The low­down on fatty acids

New Zealand’s favourite well­be­ing ex­pert, Dr Libby, an­swers read­ers’ ques­tions about their health.

The Tribune (NZ) - - YOUR HEALTH - WITH AU­THOR AND NU­TRI­TIONAL BIO­CHEMIST DR LIBBY Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and speaker. The ad­vice con­tained in this col­umn is not in­tended to be a sub­sti­tute for di­rect, per­son­alised ad­vice from a health pro­fes­sional.

I try to eat awell-bal­anced whole food diet. How­ever there is a lot of in­for­ma­tion about omega 3 and omega 6s. Could you please sim­plify the in­for­ma­tion around the types of food th­ese are in and es­pe­cially what we should be eat­ing. Thanks, Jo­hanna.

Hi Jo­hanna. Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are es­sen­tial for hu­man health. They are im­por­tant com­po­nents of cell mem­branes and are pre­cur­sors to many other sub­stances in the body, such as those in­volved with reg­u­lat­ing blood pres­sure and in­flam­ma­tory re­sponses.

Fatty acids have big, long names so please don’t get caught up in them. It is eas­ier to iden­tify with their ab­bre­vi­ated names.

The hu­man body is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing most of the fatty acids it needs, ex­cept for linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and al­pha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid.

Th­ese there­fore have to be ob­tained from the diet and are con­sid­ered ‘‘es­sen­tial fatty acids’’ (EFAs). Both of th­ese fatty acids are needed for growth and re­pair, but are also used to make other fatty acids.

How­ever, as con­ver­sion to the omega 3 fatty acids eicos­apen­taenoic acid (EPA) and do­cosa­hex­aenoic acid (DHA) is lim­ited, it is rec­om­mended that sources of th­ese spe­cific fats are also in­cluded in the diet. Foods and oils con­tain­ing EFAs in­clude oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, evening prim­rose oil, black­cur­rant seed oil and bor­age oil.

A bal­anced diet needs to con­tain both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids help re­duce in­flam­ma­tion, whereas omega 6 fatty acids tend to pro­mote in­flam­ma­tion.

Re­search sug­gests the ‘‘typ­i­cal’’ Western diet cur­rently con­tains 14 to 25 times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids and this is a prob­lem. De­crease or omit pro­cessed foods and in­crease the foods con­tain­ing EFAs for a bet­ter bal­ance.

My mother al­ways used to say ‘‘you are what you eat’’ but I have prob­lems with my di­ges­tion all the time and it doesn’t seem to mat­ter what I eat, I ei­ther feel sick or tired or both. Please help. Thanks, Eu­nice.

Hi Eu­nice. Firstly, it is im­por­tant that you have your di­ges­tive sys­tem symp­toms in­ves­ti­gated by a med­i­cal doc­tor.

From a di­etary per­spec­tive, you may be eat­ing a food that you do not di­gest ef­fi­ciently, you may have poor stom­ach acid or bile pro­duc­tion, or you may have some less than de­sir­able bac­te­ria in­hab­it­ing your gut. Again, this needs to be in­ves­ti­gated by an ex­pe­ri­enced health pro­fes­sional.

Fur­ther­more, the old adage you are what you eat isn’t quite cor­rect; you are what you eat, ab­sorb and as­sim­i­late.

A num­ber of fac­tors can af­fect the abil­ity to di­gest and ab­sorb the nu­tri­ents from food in­clud­ing stress, caf­feine and med­i­ca­tions such as an­tibi­otics. What and how you eat are also crit­i­cal to your abil­ity to ab­sorb nu­tri­ents and

ob­tain en­ergy from food.

The key to sus­tained en­ergy from food is in the en­ergy re­lease. When you eat foods that con­tain fi­bre such as fresh veg­eta­bles and lentils you help to slow the re­lease of glu­cose into the blood – the re­sult be­ing your en­ergy re­lease is sus­tained.

Real foods nat­u­rally con­tain more fi­bre, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als and thus pro­vide bet­ter di­ges­tive sys­tem health as well as a slower re­lease of en­ergy.

You want slow burn­ing fuel for sus­tained en­ergy – ku­mara can be a good choice – and fats from whole foods also help sus­tained en­ergy re­lease.

Good fat sources in­clude av­o­cado, nuts, seeds, co­conut, or­ganic but­ter, oily fish, pas­turefed meat.

Salmon is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which we need in our diet to sup­ple­ment our nat­u­ral re­serves.

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