Fatty acids properties

What are essential fatty acids or EFAs?

Essential fatty acids (EFA) refer to a group of fatty acids that the body can not produce and which must be ingested through food or supplements.

They differ from non-essential ones (saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids), because the latter can be obtained by the organism from proteins, carbohydrates or alcohol)


Walnuts are high in EFA

Types of essential fatty acids

There are two types of essential fatty acids:

Essential fatty acids omega-3 (linolenic acid): Among these we have the ones from vegetable origin, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is derived from seed oils or vegetable with dark green leaves, such as linseed oil or purslane, respectively.

Among those of animal origin, the most important are those from blue of cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc. The most prominent in this group are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The body transforms the first group into the second group. (More information about this component in the listing below)

Linolenic acid-rich foods in order of importance
PlantsPlant part
SesameSeeds / Oil
PeanutSeeds / Oil
SunflowerSeeds / Oil
Main properties of linoleic acid: it’s antiarthritic, antiesclerotic, antiinflammatory, antiallergic, anti-diabetic, anti-cystic, hypocholesterolemic…

Essential fatty acids omega-6 (linoleic acid): In this group the most important element is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). It can be found in the seed oil and black currant (cassis oil), borage or evening primrose. Valerian, borage contain much of the same principle in every part of the plant. (More information about this component in the listing below)


Photo of evening primose. The oil of the seeds is rich in omega 6

Other omega-6 fatty acids are:

  • Arachidonic acid, which can be found in plants such as brussels sprouts , garlic, carrot, soy or sesame oil. It has anti-dermatitis, hepatoprotective, immuno-stimulatory and anticancer properties.
  • Dihomo-linoleic acid, that has been found in evening primrose oil.
Foods rich in linoleic acid in order of importance(Formula = CH3 (CH2) 4 (CH = CHCH2) 2 (CH2) 6CO2H)
PlantsPlant part
SunflowerSeeds / Oil
SesameSeeds / Oil
Main properties of linoleic acid: it’s antiarthritic, antiesclerotic, antiinflammatory, antihemorragic, antiprostatic, hepatoprotective, hypocholesterolemic.

* Related information: Characteristics of fatty acids

punto rojo More information about fats.

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

27 May, 2023

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