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What's the big deal with Fatty Acids?

Jun 06, 2012




  •  These are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and three of the most notable are EPA, DHA, and ALA
  •  EPA is converted into hormone-like prostaglandins which regulate cell activity and support cardiovascular health; these Omegas reduce inflammation, maintain fluidity in the cell membrane and regulate blood lipids
  •  Studies have shown that nutrients from seafood (a source of Omega 3) eaten by a pregnant woman boost the IQ of the child
  • Most plant-based sources of Omega 3’s contain ALA, which can be converted to EPA in the body, but this conversion happens at a very low rate


Food sources of Omega 3

  • Fatty fish are high in EPA, and our bodies absorb more EPA from fish than any other source
  • A good acronym to remember for fish high in the Omega 3’s is SMASH - Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardines, Herring
  • Try to avoid fish that are high in mercury and other possible contaminants (shark, swordfish, sea trout, orange roughy, grouper, albacore tuna) and focus instead on those that are lower (SMASH fish luckily are also low in mercury)
  • A woman of average size who consumes 6oz of canned albacore tuna per week would exceed a safe dose of mercury by 30%; in one projection, the same intake would result in 74% of all women of childbearing age to exceed a safe mercury dose for their entire pregnancy
  • Plant-based sources of Omega 3’s include: flax, walnuts, hemp seeds, some dark green leafy veggies, and spirulina. Most of these foods contain ALA, again some of which our body converts to EPA, but not to the same degree as fatty fish.  However, there are many other benefits also associated with these plant fatty acids, and they are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
  • Choose free-range or pasture-fed meats, as they have comparatively higher levels of EPA and DHA than grain-fed animal products.
  • If you choose to supplement, consult your health care practitioner to be sure you are using something that is high-quality and does not contain heavy metals or other contaminants often found in our oceans.


Food sources of Omega 6

  • Arachidonic acid (AA) and Linoleic acid (LA) are the main fatty acids in this group, found in most vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, corn, grapeseed etc) as well as meat, dairy and other animal products
  • Remember it is the balance that is important in the big picture, and Omega 6’s still have some health benefits
  • To limit Omega 6’s in your diet, reduce processed foods – this is a no-brainer for plenty of reasons



  • Trans fats are manufactured fats (found in margarine, snack food, and microwave popcorn) made by heating polyunsaturated vegetable oils to convert them to solids (hydrogenation) which are used to extend shelf life of foods, aid in manufacturing, and add flavor
  • They are detrimental to health and should be eliminated, especially from the diet of children
  • Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL (bad cholesterol), reduce HDL (good cholesterol), and release free radicals which are precursors to inflammation, and carcinogenic.


Dr. Clare Craig, ND, CD(DONA)
Naturopathic Doctor, Doula
Island Optimal Health & Performance

Island Optimal Health & Performance
#103-1808 Bowen Road
Nanaimo, BC   V9S 5W4




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