Essential Fatty Acids from Plant Foods

Contrary to popular belief, eating fish is not the best way to get your essential fats. Most fats can be synthesized by our own bodies and are not necessary to have in our diet. However, there are a few unsaturated fats that we cannot make which we have to get from food called “essential” fats. Humans and animals cannot create double bonds after the third and sixth carbon on the chain, but plants can. Only plants can synthesize omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fats (linoleic acid) which are therefore referred to as “essential” fatty acids. Fish store the Omega-3 fats from the algae they consume. Fish themselves do not produce omega-3 fatty acids. Your healthiest sources of Essential Fatty Acids can be found in a variety of plant foods.

Essential fats are available in abundant quantities in a diet based on whole starches, vegetables, and fruits. In addition to providing essential fats, plants have NO cholesterol, are lower in saturated fat than fish, and don’t contain mercury, lead, toxic waste and other pollutants commonly found in fish.

It is best to consume plant foods high in essential fats in their whole form. As a whole food, the fats are perfectly packaged with other essential nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and lots of important phytochemicals. This naturally balanced combination allows fats to metabolize efficiently in the body. When free fats (oils) are stripped away from the other ingredients found in grains, fruits, seeds or nuts, they become high in calories and lose their additional nutrients. Therefore, whole plant foods rich in fat are considered to be health-promoting; just keep in mind that they can contribute to weight gain when eaten excessively. Essential fats in oil form can be taken as “insurance” if you feel your diet is lacking those whole foods.

The following is a list of plant foods rich in essential fatty acids:

Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids: flax seeds, hemp seeds, canola, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, soybeans and its products such as tofu and tempeh. Dark green veggies such as kale, collards, chard, parsley, seaweed, and cereal grasses (wheat & barley grasses) are also good sources because all green (chlorophyll-rich) foods contain Omega-3 fats in their chloroplasts.

Sources of Omega-6 fatty acids: Sunflower, safflower, soybeans, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, and most grains.