Independent health store advice on essential fatty acids

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health food store can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This month we speak to Daisy Connor, Nutritional Therapist at Rivers’ Remedies and founder of City Survivor supplements.

Dietary fat is often only associated with calories and weight loss, but for health we need to look at the functions of fats instead. The body can synthesise many fatty acids, so those which can’t be synthesised are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), meaning that we have to obtain them from food. These are Linoleic Acid (LA) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA). If we didn’t have these in our diets, we’d become deficient with wide-ranging symptoms affecting our skin, hair, immunity, brain function and cardiovascular health – ultimately we’d die without them!

The fatty acids EPA, DHA and GLA aren’t technically essential, but as some people don’t convert them well, it’s important to ensure a good dietary intake and potentially consider supplementation.

The best sources

Both EFAs are unsaturated which means they contain double bonds (whereas saturated fats have only single bonds). This structure is what makes them liquid at room temperature, or allows saturated fats to become solid at room temperature. The term ‘omega’ simply expresses where these double bonds occur in the fatty acid. LA is an omega-6 PUFA (polyunsaturated – multiple double bonds) and ALA is an omega-3 PUFA. EPA and DHA are omega-3 PUFAs and GLA is an omega-6 PUFA.

PUFAs are delicate oils – easily damaged by light, oxygen and heat. Whole seeds last longer but liquid oils must be cold-pressed, stored in opaque glass, sealed and refrigerated. Don’t use them to cook with.

EFAs are very reactive: they attract oxygen. They keep cell membranes fluid, allowing transport of nutrients into cells and allowing the removal of toxins; they’re involved in energy production and growth too. They keep skin soft and improve healing and they reduce inflammation. Flax is an excellent source of ALA; safflower is the best source of LA. Hemp and pumpkin seeds contain both LA and ALA. EPA and DHA come from fish, but vegetarians can now source it from algae supplements. GLA comes from evening primrose, borage and blackcurrant seed oils.

Getting the ratio right

Historically, it’s thought that humans used to consume a ratio of 1:1 omega-3:omega 6. But once vegetable seed oils became widely used, this shifted massively and generally we now consume much more omega-6. The more omega-6 we consume, the less our body converts ALA omega-6 to DHA omega-3, because of competition for enzymes. This is a problem because having more omega-6 than 3 promotes inflammation, while levelling out the ratio has been shown to protect against chronic disease.

Safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, sesame and peanut are examples of oils rich in omega-6. It’s not that we shouldn’t eat these foods at all, but we can improve the 3:6 ratio by avoiding refined vegetable cooking oils and the processed foods which use them (safflower, sunflower, crisps, fried foods etc) and instead using cooking oils rich in different fatty acids (e.g. coconut and olive). Simultaneously, increase seeds and cold pressed oils of flax, hemp and chia, as well as fish and seafood (or the vegan algae alternatives).

In terms of supplements, quality is paramount. As these oils are easily damaged, reputable companies will carefully source the oils and package them in a protective environment. An oil in a capsule could be rancid without you knowing, whereas it’s easy to smell if a liquid is fresh. The plant oils are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, but check the label in case the capsules are made from gelatine. I highly recommend that vegetarians take an omega-3 EPA and DHA algae supplement. Your independent health store can advise you on the best quality products.

Rivers’ Remedies

Rivers’ Remedies was founded by Rebecca Rivers in 2008 and is now run by a team of four: Rebecca, Elly, Daisy and Kara.

The store stocks only the best natural and organic products from British companies who source locally wherever possible and employ fair trade and ethical practices.

The store is located at 19 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7RJ.

To find out more, visit www.rivers-remedies.co.uk and Instagram: @riversremedies.

For more info on City Survivor supplements visit www.citysurvivor.co.uk and Instagram: @citysurvivoruk

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