PUFA sources

Nourishing the brain

Our brains need the right nutrients to thrive. To carry nutrients into our body and brain effectively, we rely on fatty acids.

Fatty acids have biological, structural and functional roles, and act as a key source of energy.

Types of fatty acid

Fatty acids play an important part in the brain and the body. They provide more energy per gram than carbohydrates, and they are the building blocks of all our cell membranes, of the fat in our bodies, and of many signalling molecules. After we eat, our bodies break down fat into fatty acids, which are absorbed into the blood. There are three different types of fatty acids, and it is important to include all of them in a healthy diet:

Saturated fatty acids

Sources include…

Butter, lard and coconut oil.

Identifiable as…
Solid at room temperature and liquid when heated.

Monounsaturated fatty acids

Sources include…

Oil of olives, almonds, hazelnuts, and avocados.

Identifiable as…
Solid when refrigerated and liquid at room temperature.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids

Sources include…

Vegetable and seed oils.

Identifiable as…
Liquid both at room temperature and in the refrigerator.

Essential fatty acids

All fats have an important role to play in the brain and the body. However, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are critically important. Known as essential fatty acids, they cannot be made by the body but are essential for our survival and development. These fatty acids:

  • Are the basis of all cell membranes

  • Help our bodies to better manage physical trauma and inflammation

  • Reduce oxidative stress to better fight infections and symptoms of ageing

  • Protect against neurodegenerative diseases, stroke and traumatic brain injury

  • Protect against heart disease

Balancing omega-6 and omega-3

As our bodies are not able to produce these fats, we must gain them from the food we eat. It is not only important that they form part of our food intake, but that we consume them in a balanced way, as they influence our body’s metabolism and how we respond to inflammation.

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in modern diets typically ranges from 10:1 to 30:1, but research suggests that a far healthier ratios would be from 1:1 to 4:1. As such, it is important to eat the right foods to make sure that we consume the right kinds of fatty acids, at the right level.

Structure of fatty acids

All fatty acids have the same basic structure. What makes them different is how effective they are at helping us to absorb the right nutrients that will enhance our health. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are much more effective than short-chains at doing this.

Short-chain omega-3

In the body…
Short-chain omega-3 and omega-6 compete for the same enzymes to elongate. Includes ALA omega-3s.

Impact…
Due to a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in most modern diets, less omega-3 gets absorbed into our bodies, which means that we do not receive all the benefits of omega-3 for our neuro-development.

Found in…
Non-marine sources, such as certain nuts, seeds, flaxseed, and rapeseed oil.

Long-chain omega-3

In the body…
Make up 20% of all cell membranes, enabling rapid nerve transmission, and form the basis of most anti-inflammatory control. Includes DHA and EPA.

Impact…
Several health benefits, including enhanced neuro-development, better recovery from brain damage, improved mood, more focused attention, less severe mental health issues, and slower brain ageing.

Found in…
Marine sources, such as oily fish (including mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna).