Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are important dietary fats. Interestingly, each has a number of benefits for the health of the body. However, it is important to get the right balance of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids in the regular diet. An imbalance in these fatty acids can contribute to a number of chronic diseases. This article details the important aspects of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, answering the questions What are they? Why are they necessary? And what food can be obtained?
What are and What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, a type of fat that the body cannot produce on its own. The term “polyunsaturated” refers to the chemical structure of fatty acid, since “poly” means many and “unsaturated” refers to double bonds. Both terms, together, mean that omega-3 fatty acids have many double bonds. “Omega-3” refers to the fact that the double bond at the end of the chemical structure, or at the end of the tail in the molecular chain has three “omega” carbon atoms. Since the human body cannot produce omega-3s, these fats are known as “essential fats,” which means that people can only get them from food. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are eicosapentanoic acid (EPA for its acronym in English, Eicosa Pentaenoic Acid) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Docosa Hexaenoic Acid).
There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, which differ in their chemical form and size. Here are the three most common:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA):The main function of this 20-carbon fatty acid is to produce chemicals called eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation. The EPA also helps reduce symptoms of depression.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA):A 22-carbon fatty acid, DHA represents about 8% of the brain’s weight and is extremely important for normal brain development and function.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), A lpha L ipoic A cid ):This 18-carbon fatty acid can be converted to EPA and DHA, although the process is not very efficient. ALA is used primarily by the body for energy.
Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They also have a number of other important functions, including:
- Improves heart health:Omega-3 fatty acids can increase LAD (high density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol. They can also reduce triglycerides, blood pressure and the formation of arterial plaques.
- Support mental health:Taking omega-3 can reduce symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It can also reduce the risk of psychotic disorders for those at risk.
- Reduces weight and waist size:Omega-3 fats play an important role in weight control and can help reduce waist circumference.
- Decrease liver fat:The consumption of omega-3 in the diet can help decrease the amount of fat in the liver.
- It supports children’s brain development:Omega-3s are extremely important for brain development in babies.
- Fight against inflammation:Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, which means they can reduce inflammation in the body, which can contribute to a number of chronic diseases.
- Prevention of dementia:People who frequently eat fish, which contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, tend to have a slower decline in brain function due to old age. Omega-3s can also help improve memory in older people.
- Promotes bone health:People with higher consumption of omega-3 tend to have a better bone mineral density.
- Asthma Prevention:The intake of omega-3 can help reduce asthma symptoms, especially in babies.
Unfortunately, the western diet does not contain enough omega-3. An omega-3 deficiency can contribute to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Summary: Omega-3 fats are essential fats that can only be obtained from food. They have important benefits for the heart, brain and metabolism.
What are and What are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
“Omega-6 is also an essential fatty acid, so it can only be obtained through food.”
These fats are mainly used for energy. The most common omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which can be converted into longer omega-6 fats, such as arachidonic acid (AA). Like the EPA, AA is used to produce eicosanoids. However, eicosanoids produced by AA are more pro-inflammatory, that is, they induce inflammation. Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are important chemicals in the immune system. However, when too many occur, inflammation and inflammatory diseases can increase. Although omega-6 fats are essential, the modern western diet contains much more than necessary omega-6 fatty acids. The recommended ratio between omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4: 1 or less. However, the Western diet has a ratio between 10: 1 and 50: 1. Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right amounts, most people in the developed world should try to reduce the intake of omega-6. However, some omega-6 fatty acids have shown benefits in the treatment of chronic disease symptoms. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), G amma- L inolenic A cid) is an omega-6 fatty acid found in certain oils. When these oils are consumed, much of the GLA is converted into another fatty acid called dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), D ihomo- G amma- L inolenic a cid). One study showed that taking a high dose of supplements with GLA significantly reduced a number of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Another interesting study found that taking GLA supplements along with a drug was more effective against breast cancer, than the drug alone. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA in English, C onjugated L inoleic A cid) is another form of omega-6 having some health benefits. For example, a large study found that taking 3.2 grams of CLA supplements per day effectively reduced body fat mass in people.
Summary: Omega-6 fats are essential fats and an important source of energy for the body. However, the Western diet contains too many.
What are and What are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated, which means they only have a double bond. They are characterized by having nine carbons in the last double bond of the end of the omega fatty acid molecule. Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid and the most common monounsaturated fatty acid in the diet. Omega-9 fatty acids are not strictly “essential”, which means they can be produced by the body. In fact, omega-9 fats are the most abundant fats in most body cells. However, eating foods rich in omega-9 fatty acids, instead of other types of fat, can have a number of beneficial health effects. A large study found that diets high in monounsaturated fats could reduce plasma triglyceride levels by 19% in patients with diabetes and LBD (low density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol by 22%. Another study found that feeding mice with diets rich in monounsaturated fats, improved insulin sensitivity and decreased inflammation. The same study found that people who ate diets high in monounsaturated fats had lower levels of inflammation and better insulin sensitivity, than those who ate diets rich in saturated fats.
