Fat-phobics take note: The right type of fat helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, provides energy, and supplies important nutrients. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), in particular, are vital to many body functions, such as diffusion of oxygen into the bloodstream, hemoglobin production, brain and tissue development, immune response, and the stabilization of insulin and blood sugar levels. Read on to test your “essential” IQ.

True or False?

1. Essential fatty acids are called “essential” because the body needs them.
2. Fish is an excellent source of omega-6 fatty acids.
3. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid consumption is 20 to 1.
4. For vegans and others who may not eat fish, flaxseed oil can supply the body with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), a member of the omega-3 family.

Answers

1. False. An essential nutrient, though indispensable to body function, is one that cannot be manufactured by the body and therefore must be supplied through diet or supplementation. The human body can make all but two fatty acids—omega-6 (linolenic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA)—which makes these two EFAs “essential.”

2. False. Fish oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), members of the omega-3 family. Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, these oils help with a wide variety of disorders, such as Crohn’s disease. Separate studies in the 2002 New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated the heart-protective qualities of omega-3s.

EPA and DHA are found in cod-liver oil, mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, and albacore tuna.

3. False. The ideal ratio is actually 1 to 1. The average American diet commonly pushes that ratio to 20 to 1 and beyond, due to overconsumption of omega-6s. Omega-6s are found in corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils, as well as animal meat, milk, and eggs—foods frequently eaten in the United States. Other factors linked to the imbalance include decreased fish consumption and increased intake of hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids; both interfere with fatty acid synthesis.

4. True. To an extent, the body turns the ALA found in flaxseed oil into EPA. However, the conversion is limited, and researchers have found that you’d have to take up to ten times as much ALA as EPA to receive similar benefits to that of fish. For example, 7.2 grams of flaxseed oil should equal 1 gram of fish oil.