Essential Fatty Acids

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I love to talk to people about raw foods.  One of the biggest reasons I love to talk to people is because they ask me questions                .

One of the latest questions I got was, “What do you do about getting your essential fatty acids, you need them for your brain.”  Here is some information I have learned over the years about EFA’s.

  • What is an essential fatty acid?
  • Why do we need essential fatty acids?
  • How many essential fatty acids do we need?
  • Food sources of essential fatty acids.

What is an essential fatty acid (EFA)?

An essential fatty acid or EFA is either alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or linoleic acid (LA).  These two fatty acids are called ‘essential’ because the body cannot synthesize them.

We must get these two fatty acids from the food we eat.  ALA is also known as omega-3 fatty acid and LA is known as omega-6 fatty acid.  There are 12 different fatty acids that are made from ALA and LA and all of these are classified as either omega-3 or omega-6.

Why do we need EFA’s?

EFA’s are needed for healthy skin, hair and nails, for growth and development, for building brain cells, for the structure and function of cell membranes and serve as precursors to hormones, for generating electrical currents that keep the heart rate regular and for helping to form red blood pigments and for clotting and flowing of our blood.

The key is to have the correct amount of EFA’s.  Too much fat or too little fat is dangerous to our health.

How many essential fatty acids do we need?

While there isn’t an official recommendation as to how many EFA’s we need we know that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is important.

The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health made the following statements:

Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1-16.7/1.

Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established.

Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

We eat too much of the wrong fat – omega-6.

According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, dietary fats are the least required macronutrient with only a few grams needed per day, with most individuals being able to meet their EFA needs by consuming 14 grams or .5 ounces of fat per day.  The average person consumes 85 grams or 3 ounces per day of fat.  Again, we can see that most of us eat too much fat.

We need to have fat in our diet but the amount of fat needed is very small.  A low-fat raw vegan diet with 10 percent of your calories from fat is adequate to get your necessary essential fatty acids.

Here is how you would calculate this:

2000 calorie a day diet
10% of calories would be 200 fat calories
Fat contains 9 calories per gram
200 calories divided by 9 calories per gram equals 22.22 grams of fat

22.22 grams of fat exceeds what the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states (14 grams) that most individuals need.

See the chart below for food sources of essential fatty acids.

EFA Content of Various Whole Foods (grams)

1 oz. Fatty Fruits/Nuts
ALA (omega-3) LA (omega-6)
Avocado 0.04 0.47
Flaxseed 6.45 1.67
Olive 0.02 0.24
Pine Nuts 0.22 7.03
Walnuts 2.57 10.76
Banana 0.06 0.10
Blueberry 0.13 0.20
Cabbage 0.08 0.06
Fig 0.00 0.33
Kale 0.41 0.31
Kiwi 0.10 0.56
Mango 0.08 0.03
Oranges 0.02 0.04
Papaya 0.01 0.06
Peaches 0.00 0.19
Pineapple 0.04 0.05
Romaine lettuce 0.26 0.11
Strawberries 0.15 0.20
Tomatoes 0.01 0.18

Above information taken from The 80/10/10 Diet by Dr. Douglas N. Graham pages 117-118.

1 oz. Fatty Fruits/Nuts
ALA (omega-3) LA (omega-6)
Almonds <0.10 3.40
Brazil Nuts <0.10 5.80
Cashews <0.10 2.20
Chia Seeds 5.10 1.70
Coconut Meat 0.00 0.10
Filbert/Hazelnuts <0.10 2.20
Hemp Seeds 2.70 7.30
Hickory Nuts 0.30 5.80
Macadamia Nuts 0.10 0.40
Pecans 0.30 5.80
Pistachio Nuts 0.10 3.80
Pumpkin Seeds <0.10 5.90
Sesame Seeds 0.10 6.10
Sunflower Seeds <0.10 6.50

The above information was taken from which uses the UDSA database for nutritional information for the majority of its items.

Information for this article was obtained from the following sources:

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

The 80/10/10 Diet by Dr. Douglas N. Graham

The Franklin Institute –

T. Colin Campbell/Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine –[backPid]=76&cHash=8b1e1b992f

National Center for Biotechnology Information/US National Library of Medicine –



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