What Exactly Are Fatty Acids?: Lowering Your Risk of Disease

They are essential to your health and can only be gotten through food.

What Exactly Are Fatty Acids?: Lowering Your Risk of Disease

Q: I've read a lot about the benefits of certain fats, but it's confusing. Can you explain the difference between and benefits of omega-3 LCFAs, and SCFAs?

A: Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are two types of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential to your health and can only be gotten through food.

How to Eat Long- and Short-Chain Fatty Acids

The main long-chain omega-3s are DHA and EPA; the main short-chain omega-3 is ALA. Your body can convert ALA, found in high-fiber foods such as flax, chia seeds and canola oil, soybean oil, edamame, navy beans, avocados, walnuts, 100 percent whole wheat, and oatmeal, into DHA and EPA, but not very well. You really need to get long-chains from food sources, such as salmon, anchovies and sardines.

Benefits of Short-Chains

Research shows that short-chains help fight off and control metabolic diseases like diabetes and promote weight loss. In addition, ALA and other short-chains produced in the colon by bacterial fermentation of dietary fibers pave the highway between the gut and brain, helping prevent depression, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and autism spectrum disorder.

Benefits of Long-Chains

Long-chains help nerves function properly, maintain brain health, protect cardiovascular health and reduce chronic inflammation, which is implicated in everything from cancer to Crohn's disease and diabetes. Their most impressive skill, however, is the enormous benefits they covey when you substitute them for saturated fats by eliminating dairy, red meat and poultry skin from your diet. One study found substituting olive oil, a long-chain, for butter cuts the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 15%. Another found saturated fats (in meats, for example) make you store visceral belly fat and promote obesity, while long-chains help you burn fat and keep your arteries clear.

Aim to average around 250 to 500mg a day of EPA and DHA — your best bet from 8 ounces of salmon/seafood a week. If you want to take a supplement, ask your doctor to make sure it's the right move for you.

Need help deciding what foods you should get at the grocery store? Check out our healthy shopping list for our System Oz whole body wellness plan, based on the Mediterranean diet (perfect for getting those fatty acids and improving your health)!

system 21 shopping list

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