Table of Contents
Another miracle nutrient?
In recent years, we have heard many things about Omega-3 fatty acids and how good they are to our health. We may even be thinking on adding them to our diet, by taking supplements or simply by increasing our consumption of food rich in these nutrients. But why all the fuss? Are they as good as they are portrayed?
Fatty acids: part of our diet and part of our cells
Fats, or lipids, as they are also known, are an essential component of our diet. Yes, contrary to what you thought, you need fats in order for your cells to keep functioning normally. Lipids are an essential part of cell walls, as well as of myelin, the substance that isolates the nerves. Lipids are also used in the production of hormones and other substances that our body uses as messengers.
Fatty acids are taken up by our cells and are used as a source of energy. The energy that fatty acids provide is stored in the adipose tissue, where it stays until our cells run out of primary sources of energy and need to transform lipids into ATP, which is the fuel our cells work with.
Fatty acids provide a higher yield of energy, compared to carbohydrates. This is the reason why fatty acids are the main energetic storage. Think about a bear hibernating: all the energy it needs while sleeping is derived from fat, because neither carbohydrates nor proteins are being consumed during hibernation. The energy conserves well in the form of fat and it can be released depending on the organism needs.
Types of fatty acids
Fatty acids are chemical compounds that have a general structure formed by a chain of carbon atoms plus a chemical group known as carboxylic acid.
In order to form a chain, carbon atoms are “glued” together by chemical bonds. Depending on the type of these bonds, fatty acids are classified as saturated and unsaturated. This is important because saturated fatty acids, present in animal fats, are not as fluid as unsaturated fatty acids, which are mainly contained in oils, like flaxseed oil.
Essential fatty acids are called like this because they are needed for our cells to keep functioning. Some essential unsaturated fatty acids cannot be produced by our own bodies, though, so we need to get them from our diet.