Essential Fatty Acids

The word ‘lipid’ refers to fats. There are many kinds of lipids. Phospholipids are found in the cell walls of all plants. So, all plants contain some degree of fat in their structure. Our interest is in certain kinds of fats.

Fats contain 2.25 times the calories in either protein or carbohydrates. In other words, if a gram of protein contains 15 calories, a gram of fat will contain 2.25 x 15 calories. However, fat satisfies the appetite for a longer period of time than do carbohydrates.

There are two broad categories of fats: Saturated and Unsaturated.

Saturated fats are fats that become hard and are mostly from animal sources. They are used in the body to provide insulation, absorb shock, construct membranes, produce unsaturated fatty acids, provide energy, electrical transport, calories, and heat.

Some forms of saturated fats (long chain) are considered less heathy because they are more taxing to the liver. They are also sticky and tend to clog up the cardiovascular system. Short chain saturated fats, which are easier for the body to metabolize and work with, are found in butter and tropical oils.

Unsaturated fats stay liquid, are mostly from plant sources, and are considered to be healthier fats. They perform key functions in the most active tissues of the body: brain, sense organs, glands, nerve impulses, electrical energy and in the manufacture of hormone-like substances.

The two categories of healthy fats are ESSENTIAL (EFA’s = essential fatty acids) and NON-ESSENTIAL. Non-essential doesn’t mean they are not needed, it means a normally functioning body can produce them from other nutrients. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) must be included in the diet because the body cannot make them.

The three forms of unsaturated fats most commonly found in nature are:

OLEIC acid (OA)- non-essential, found in peanut, olive, canola, and other oils. These include OMEGA 9 fatty acids. Monounsaturated.

LINOLEIC acid (LA)- essential, found in sunflower, safflower, corn, sesame, hemp, and other oils. These are OMEGA 6 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated.

Alpha-LINOLENIC acid (LNA)- essential, found in flax, hemp, and other oils. These are OMEGA 3 fatty acids. Superunsaturated.

Other less common fats: (Sometimes the spelling on these are very close so they look like the same but are not)

STEARIDONIC acid – (SDA) essential, found in black currant seeds among others. OMEGA 3 acids. Superunsaturated.

EICOSAPENTAENOIC acid – (EPA) and DOCOSAHEXAENOIC acid (DHA) essential, found in the body oils of cold water fish and marine animals..Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines. From land animals: brain, eye, adrenal glands, and testes. OMEGA 3 acids. Superunsaturated.

GAMMA-LINOLENIC acid (GLA) essential, found in Borage, black currant seed, evening primrose seed and others. OMEGA 6. Polyunsaturated

ARACHIDONIC acid (AA) – essential, found in meats and other animal products. OMEGA 6 acids. Polyunsaturated.

PALMITOLEIC acid (POA) non-essential, found in tropical oils like coconut and palm kernel. OMEGA 7 acids. Monounsaturated.

>From the Saturated family of fats:

STEARIC acid (SA) non-essential, found in beef, mutton, pork, butter, cocoa butter.

PALMITIC acid (PA) non-essential, found in tropical fats like coconut, palm, and palm kernel.

BUTYRIC acid (BA) non-essential, found in butter.

ARACHIDIC acid – (not arachidonic acid) found in peanuts.

Note: all oils contain varying proportions of different fatty acids.

Omega 6 and Omega 3 are essential fatty acids(EFA). As you can see from the list above, there are several sources for both. Each of these sources provides a somewhat different benefit to the body because of the different chemistries of each of the oils and because of the nutrients contained in the seed.

There must be a balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6. Long-term supplementation of one without the other will cause deficiencies. The ideal ratio should be 2:1 Omega 3 to Omega 6.

Hemp seed oil contains the nearly ideal ratio of 3:1 between Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils for long term use. It also contains GLA.

Flax seed oil contains 4 times as much Omega 3 as Omega 6, so you would also need to supplement with another oil that is higher in Omega 6. Supplementing with a blend to balance the EFAs is the best choice. You can obtain this by adding Omega 6-rich sunflower and sesame oils to flax oil. This is what is done to produce Udo’s Choice Oil Blend and blended oils from other manufacturers.

When taking oil supplements be sure to also take Vitamin E at the same time to prevent the oils from becoming oxidized and thus rancid in the body.

More Fat Information:

In 1902, Rosenfeld showed that a high-carb/high-protein diet results in fat deposits in internal organs. So does a high-carb/low-protein diet. When EFAs are added, less fat deposti occurs and better food utization and energy production take place.

