The human body is an incredible survival vessel. Some of the nutrients we need to function are created within the body — such as cholesterol and vitamins D and K — making us moderately sufficient at getting what we need from intricate chemical reactions and processes. One such category of essential nutrients is fat. Basic essential fats are integral for a healthy functioning body with benefits that include “prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain,” as well as a decreased risk of breast cancer.
While some of these basic essential fats are created by the body, there are a few that have to be obtained from our diet. Specifically, linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids, which are plant-based fats “used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.”
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids, part of the polyunsaturated acid family, include three different types of acid: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the primary plant-based variety, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), derived from oily fish and fish oil. These three omega-3 fatty acid components are all incredibly important for overall health. They are instrumental in the formation of cell membranes, circulation in the body, and have also been found to improve oxygen uptake.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to many health benefits, including improving eye and heart health, reducing inflammation, a reduction in childhood ADHD symptoms, as well as metabolic syndrome symptoms. Yet, one of the most recent omega-3 fatty acid benefits came from a 2017 to 2018 study conducted in Japan. This study connected a dramatic reduction in anxiety-related symptoms with an increased supplement intake of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically omega-3 fatty acids derived from the eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids.
Where do you find Omega-3 fatty acids?
Luckily, for plant-based diets, finding sources of one of the omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, is super easy! It is readily available in vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, as well as many fruits. Some of the best sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and soybean oil, mungo beans, whole grains, and wheat germ. The other two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid are both derived from fish such as anchovies, mackerel, salmon, tuna, and sardines. However, producing fish oil is incredibly harmful to the ocean and the animals that live in it. Per the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the “recommended amount for adequate omega-3 intake is 1.1 and 1.6 grams per day for women and men over the age of 14 respectively,” yet make sure to consult a medical professional before beginning any supplement or dietary change.
Source: Red Quinoa and Beet Burger
Once you’ve consulted your medical professional and you’re ready to hit the road with an omega-3 rich diet, here are a few plant-based recipes to get you started:
- Red Quinoa and Beet Burner
- Crustless Mushroom Quiche
- Sweet Potato Noodles with Kale and Walnut Sage Sauce
- Dark Chocolate Brownies with Zucchini and Walnuts
- Whole Grain Protein Bowl
- No-Bake Mint Cherry Buckwheat Tarts
What is Omega-6 Fatty Acid?
Omega-6 fatty acids, also part of the polyunsaturated fatty acid family, are incredibly prevalent in a healthy diet. This type of fatty acid comes from two sources: linoleic acid, mentioned earlier in the article, and a rarer type called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Gamma-linolenic acid is converted “to substances that reduce inflammation and cell growth.” These two acids are linked through a conversion process in which the linoleic acid is then converted into gamma-linolenic acid and from there into “dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, which is in turn converted to arachidonic acid.” Through this metabolic process, omega-6 fatty acids are turned into incredibly diverse agents that help to regulate inflammation, body development, and growth, as well as fight disease.
Health Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
When it comes to omega-6 fatty acids, there is a fine line between benefits and negative health effects all based on the amount and types of omega-6 fatty acids you consume.
Healthy omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to a reduction in overall inflammation, positively affecting those that suffer from nerve pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and ADHD, as well as improved heart health, reduced high blood pressure, and healthier bones. Yet, omega-6 fatty acids are derived from many processed foods via harmful vegetable oils, and while the right amount of omega-6 fatty acid is safe, too much can be detrimental to your health. The Arthritis Foundation purports that omega-6 fatty acids may be linked to increased inflammation, while the Mayo Clinic suggests that they could be linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
So, how do you get the right amount from the healthiest sources?
Source: Walnut Taco Meat
This essential fatty acid is so prevalent in our diet because there are small amounts in many products that are used in everyday life, such as processed food items. Healthy omega-6 can be found in linolenic acids found in “leafy vegetables, seeds, nut, [and] grains,” while negative omega-6 is found in vegetable oils. While some oils are safe for consumption — such as sesame, olive oil, coconut, peanut oil, and palm oil — others have been shown to promote harmful side effects, such as corn, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, safflower, and canola.
Omega-6 derived from gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a lot harder to get your hands on. This acid is found in “rare oils such as black currant, borage, and hemp oils,” as well as trace amounts in evening primrose oils. These oils can be purchased easily online, such as this Nature’s Way EFAGold Borage, Cold-Pressed Oil supplement, or at your local health food grocer. Depending on age and gender, it’s recommended to consume between 12 and 17 grams of omega-6 fatty acids daily. Once again, make sure to speak with your medical professional before taking supplements or changing your diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids are incredibly rich in our normal diets. Therefore, it’s even more important to pay attention to how much we’re ingesting. It’s all about balance when it comes to omega fatty acids, and there are negative effects of getting too much omega-6. Therefore, here are a few plant-based recipes that are rich in omega-6 to help you get accustomed to where they reside and get you started on that balanced diet:
- Raw Chia Caramel Pecan Pie
- Tahini Blondies With Blueberry Chia Jam Swirl
- Walnut Taco Meat
- Spicy Mushroom and Walnut Bolognese
- Peanut Butter Dip
- 3-Ingredient, Easy Peanut Butter Oat Bars
For more omega fatty acid-rich recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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