Absolutely essential to our good health are the omega fatty acids. This is because they provide the building blocks for the eicosanoids (pronounced eye-co-san-oids).
Eicosanoids are hormone-like chemicals that control virtually all important functions in the body, including the immune system. These chemicals are critical for our good health - but they are dependent on our dietary fat intake.
This means that you need to eat fat (see benefits of fat). But it needs to be the right kind of fat – and it needs in be in the right balance.
Considering the Standard American Diet (SAD), it's not too hard to understand why.
We eat A LOT of omega-6 in processed foods.
Go look through your pantry and see how many times you see these fats – corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, etc.
Our good sources of omega-3 are much more limited- basically, flaxseed oil and cold water fish (or fish oil).
Too much omega-6s and too little omega-3s in the diet produce inflammatory eicosanoids that can wreck your health.
Side effects can consist of high blood pressure, blood vessel constriction, arterial plaque, asthma, arthritis, cancer, depressed immune function, and more.
Most experts agree that we should be getting our omega fatty acids in the ratio of around 4:1 (omega 6: omega 3). It's estimated that most Americans consume a ratio of 20:1 or even 50:1!
But please don't start to think of omega-6s as "bad" and omega-3s as "good." We need them both in balance to achieve good health. What is bad is when that balance is upset.
Lastly, we have omega-9 fatty acids like those found in olive oil. These are not considered essential because our bodies can make it, but we still benefit from including it in our diets. Omega-9 plays an important role in supporting the other two omegas and can also improve immune function.
Understanding each of the roles of the omega fatty acids can help you make more informed decisions about your diet and your health.