According to Udo Erasmus: 1. Fats are digested slowly and prevent hunger from recurring quickly. Protein and carbohydrates are digested in half as much time so overeating is encouraged. 2. EFAs increase metabolic rate and help mobilize and burn excess saturated fats. 3. The body loses the craving for food when its need for EFAs is satisfied. 4. A poor diet lacking essential substances fails to still hunger, leading to overeating and weight gain. 5. Contrary to popular opinion, not all fats make a body fat.

Healthy fats can halt and even reverse many degenerative diseases such as: atherosclerosis, hypertension, allergies, cancer, skin conditions, yeast conditions, aging, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, obesity, and some addictions.

Bad fats and sugar are responsible for most of the conditions listed above.

Triglyceride levels increase with increasing intake of refined sugars, refined starches, sedentary lifestyle, and hard, non-essential fats. According to researcher John Yudkin, sugar consumption is one of the quickest ways to increase triglycerides because the body turns sugar into fats to protect itself from the toxic effects of excess sugar. Sugar increases oxidation damage, inhibits immune functions and interferes with the transport of vitamin C…all leading to dardiovascular and other degenerative diseases.

Oxidized fats and cholesterol that occur in cured, processed, and aged foods like meats, sausages, cheese, scrambled or fried eggs, friend convenience foods and stored foods are the largest offenders in cardiovascular disease. Ditto for altered fates which are shortenings, margines, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in baked goods, candy, french fries, deep-fried foods, chips, crackers, etc. Please do not feed any of these to your birds, or yourself.

Certain kinds of fiber, pectins, and mucilage from apples, beets, carrots, okra, flax, beans, psillium hulls and oats tie up bile acids, cholesterol, and toxins and carry them out of the body.

here is the essential fatty acid breakdown of various foods. I’ve listed them in this order: total fat, Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9. For example, Chia is This means it contains 30% fat, 30% of which is Omega 3, 40% Omega 6, and 0% Omega 9. The ideal ratio of essential fatty acids for humans is approximately 2/1/0.75 (Omega 3s should be twice that of Omega 6 and a little more than twice Omega 9)

hemp: kukui: flax: pumpkin soybean: walnut: wheat germ: evening primrose: safflower: sunflower: grape: corn: sesame: rice bran cottonseed: toxic ingredients rape: peanut: may contain toxic fungus almond: olive: avocado: coconut: palm kernel: beech: brazil: pecan: pistachio: hickory: filbert: macadamia: cashew: neem: extremely bitter

The best oils from seeds are unrefined, cold pressed, and taste like the seed from which they are derived. Oils must be stored in opaque containers, protected from light, oxygen, and heat or they will spoil. Once spoiled or heat damaged, oils and fats cause free radical damage in the body. Most fresh unrefined oils have a pleasant taste. If the taste is *off* or unpleasant, more than likely the oil is spoiled and should not be consumed.


Most of the information was derived form Udo Erasmus’s book: “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill”


EFA’s and Health

by Pamela Clark I have been doing more and more research into the role essential fatty acids play in preserving optimal health, and find myself feeling a sense of growing alarm at the fact that this has been largely ignored in typical discussions of psittacine diet. Dietary “fat” has gotten a very bad name amongst the American public in recent years due to the large percentage of the population that is overweight. There has been much discussion about the differences between saturated (bad) fat and unsaturated (good) fat, but there seems to be lots of confusion, especially when it comes to the topic of essential fatty acids. I’m afraid the general sense of confusion, and the belief that “fat is bad,” is being carried over into our ideas about parrot diet.

The references I have explored indicate that the human brain is made up of 60% fat – not “depot fat like I happen to store in my thighs – but structural fat. The myelin sheaths around nerve cells are also made up largely of essential fatty acids, esp. omega-3. In short, essential fatty acids are necessary for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, as well as good visual acuity, and a good immune system. They are called “essential” because we have to obtain them from the diet. We can not manufacture them in our bodies, the way we can manufacture cholesterol and saturated fat. Further, omega-3 fatty acids are easily destroyed by light, heat, and air. The best sources for them from what I’ve read are: fresh whole foods, especially walnuts and Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, salmon, tuna, trout, flax seeds, legumes, soybeans and oats.

On page 129 of “The Omega Diet” by Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D. and Jo Robinson, it says, “If you foraged your food from the wild, it would be impossible to be deficient in this nutrient <omega-3 fatty acids> because it would be present in virtually everything you ate.” Since parrots evolved foraging their food in the wild, and these omega-3 fatty acids are so easily destroyed (as in the processing and storage of pellets), it would seem to me critically important to make sure that the diet contains an adequate provision for these.

