These are all over food packaging and nutritional supplements, so it’s almost impossible to have never heard of them! But do you know what’s really hidden behind these names?
Read on for some key information and explanation to help you understand.. and don’t worry, I promise it won’t be one of those boring biology class on fatty acids!
Article written by Ariane Monnami, nutritionist and micro-nutritionist.
Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids
Fatty acids are the basic components for fats. These fatty acids are classed in different categories depending on their chemical structure and properties.
We often differentiate between the following:
- Saturated fats found in meat, butter, cheese, coconut oil.. Saturated fats often take a solid form at room temperature.
- Monounsaturated fats, including omega-9 commonly found in olive oil, avocados, goose or duck fat. These fats are liquids at room temperature but turn into solids when refrigerated.
- Polyunsaturated fats, divided into two categories: omega-3 and omega-6. This category of fatty acids always remain as liquids, even when refrigerated.
What does unsaturated mean?
The term ‘unsaturated’ refers to the fact that there are one of more double bonds between two carbon atoms within the fatty acid molecule.
Logically, if there is only one double bond, then the fatty acid is ‘monounsaturated’ and if there are several, then the fatty acid is ‘polyunsaturated’! And if there aren’t any bonds at all, then it is simply ‘saturated’.
As far as the structural composition of the molecule is concerned, each double-bond gives a certain flexibility to the molecule. The more the fatty acid is unsaturated, the more flexible the fatty acid will be.
The more saturated a fatty acid, the more fragile the fatty acid
These double bonds can weaken the fatty acid molecules as they can react with oxygen, leading to an ‘oxidised’ molecule.
This oxidisation is most commonly known as rancidity, which for example can happen when a bottle of nut oil is left at room temperature or when sardines are grilled on a barbecue.
What do the numbers 3, 6 and 9 refer to?
This number refers to the position of the molecule’s first double bond:
- For omega-3 fatty acids, it is in 3rd position
- For omega-6 fatty acids, it is in 6th position
- For omega-9 fatty acids, it is in 9th position
Why are certain fatty acids said to be ‘essential’?
Omega-3 and omega-6 are referred to as ‘essential fatty acids’ because we are unable to make them ourselves. This means that we must obtain them from our diet, just like vitamins. Throughout the last century, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were regrouped as ‘vitamin F’ and were recommended by Dr. Kousmine in treating a range of ‘civilisation diseases’ from arthritis and cancer to eczema and immunity disorders.
Dr. Kousmine, a Swiss doctor from Russia would recommend his patients to increase their consumption of organic, first-press oils, particularly sunflower and linseed oil.
A very complicated transformation process
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils require a whole series of chemical transformations before they can be used by our body cells and to act as precursors for our hormones.
This transformation process is incredibly complex and there can therefore be a number of complications..
Different enzymes intervene to elongate the molecules and progressively increase the number of double bonds.
These enzymes need a multitude of cofactors (vitamins and minerals) to work properly. If we are suffering from a lack of these or if our enzymes have decreased capabilities (simply due to age for example), then the transformation process can be problematic.
So, this is why it’s especially important to have a direct intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fish oil or algae.
Both chains of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids use the same enzymes and cofactors. Ideally, our diet should contain as much omega-3 as omega-6 and the two processes should occur alongside each other.
Unfortunately, industrial food contains nearly twenty times more omega-6 than omega-3 which leads to a number of imbalances:
- pro-inflammatory molecules found in omega-6 are no longer balanced out by anti-inflammatory molecules found in omega-3.
- Pro-coagulants found in omega-6 are no longer sufficiently balanced out by anti-coagulants found in omega-3, which encourages the formation of blood clots in our blood vessels.
- Livres du Dr Kousmine : Sauvez votre corps, Soyez bien dans votre assiette jusqu’à 80 ans et plus
- Livre du Dr Seignalet : L'alimentation ou la 3ème médecine