We all know we are supposed to have omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, but did you know that omega 6 fatty acids and omega 9 fatty acids are also essential for your health. But here’s the thing, there are major differences between the three types of fatty acids, with each one offering a unique set of benefits for your overall health and wellness. However, there is one in particular that can lead to inflammation if you have too much of it and too much inflammation can lead to serious health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and even cancer. In this article, you will learn everything there is to know about these three omega fatty acids and how to maintain the right balance between them for optimal health and to prevent a number of chronic diseases.
What are the Omega Fatty Acids?
There are three types of omega fatty acids that are essential dietary fats: omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9. Each of them offers a variety of health benefits but the body does not produce two of them naturally so the only way to get them into your system is through diet. However, you can also have too much of a good thing and it’s absolutely crucial to get the right balance of each, as an imbalance of omega fatty acids can contribute to a number of potential health conditions and chronic diseases.
But first, you need to know about each individual one.
What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
The most commonly known type of omega fatty acids is omega 3, commonly found in leafy vegetables, fish, vegetable oils and nuts. They’re polyunsaturated fats, meaning they are fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated bond in a molecule. They are essential fats that the body cannot produce, so you have to get them from your diet.
Now, there are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Its main function is to produce chemicals called eicosanoids to help reduce inflammation.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): This fatty acid makes up approximately 8% of brain weight and supports brain development and function.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA, and are beneficial to the heart, immune system, and nervous system.
The types of omega 3 fatty acids differ depending on their shape and size, but all serve important functions in the body, such as:
- Improving heart health: Omega-3 fatty acids help manage cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels. They can also prevent blood clots, inflammation and plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Supporting mental health: Omega-3 fats can help manage or prevent depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, and psychosis. They can also decrease violent behavior and reduce the frequency of mood swings in people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- Improving eye Health: Getting enough omega-3’s in your diet can reduce your risk of macular degeneration, a condition that can cause permanent eye damage and blindness
- Fighting cognitive decline: Higher amounts of omega-3 can decrease age-related cognitive decline and the risk of associated conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Promoting weight loss: Omega-3 fatty acids can promote weight loss.
- Fighting autoimmune disease: Omega-3 fats can combat some autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and M.S., and can also help treat arthritis, lupus, colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
- Supporting infant brain health: Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants during pregnancy and early life.
- Fighting inflammation: Omega-3 fats can help reduce chronic inflammation associated with the development of some chronic diseases.
- Improving bone health: Omega-3 fatty acids boost the amount of calcium in your bones to improve bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Additionally, studies suggest that omega 3 fatty acids can help prevent some types of cancer, reduce asthma, decrease fat in your liver, alleviate menstrual pain, and improve sleep. All of these have additional benefits as well, such as reducing the risk of developing chronic health conditions and diseases.
What are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 fats. They’re necessary for your health, providing energy to your body, and can only be obtained through your diet. However, there are some key differences that set these fatty acids apart from the others.
For starters, omega-6 fatty acids are found in all parts of the body, as they help with the function of all cells. They can help with child development and can be used to help treat a variety of health conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, high cholesterol diabetes, and even cancer.
The most common type is linoleic acid, which the body converts into arachidonic acid (AA). AA produces eicosanoids, which produce inflammatory properties. Now, the immune system needs these in order to protect the body against bacteria, viruses and other dangerous agents. However, too many pro-inflammatory eicosanoids can increase the risk of inflammation and inflammatory-related disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and cancer.
The Western diet typically contains more omega-6 fats than necessary and not enough omega-3 fats, which can slowly wreak havoc on your body. So, it is crucial to have the proper balance of omega 6 fatty acids in your diet to ensure you get the energy you need but without excessive inflammation and the risks that follow.
What are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Lastly, we have omega-9 fatty acids. These are monounsaturated fats, so they only have one double bond. Unlike the other two fatty acids, the body can produce omega-9 fatty acids, but you can also get them into your diet by replacing some saturated fats with foods that contain omega-9 fatty acids. Doing so can offer many benefits to your health, such as the ability to help reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar control, decrease inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity.
How to Get More Omega Fatty Acids In Your Diet
All three omega fatty acids – 3, 6, and 9, can be obtained from your diet. However, as mentioned previously, it’s imperative that you get the proper balance of each as you can have too much of a good thing, particularly with omega-6 fatty acids.
Here’s a list of food examples that are high in omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids.
Foods with Omega-3 Fats
Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly types EPA and DHA. You can get the third type, ALA, from seeds and nuts. There is no specific amount listed in the dietary standards, but most health experts recommend getting 250-500 milligrams a day.
To increase your omega-3 intake, you’ll want to add more of the following into your diet:
- Anchovies (EPA and DHA)
- Cod liver oil (EPA and DHA)
- Herring (EPA and DHA)
- Oysters (EPA and DHA)
- Mackerel (EPA and DHA)
- Salmon (EPA and DHA)
- Sardines (EPA and DHA)
- Chia seeds (ALA)
- Flaxseeds (ALA)
- Walnuts (ALA)
- Soybeans (ALA)
Foods with Omega-6 Fats
You can find high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in refined vegetable oils and foods cooked in vegetable oils. Seeds and nuts also contain a fair amount of omega-6 fats and you’ll want to aim to get approximately 17 grams for men or 12 grams for women.
Some food sources of omega-6 fatty acids are:
- Corn oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower seeds
Foods with Omega-9 Fats
Although the body can produce omega-9 fatty acids, you can also get them from your diet. They’re commonly found in vegetable and seed oils, and nuts and seeds. They are considered “nonessential” so there is no recommended amount, but you can enjoy the following foods to increase your intake:
- Almonds and almond oil
- Avocado and avocado oil
- Cashews and cashew oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
Maintaining The Proper Balance
As reiterated throughout this article, maintaining proper balance of the three omega fatty acids is imperative to your health. It’s recommended that you follow a 2-to-1-to-1 ratio for omega-3:6:9.
However, keep in mind that many people eating a Western diet already get enough (and sometimes too much) omega-6 fatty acids. So, it’s important to take a look at your own diet and make adjustments where possible to get the right balance that allows for optimal health and wellness.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Include a minimum of two portions of oily fish each week
- Use olive oil for cooking
- Use olive oil to make salad dressings
- Limit your consumption of vegetable oils
- Avoid fried foods or foods cooked in refined vegetable oils
- Snack on nuts and seeds
You may also want to take supplements to help with the balance of omega fatty acids. But again, keep in mind that you likely already consume enough omega 6 fatty acids and the body produces omega 9’s. So, if anything, you may want to consider adding in an omega 3 fatty acid supplement if you don’t regularly get them in your diet.
You need omega 3, 6 and 9 for optimal health and wellness, but the ratio between each is the most important step of all. With the information in this article, you’ll know exactly what each fatty acid can do for your health, how to get it into your diet and the type of balance you want to aim for.