I’m especially interested in the pertinence of this to African Greys, who reportedly eat frequently of the fruits of the oil palm, which are 90% fat, according to an article by David Poole on his website. This palm oil is saturated fat, however. (Plants growing closer to the equator contain more saturated fat, while plants growing further away from the equator contain more unsaturated fat.) So many Greys in captivity are struggling with low vitamin A levels. I wonder if they are getting an insufficient amount of fat in their diet, which if provided, would make this oil-soluble vitamin more available to them? I wonder if phobic Greys might have fewer problems if their nervous system were “bolstered” by the provision of essential fatty acids? I wonder if feather picking Greys, who reportedly have “dry skin,” are suffering from fatty acid deficiencies?

I myself have had two birds (an African Grey and a Senegal) who were ostensibly feather picking because of “behavioral” reasons, who stopped once I began providing an essential fatty acid supplement.

My convictions have grown to the point where I’ve been experimenting with providing all my Greys with additional supplementation for essential fatty acids, given that they appear to have perhaps a higher need for fat in their diet than other species. I have been really pleased with the results. They have redder tails, and shinier black beaks, and their feathers now have a bit of sheen to them, and lay closely against their backs in a very smooth manner. Although this is hard to document, the babies I am raising also seem smarter. They talk earlier and seem more “full of themselves” – that much I can measure. And right now, I have (gasp) 18 eggs from 5 pairs of birds in my nestboxes, which I find to be not exactly good news 🙂

I’ve been using between two and six drops a day of the oil blends found in the refrigerator section of the health food store (in addition to providing abundant fresh foods). Those I have used are Udo’s Perfected Oil Blend, Spectrum Essentials, and Arrowhead Mills. All seem to be some blend of flax seed oil, borage seed oil, hemp seed oil, etc. I either put this in the warm oatmeal that I feed my adult Greys at night, place it on a bit of whole wheat bread, or mix it into a recipe (a quinoa-based pilaf mix) that I developed specifically for providing for the nutritional needs of African Greys.

I’ve had it suggested to me that I should provide the Greys with the palm oil that is being sold in the United States now. However, I have three reservations. One, I have no information about the relative content of omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids in this palm oil. Two, I am reluctant to provide saturated fat to relatively sedentary parrots, leading quite a different existence from those who fly miles every day to forage for food. And, three, I have some concerns about the possible rancidity of this product. I have been reassured that it contains high levels of naturally occurring vitamin E and that this acts as a preservative.

So, my questions are these:

Are any other list members supplementing any species in this way? Does anyone have any information about the fatty acid content of palm oil? What are the advantages of palm oil over the oil supplements sold in the health food store? Are there any potential dangers to this type of supplementation?

BTW, for list members interested in learning more, I can recommend the following references:

The Omega Diet, by Simopoulos and Robinson, New York:HarperPerennial/HarperCollins, 1999 Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus, Burnaby BC Canada: Alive Books, 1993 Smart Fats: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical, and Emotional Intelligence by Michael A. Schmidt, Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd, 1997

I apologize for the length of this. It’s such a complex subject, that I find it hard to distill down the pertinent information. I’d be most grateful to anyone who has more information on the subject.

Pamela Clark

The Importance of Dietary Fat

I have 2 plucked birds on thyroid for years. The doses are correct because their thyroids are right in line at each blood draw but it has made no difference in the plucking and overall poor skin condition and feather quality.  P.S. Their diets are excellent and they get lots of baths, sunshine and fresh air as I live in Florida.

Have you considered fats?

Fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. It is fat consumed along with carbohydrates that makes you fat. Carbohydrates alone cause the insulin resistant to become overweight. Certain fats are necessary for the body to function properly, and I wasn’t getting them in my diet. For that matter, many bird’s diets are limited in the kinds of fats they receive in their diets, too. Most pellet formulations, for example, only contain Omega 6 types of fats.

How many people seek out a diet that has less than 4% fat for their birds? How many people say their birds can’t have seeds because they are prone to fatty liver disease? When you read about the relationship between fats, protein, and carbohydrates, you will come to understand that the improper combination of those and the lack of other nutrients from a limited diet is what causes fatty liver disease and not the seeds themselves.

I lost a couple meyers babies that were about 6 months old. They had been weaned unto mostly pellets. The necropsy came back with no cause of death known, but it was noted that there was fat infiltrating the liver. My vet chewed me out for feeding them an all-seed diet. He didn’t believe me when I told him that these birds were weaned onto pellets with some veggies and very little seeds.

