatty fish is one of the most common ways to add a high amount of omega-3 to your diet (as long as you’re not vegetarian). Again, these are not the only sources of omega-3, just popular choices.
Salmon is probably the most fatty fish source for omega-3 containing approximately 2,260 mg in 3.5 ounces. It is also an incredibly nutrient-dense food. Salmon has a high amount of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B, and selenium.
Oysters contain a smaller amount of omega-3 (435 mg/3.5 ounces), but they have more zinc than any other food in the world.
Love them or hate them, but sardines pack an omega-3 and nutrient punch. Roughly 1,480 mg for every 3.5 ounces, to be precise. They also contain nearly all of the nutrients your body needs to maintain optimal health.
4. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are unique. They’re rich in several vital nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, and selenium, and they also contain all eight essential amino acids! One ounce of chia seeds contains about 5,060 mg of omega-3.
5. Soy Beans
Containing about 1,443 mg of omega-3 per 3.5 ounces, soy beans are a good choice. Plus, they have other vital nutrients like vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, folate, and riboflavin. They’re also a great source of fiber and plant-based protein.
6 Vegetarian Essential Fatty Acid Foods
It can be a challenge to consume an adequate amount of essential fatty acids without supplementation as a vegetarian. However, some foods contain these essential fats that don’t come from animals.
Seaweed is one of the few plants that contain omega-3. It also includes a rich source of protein, antioxidants, and antidiabetic properties. Raw seaweed contains about 7.7 mg of omega-3 and 19.6 mg in 3.5 ounces.
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, potassium, and vitamin E, as well as omega-6. In 3.5 ounces, there is 27,500 mg of omega-6. They can be added to smoothies and yogurts to bolster nutritional value similar to chia seeds.
4. Wild Rice
While wild rice doesn’t pack an essential fatty acid punch like other sources, it still contains 156 mg of omega-3 and 195 mg of omega-6 per cooked cup. This close ratio of essential fatty acids is excellent for the balance we discussed earlier! It’s also a great plant-based protein and fiber source.
5. Flax Seeds
The omega-3 content in flax seeds is about 7,260 per tablespoon of oil. They also have a good balance between omega-3 and omega-6.
6. Kidney Beans
Despite the slightly misleading name, kidney beans are not an animal by-product.
Essential fatty acid foods provide much-needed health benefits. Therefore, you should be sure to add the recommended daily amount to your diet. An essential fatty acid supplement can be used to ensure you’re getting an adequate daily amount and a healthy balance between the two. Don’t forget, adding hazelnuts to your diet is a great way to ensure you’re adding omega-3 and omega-6 to your diet!