Ever since Julius Fast wrote The Omega-3 Breakthrough in the late 1980s, essential fatty acids (EFAs) have seen a steady gain in popularity. EFAs are needed by the human body, but the body can’t make them on its own. Therefore, they have to be consumed through food. These wonder-fats come with many astounding benefits, nourishing the skin, hair, heart and brain. They help reduce the incidence of heart disease, help prevent cancers, skin disorders, diabetes and even (according to some studies) depression.
Celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, who treats everyone from Bruce Willis to Jennifer Lopez and Heidi Klum, has made EFAs star players in all his books. The Perricone Prescription is a 28-day programme which combines his patented skincare products and supplements with an Omega-3-rich diet that helps reduce inflammation, which he considers the base of all health problems. A study conducted by the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, US, in April found that a diet rich in Omega-6 could cure skin problems such as dermatitis.
So what exactly are these essential fatty acids? Anoop Misra, president, and Seema Gulati, chief project officer, National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation, New Delhi, explain:
The Omega fats break up Omega fatty acids. There are many types of EFAs, the most important being Omega-3 and, to some degree, Omega-6. Omega-9 is necessary, but the body can generate a modest amount on its own provided other EFAs are present. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from linolenic acid, Omega-6 from linoleic acid and Omega-9 from oleic acid.
How they help
Omega-3 fatty acids are used in the formation of cell walls, making them supple and flexible by improving circulation and oxygen uptake. They are also known to reduce inflammation through the body—in the blood vessels, joints and elsewhere. Omega-3 deficiencies are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, tingling sensation in the nerves, poor vision, increased tendency to form blood clots, diminished immune function, increase in triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, etc.
Vegetarian sources of Omega-3 include wheat, pearl millet, pulses, green leafy vegetables, fenugreek, flax seed, mustard seeds, nuts, canola oil, soybean oil, mustard oil, etc. Meat eaters can get their dosage from cold-water fishes such as salmon, tuna, sardines or Indian fishes such as Gangetic blow fish and puffer fish.
Omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in wholegrains and in most cooking oils. Using soybean, canola, olive, mustard and flax seed oil in combination and rotation along with certain food items such as kidney beans and fenugreek, combined with the Omega-3 sources mentioned earlier, should take care of the overall EFA requirement.
Omega-9 fatty acids lower cholesterol levels, reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), reduce insulin resistance, improve immune function and provide protection against certain types of cancers.
If you are looking to add EFAs to your daily meal, here are three dishes that Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, suggests:
Oats porridge with flax seeds
200ml toned milk
1/2 tsp flax seeds
1 tsp sugar
Method: Cook the milk and oats together in a pan. Roast the flax seeds, grind them and add to the porridge while cooking. Then add sugar and chopped almonds. Serve hot or cold with fruits and an egg white omelette for a complete breakfast.
Flax seeds are a rich source of Omega-3, while almonds contain Omega-6.
Calorie count: 300 cal
Essential fatty acid content: 338mg
Green bean and walnut salad
150g green beans
40g low-fat cottage cheese
50g low-fat yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of oregano
1 tsp olive oil
2 walnuts, coarsely chopped
Method: Cut the beans into 1-inch sections and boil in salted water for 5-7 minutes. Drain the beans, rinse in cold water and drain again. Cut cottage cheese into 1-inch cubes. In a blender, combine yogurt, lemon juice, green onion, salt, oregano, oil and freshly ground pepper. Blend till smooth. Put the beans and cottage cheese in a salad bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss it well. Chill for an hour and sprinkle the walnuts just before serving.
Walnuts are rich in Omega-3, while olive oil is rich in both Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Calorie count: 250 cal
Essential fatty acid content: 330mg
Cracked pepper salmon
150g salmon fillets
1/4 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper (roughly crushed)
1 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Method: Mix black pepper, garlic paste, salt and Italian seasoning in a bowl. Rub the salmon fillets with this marinade for a few minutes. Brush the fillets with olive oil and grill till done. Serve hot with garlic bread and sautéed vegetables.
Salmon is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while olive oil contains Omega-6.
Calorie count: 220 cal
Essential fatty acid content: Salmon (1.2g)
(Note: Salmon can be replaced by any sea fish such as sardines).
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) foods cause weight gain. In reality EPA and DHA are known to increase the fat metabolism and therefore help to burn fat more efficiently.
Flax seed oil is a complete source of Omega-3.
Truth is that flax seed oil, nuts and vegetable oils can only provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is not as valuable as EPA and DHA. Some of the best sources for EPA and DHA are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
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