This was a few years ago when I was feeding mostly pellets. Seeds? Seeds were bad for birds so I seldom fed seeds. I’ve revamped my thinking (for about the sixth time since I started breeding birds in ’89 and now realize that seeds are part of a natural balanced diet for all birds which consume seeds in nature.

Many of the cereal seeds are not high in fat. Seeds like millet and canary are much lower in fat than the flower seeds like sun and safflower. The fats they contain are healthier than processed, and damaged fats served up in pellets.

I was surprised to read that active people are the ones that require a lot of carbohydrates in their diet because they burn them off as immediate energy. Sedentary people, on the other hand, will get fat on a high carb diet because what isn’t burned off is stored as fat in the body. I suspect this works similarly for our somewhat sedentary companion birds, too.

Anyone interested in how this works should read ‘Protein Power’ by Eades, ‘Your Body Knows Best’ by Gittleman, and ‘Sugar Busters’ by Steward, Bethea, Andrews, and Balart.

I don’t know if it works the same for birds as it does for people, but I would be very interested to find out. I know my thinking about human nutrition has changed drastically in the last few months as the myths of a lifetime have been blown away by personal experience.


I agree Gloria. It is important to have enough fat in our diets – it is even more important to have a correct balance of essential fatty acids.

Many overweight people are in fact suffering from malnutrition – they don’t eat enough food to get the nutrients they need and it is their sluggish metabolism that keeps them fat.

Fats sure get a bad rap these days – but without fat (the right amount of the right kinds) we’d die.

Carole Bryant

I’m so delighted with this conversation and the benefit it can have on a great deal of birds. I have been singing this for the Eclectus birds both in their diet and their baby formula for the last five years. My eclectus get Udo’s choice twice a week..just a dab will do you. Another thing they get for their fat is the white sunflower seed sprouted.

My Hyacinthines get Udo’s choice as well for their fat content. I’m afraid of just nuts in that baking, putting in god knows what that they just will not get the fat they need thus they get Udos choice as well almost daily. They look beautiful. They get just a 1/2 teap. per pair on a piece of MANA bread. Very important not to give in the water or anything that they can aspirate on the oil.

Oh, yes….Mikee who came to me with a fatty lipoma the size of a large huge orange which was pressing up against his lungs, heart…is gone with my diet of Udo’s Choice. I had him laparoscoped last July and it was completely gone.


Cherane, when you added Udo’s oil blend to your hyacinthine’s formula, how much were you adding to obtain what percentage of fat?

Add two to four percent increase in total fat!

To dry formula add one teaspoon oil to one cup (about 3%) wet/mixed formula, one cup mixed formula (e.g.1/3 cup Formula to 1/2Water) add one-third teaspoon oil (if formula is thinner then add 1/2 oil. by weight mixed thirty grams Formula/1grm oil/water.69 grams water….

Is this confusing? I add to 80 grams of mixed formula (Macaws) about .0.7 cc of Udo’s Choice oil.


Red Palm Oil


I feed it to my birds, my dog and my kid:) I also condition my hair with it and use it in my hand lotion, I make; just like the African people do. My Grey loves to eat PO straight. I keep it refrigerated and give him a little piece to munch on. Lol… he’s like a kid with chocolate:) Make sure there is some paper under him as PO stains your flooring… baking soda helps remove the stains. I also warm it to room temp and mix it into his McWatters Mash or just pour it over his veggies. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon several times a week

Udo Erasmus, author of Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, claims that heating oils, changes the composition of the trans fatty acids and this is what causes the fats to build up in our veins and arteries causing heart disease.

Evidence continued to accumulate during 1998 that your diet can drastically alter your chances of getting heart disease and cancer, including breast cancer.

The good news is that eating monounsaturated fats (the kind found in olive oil, canola oil, and nuts) seems to have a protective effect against these major diseases.[1] The nuts highest in monounsaturated fats are hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and peanuts.

The bad news is that hydrogenated vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil can have major harmful effects, increasing your chances of heart attack and cancer, including breast cancer. It is the trans-fatty acids in hydrogenated vegetable oils that seem to be the culprits.[2]

Hydrogenated vegetable oils are mainly found in margarine and vegetable shortening, which in turn are common ingredients of bread, cookies, crackers, chips, candy bars, and many baked goods such as doughnuts. Many french fries are now cooked in hydrogenated vegetable oils. If you eat a normal American diet, it is hard to avoid large doses of hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils, but the evidence is mounting that they are really bad news and should be avoided whenever possible.

