Fatty acids and why we need them
Fat is categorised according to its saturation. Saturation refers to the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the fat molecule.
When a fat molecule contains the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, it is said to be a saturated hard fat which remains solid at room temperature.
If one pair of hydrogen atoms is missing, the molecule is said to be monounsaturated, such as in olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is the healthiest, most easily digested form of fat.
If more than one pair of hydrogen atoms is missing, it is said to be polyunsaturated.
The digestibility of fat is determined by the fatty acids contained in it. Saturated fats are difficult to digest, unsaturated fats are relatively easy to digest.
Hydrogenation transforms the shape of a fatty acid to a trans form. This molecule does not occur in nature and the body has great difficulty digesting it. This is the problem with margarine, it contains hydrogenated trans-fatty acids. Studies show that this type of fat is more associated with vascular disease than the saturated, hard fat found in butter. Hydrogenated fat is also commonly associated with junk food.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats include safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn and soybeans. Monounsaturated fats include canola, olive and peanut oils, and avocados.
The best fats are those that contain essential fatty acids (EFAs), so called because without them our health would be severely compromised. Omega-3 is essential to good health and is found in fish oil. It is estimated that we consume far too much of the EFA Omega-6 found in sunflower oil, corn oil and other oils.
The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 should be 1:1, in other words, eating the same amount of both. Many scientists believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature ageing and some forms of cancer, is the profound imbalance between our intake of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil is also associated with a number of positive health benefits such as preventing heart disease, depression, arthritis, hyperactivity in children, boosting energy levels, improving concentration and increasing resistance to colds and flu. It is probably best known as being a joint lubricant for enhancing mobility. There are also claims which link taking fish oils with reduced incidences of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.
Cod liver oil and fish oil are similar. Cod liver oil is extracted from the liver of cod and is rich in vitamins A and D. Fish oil is taken from the flesh of fatty fish such as salmon and herring and contains very little of these vitamins. Both contain the fatty acids EPA and DHA that are the source of the health benefits listed above.
Too much vitamin A or D however, can be as harmful as too little.
Some susceptible individuals may experience some odd symptoms when supplementing fish oils such as, tingling, various aches and pains, or just feeling unwell.
If you do choose to get your Omega-3 oil in this way, be sure to choose a quality product which may help with this problem. Also you could try taking out the fish oil and discarding the gelatin capsule.
If you do experience any of these symptoms despite your efforts, then getting your Omega-3 by this method is not for you.
If you suffer similar symptoms from oily fish such as salmon and tuna, you should try to get your omega-3 from plant sources such as flaxseed oil, which can also be found in supplement form.