Summary: Omega-9 fatty acids are nonessential fats, as they can be produced by the body. Diets that replace some saturated fats with omega-9 fats may have metabolic health benefits.
What Foods Contain These Fats?
You can easily get omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids from food. However, it is important to obtain the proper balance of each. The Western diet contains much more omega-6 fatty acids than is actually needed, and it also lacks omega-3 fatty acids. Here are the main foods that are high in omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
Foods High in Omega-3 Fats:
The best source of omega-3 EPA and DHA is fatty fish. However, you can also get these omega-3s from other foods that come from the sea, such as seaweed oils. ALA, on the other hand, is mainly obtained from nuts and seeds. There are no official standards for daily omega-3 intake, but several organizations offer guidelines. According to the Board of Food and Nutrition of the Institute of Medicine of the United States, the adequate intake of omega-3 per day for adults over 19 is 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women. The amounts and types of omega-3 in a portion of the following foods are listed below:
- Salmon:0 grams of EPA and DHA.
- Mackerel:0 grams of EPA and DHA.
- Sardines:2 grams of EPA and DHA.
- Anchovies:0 grams of EPA and DHA.
- Chia seeds:9 grams of ALA.
- Nuts:5 grams of ALA.
- Flaxseed:3 grams of ALA.
Foods High in Omega-6 Fats:
Omega-6 fats are found in large quantities in refined vegetable oils and in fried foods that have been cooked in refined vegetable oils. Nuts also contain significant amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. According to the Board of Food and Nutrition of the Institute of Medicine of the United States, the adequate intake of omega-6 per day for adults over 19 is 17 grams for men and 12 grams for women. Approximately the amounts of omega-6 in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of some foods are:
- Soybean oil:50 grams.
- Corn oil:49 grams.
- Mayonnaise:39 grams.
- Nuts: 37 grams.
- Sunflower seeds:34 grams.
- Almonds:12 grams.
- Cashews:8 grams.
As you can see, it is very easy to exceed the recommended intake of omega-6 through a regular diet.
Foods High in Omega-9 Fats:
Omega-9 fats are also common in vegetable and seed oils, as well as in nuts and seeds. There are no adequate recommendations for the intake of omega-9 fats, as they are not essential. The amounts of omega-9 in 100 grams of the following foods are detailed:
- Olive oil:83 grams.
- Cashew oil:73 grams.
- Almond oil:70 grams.
- Avocado oil:60 grams.
- Peanut oil:47 grams.
- Almonds:30 grams.
- Cashews:24 grams.
- Nuts:9 grams.
Summary: The best sources of omega-3 are fatty fish, while the sources of omega-6 and omega-9 are found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
Is it Advisable to Take Any Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Supplements?
The combined supplements of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9, usually provide each of these fatty acids in suitable proportions, such as 2: 1: 1 for omega-3, omega-6, omega-9. Such oils can help increase the intake of omega-3 fats, which is the one lacking in the Western diet. In addition, these oils provide a healthy balance of fatty acids so that the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is less than 4: 1. However, since most people consume too many omega-6s, and omega-9s are produced by the body, there is no general need to supplement with these fats in particular. Therefore, it is best to follow the diet in order to achieve a good balance of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. This should involve eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week and preferably using olive oil for cooking, or as a dressing in salads. It is also advisable to limit the intake of omega-6, reducing the consumption of other vegetable oils and fried foods that have been cooked in refined vegetable oils. If you do not get enough omega-3 through the diet, it is best to take an omega-3 only supplement instead of a combined omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 supplement.
Summary: Combined omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 supplements provide optimal proportions of fatty acids, but they probably do not provide additional benefits compared to supplements that grant only omega-3.
How to Choose an Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Supplement?
Like other oils, polyunsaturated fatty acids oxidize easily when exposed to heat and light. Therefore, if you decide to buy an omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 supplement, you should choose one that is cold pressed. This means that the oil has been extracted with the minimum possible heat, thus minimizing oxidation, which can damage the fatty acid molecules. To make sure you’re taking a non-oxidized supplement, choose one that contains an antioxidant such as vitamin E. You can even select a supplement with a higher omega-3 content – ideally more than 0.3 grams per serving. In addition, since EPA and DHA have more health benefits than ALA, choose a supplement that uses fish oil or seaweed oil, instead of flaxseed oil.
Summary: Choose an omega-3 supplement instead of a combined omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 supplement. If you are buying a combined supplement, choose one with a high concentration of EPA and DHA.
Although the combined omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 supplements have become very popular, they generally do not provide any additional benefit than supplements that only contain omega-3. Omega-6s are essential in certain amounts, but they are in many foods and people who follow a Western diet already consume too many. In addition, omega-9 fats can be produced by the body and are easily obtained in the diet, so it is not necessary to take them as a supplement. Therefore, although the combined supplements contain optimal proportions of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9, taking supplements that contain only omega-3 will provide greater health benefits.