Alberto Ascherio at the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that trans-fatty acids are now killing at least 30,000 Americans every year.[3] Read the label and purchase wisely.

1] On the protective effect of nuts, see Janet Raloff, “High-Fat and Healthful,” SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 154 (November 21, 1998), pgs. 328-330. On the protective effect of olive oil, see J.M. Martin-Moreno and others, “Dietary fat, olive oil intake, and breast cancer risk,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CANCER Vol. 58, No. 8 (September 15, 1998), pgs. 774-780, and: N.R. Somonsen and others, “Tissue stores of individual monounsaturated fatty acids and breast cancer: the EURAMIC study. European Community Multicenter Study of Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Breast Cancer,” AMERICAN JOURNAL OF CLINICAL NUTRITION Vol. 68, No. 1 (July 1998), pgs. 134-141. On the protective effect of monounsaturated fats in general, see A. Wolk and others, “A prospective study of association of monounsaturated fat and other types of fat with risk of breast cancer,” ARCHIVES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE Vol. 158, No. 1 (January 12, 1998), pgs. 41-45.

[2] Alberto Ascherio and others, “TRANS-Fatty Acids Intake and Risk of Myocardial Infarction,” CIRCULATION Vol. 89, No. 1 (January 1994), pgs. 94-101. And P. Pietinen and others, “Intake of fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in a cohort of Finnish men. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study,” AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 145, No. 10 (May 15, 1997), pgs. 876-887.

[3] A. Ashcerio and W.C. Willett, “Health effects of trans fatty acids,” AMERICAN JOURNAL OF CLINICAL NUTRITION Vol. 66 [4 Supplement] (October 1997), pgs. 1006S-1010S.

From Palm Oil Industry Prepares for a Rosy Future by Joy Froding Originally printed in July – September 1996 issue of Bluebook Update

Red palm oil is one of the richest sources of carotenes, specifically beta carotene, in terms of retinol (provitamin A) equivalents. Vitamin A, when derived from natural or synthetic sources, can be highly toxic taken in over dosage. Red palm oil beta carotenes, on the other hand, can be taken in their natural state in food safely, are nontoxic and provide the same benefits as pure vitamin A.

A study conducted in 1994 by Dr. May, found that this oil contains as much as 15 to 300 times as many retinol equivalents as natural sources like carrots, leafy green vegetables and tomatoes, which are considered to have significant quantities of provitamin A. “The nutritional benefits are great,” says Salleh Kassim, executive director of the Chicago, Illinois office of The Malaysian Palm Oil Council of America. “(Red palm oil) also possesses natural antioxidants, anticancer properties for certain types of cancers and contains one of the highest amounts of tocotrienols and tocopherols (antioxidants that may work to prevent cancer as well as the buildup of cholesterol.)”

“Red palm oil is a very balanced oil. It has almost equal percentages of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, and has a high content of monounsaturates very similar to olive oil,” says Mr. Kassim. **


I found my Red African Palm Oil in several ethnic (Korean, Asian and African) food stores in my area. It cost me $3.99 for a 16oz. bottle. You feed 1/2 teaspoon 3 to 4 times a week. My guy loves his *neat*. Palm oil is a solid when stored in the frig, so I just give him a bit on a spoon or to hold…make sure there is newspaper under your birdie… the stuff stains like crazy!!! If you don’t want to go that route try it poured over veggies or seed/pellet mix. Baking soda and sunlight will help remove stains from flooring or clothes.

Other Sources:

The Palm Oil Tree – Uses – Purdue U Sands African Ltd. in New Jersey at (201) 824-5500 to find a distributor near you for the palm nut concentrate. It’s roughly $4 plus shipping for a large can.

red palm oil is available from Polly Wants Palm Oil, P.O. Box No. 2792, Arlington, VA 22202 for $10 plus shipping for an 8 oz. bottle.

You can order Creamed Palm Fruit through Hornbeck’s catalogue. – several folks said their birds didn’t take to this version of it though. (Personally I like glass containers as some of the 3d world countries still use lead solder according to Greenpeace Inc.) Make some birdie bread and use this instead of oil and water. or mix it in with their bean mix. A 28 ounce can is $5.75. You can call them at 1-888- CAGEBIRD or on the web at

Hornbecks, the number is 1-888-224-3247

Parrottalk Article

TUTT this page may help track down distributors. Marnie:)