Are you concerned about getting enough essential fats on a raw vegan diet? It is actually fairly easy once you learn some basic information about the sources of essential fatty acids in a plant-based diet. Read on to discover how.
What are essential fats?
Certain types of fats are called essential fats because our bodies are unable to synthesize them in amounts adequate for optimal health. According to Dr. Udo Erasmus who is the leader in the field of research into fats and health, all fresh and unprocessed foods contain some essential fatty acids.
There are two major types of essential fatty acids; omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids act like the nutritional equivalent of aspirin, helping to calm inflammation and infection in the body. They are associated with a whole range of health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.
When most people hear the term omega, they may assume that omega-6 fats also need to be emphasized in the diet and are related to the omega-3 fats. However, while both types of fats are necessary, they actually have almost opposite effects in the body.
An excessive intake of omega-6 fats can trigger an increase in all of the health problems that omega-3 fats help to alleviate. Studies also indicate that omega-6 fats have a remarkable ability to trigger fat storage.
In addition when you consume too many of the omega-6 fats this can neutralize all of the benefits of the omega-3’s. So, the main thing to be aware of with your intake of essential omega fats is that the ratio between them is in the amounts that are ideal for supporting optimal health.
Balancing your intake of essential fats
When we look at the diet of our ancient ancestors it is estimated that their total fat content was actually very similar to what most people eat today. What was very different was the quality and composition of the fats they consumed. Of particular note is the balance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fats, which is estimated to be in the ratio of between 4:1 and 1:1 (omega-6 to omega-3). In contrast our modern diet can contain a ratio of up to 20:1 in favor of omega-6 fats.
We can also learn about the probable optimal balance of essential fats from native populations who live in temperate and tropical regions. These communities consume approximately 1.5% of their calories as omega-3 fats and 2.5% as omega-6, which are obtained from legumes, grains, nuts, green vegetables, fish, olive oil and animal fats. Interestingly, this is the same as the estimated ratio that has been determined in many of the studies on Paleolithic diets.
Many raw foodists and strict vegans may potentially have difficulty with maintaining the ideal balance between the omega-3 and omega-6 fats than even those eating a cooked food diet containing animal products. This is because the foods high in omega-3 fats are limited in variety and those high in omega-6 are often consumed in large amounts.
Sources of inflammatory omega-6 fats in vegan diets
Although there are a few exceptions, nuts and seeds generally have a very high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Some nuts such as macadamias, almonds and pecans contain predominantly monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil or avocado, which do not greatly affect the balance between the omega fats.
However, most of the nuts and seeds that are good sources of omega-3, such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds, contain proportionately more omega-6 and cannot be relied on to create balance in your intake of essential fatty acids.
Tahini, sunflower seeds and peanuts contain large amounts of omega-6 fats but only trace amounts of omega-3. In order to correct this imbalance it is a good idea to make a point to add flax or hemp seeds or their oils to meals whenever they contain those nuts and seeds that are high in omega-6 fats.
Raw vegan sources of omega-3 fats
There are many plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
1) Flaxseed oil and flaxseed meal
Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of omega-3 fats and are also very low in the omega-6 fats. They must be finely ground in order for you to absorb the fats effectively because otherwise the whole seeds will pass right through you without being digested.
Just three quarters of a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds will supply your minimum daily requirement for ALA.
Flaxseed oil is another alternative and it contains 16% omega-6 fats and 57% omega-3. One teaspoon of flaxseed oil provides 2.6 grams of ALA, which is significantly more than the minimum daily intake.