We’ve heard a lot about the benefits of fish and nuts lately. That’s because these foods are good sources of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), which are known to have health benefits such as preventing heart disease and certain cancers. What’s more, a deficiency of essential fatty acids can also give you dry skin in the winter! Are you getting enough in your diet?

While fats are one of the food groups that are allowed freely in the Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) diet, this very restrictive diet does not contain any meats, fish, nuts or dairy where most of us get our essential fatty acids from. So where do patients following this low protein/low leucine diet get their Essential Fatty Acids from? Are they getting enough?

Well to start with, let us try and understand what an EFA is. The word essential means that we are unable to make them within our bodies and must get them from the diet. We actually have approximately 20 different types of fatty acids within the body that have different functions, but only two of them are essential. These are linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid, and linolenic acid also known as omega-3 fatty acid. There are presently no set Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA’s) for EFA’s but it is suggested that 3-6% of total daily calories come from this source. A 1:5 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 respectively is recommended for optimal health. The typical American diet can provide a ratio from 1:10 to 1:25, and it is thought that this imbalance can cause many health problems. The MSUD diet is void of unhealthy animal fat, which is a plus, but adding more omega-3s will help even more!

Omega-6 fatty acids are readily found in a typical western diet from sources like vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils. Most of these oils are found in many processed foods. Good sources of Omega-3 on the other hand, are fish and nuts which are not allowed in the MSUD diet. Fortunately, flaxseed, canola, and walnut oils are also good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and are protein free.

While other essential nutrients are provided by the MSUD formulas, EFA’s are not. In fact, many of the newer formulas don’t contain any fat at all. By simply adding one tablespoon of flaxseed, walnut or canola oil to your diet every day, you could prevent EFA deficiency and lead to better overall health, preventing disease and keeping your skin healthy in the winter!

Along with the beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Fortunately, these foods are also very low in protein and leucine, and should be the cornerstone of the MSUD diet. The basic dietary recommendation is to consume at least 5 a day of fruits and vegetables combined. Yes, that is per day not per week.

Why are fruits and vegetables so nutritious? They contain most of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that we need in a day including beta carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, compounds found naturally in fruits and vegetables that protect against diseases such as cancers and heart disease.

Some of the most common phytonutrients that you might have heard of are lycopene found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, bioflavonoids found in most fruit and vegetables, and indoles found in broccoli, cauliflower and mustard greens. The different colors found in fruits and vegetables all contain different phytonutrients that all have different functions in preventing disease. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables keeps everyone, with or without MSUD, healthier.

Start being healthier today and prevent cancers, heart disease and even dry skin by making sure you get at least 5 a day and add some flaxseed oil to your diet every day. An easy way to do this is to make sure that each meal contains either a fruit or vegetable or both. For breakfast add fruit such as blueberries to your cereal or low protein pancakes. For lunch add a side salad or a piece of fruit and at dinner have low protein pasta with broccoli, zucchini or other vegetables. Snack on an apple or a pear and carrots or celery through out the day and you already have 5 a day! It’s not that hard! Add some flaxseed oil to your salad or to your pancakes to make sure you are getting your daily intake of EFA also for overall good health.