Understanding Omegas: The 3-6-9 of Fatty Acids

Understanding Omegas: The 3-6-9 of Fatty Acids

Whether you want to believe it or not, fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. Regardless of the diet you follow, you need an assortment of fats, but you need the right types of fats. The human body has the ability to make most fats, including omega-9 fatty acids, but it cannot produce omega-3s or omega-6s, which is why those are essential fatty acids.

When the body cannot produce something on its own, it is your responsibility to intake that nutrient from dietary sources. This is the case for omega-3s and omega-6s, both of which are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Omega-9s, which the body can produce on its own, are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). The omega number refers to how many carbons separate the methyl end of the fatty acid chain and the first carbon-carbon double bond. Omega-3 means the double bond is three carbons away, while omega-6 and omega-9 mean they are six and nine carbons away, respectively.   

Let’s Start With The 3s…The Omega-3s:

Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most important fatty acids to include in your diet. There are three primary types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is the most common omega-3. Most research surrounding omega-3s has to do with benefiting heart health and improving overall brain function. According to several studies, omega-3s help the heart beat steadily, reducing the likelihood of irregular rhythm. Omega-3s also play major roles in fighting inflammation, supporting brain health, boosting brain development in infants, decreasing liver fat, and promoting healthy bones. A deficiency in omega-3s can contribute to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Find omega-3s in the following foods:

  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Spirulina
  • Edamame

What’s The Sitch With Omega-6?

As we mentioned earlier in the article, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that you need to obtain from dietary sources. The body uses omega-6s for energy. The most common form of omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which can be converted into arachidonic acid (ARA), a longer omega-6 fat. Just like EPA, ARA also produces eicosanoids, which are beneficial for immune health and inflammation, but the ones that it produces are more pro-inflammatory. For many people who follow Western diets, they consume far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, most Westerners consume a 10:1 or 50:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, when the healthy ratio is 4:1. Failing to consume a harmonious balance of omega-3s and 6s can result in chronic inflammation or inflammatory-related diseases. Healthy sources of omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Edamame
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado oil
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds

Unhealthy sources of omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Corn chips
  • Fast food
  • Cake
  • Cured meats
  • Creamy canned soups
  • Tofu
  • Corn/vegetable oil

It’s Time For Omega-9:

Omega-9s are known as monounsaturated fatty acids because they only have one double bond. The most common form of omega-9 is oleic acid. It’s important to understand that omega-9s are not essential because the body can produce them. In fact, omega-9 fatty acids are the most prevalent fats in bodily cells. Several studies have shown that monounsaturated fatty acids help to reduce plasma triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Other studies found that people with more monounsaturated fats in their diet had better insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation, especially when compared to diets rich in saturated fats. Food sources of omega-9 fatty acids include:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts
  • Almond oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Peanut oil