Omega 3-6-9 Fatty Acids: An overview

Omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9 are three types fatty acids that have important health benefits. Having not enough or too much of an imbalance of these can lead to chronic disease. But what are they? And WHY are they critical to our health?

The Importance of Omega 3

When it comes to fatty acids, this is the one we don’t want to cut back on (and tend to not get enough of in our diets). Omega 3 unsaturated fatty acids are considered essential fats because they can’t be made in our bodies.  There are several types of omega 3’s:

  • ALA is a plant form of omega 3 found in broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, seeds, and nuts.

  • EPA and DHA are marine forms of omega 3’s found in fish like salmon, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines, krill, and tuna to name a few.

ALA, EPA, and DHA omega 3’s have important health benefits to our heart, brain, and metabolism. Our bodies can take some of the ALA we consume, turn it in to EPA, and then DHA, but only in small amounts. This is why we must depend on the foods we eat to get sufficient EPA and DHA, and if that isn’t possible, consuming an omega 3 supplement (like fish oil)

Omega 6: Why we are already getting enough (and probably too much)

These are also unsaturated fats that are considered essential in that our bodies need to get them from our diet. We use these primarily for energy, but when too many are consumed they can increase inflammation and disease. Omega 6 fats are found in soybeans, corn, safflower/sunflower oil, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs (things that are considered staples in most diets). The ratio we aim for of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in our diet is 4:1, but typical western diets tend to have a ratio of 10:1 or even 50:1. That means we tend to get way TOO MANY omega 6’s and not enough 3’s!

Omega 9: We still need these “non-essential” fats

These unsaturated fats can be produced by our body, so they are considered “non-essential.” But, we still want to consume some foods that are rich in omega 9 fatty acids because these can often replace some unhealthy types of saturated fats and have benefits to our metabolism. Omega 9 fats are typically found in olive, sesame, or avocado oil, nuts, and avocados.

The Bottom Line

Due to significant health benefits, we want to ensure we are getting sufficient omega 3 fatty acids in our diet. As always, we want to first focus on whole food sources of omega 3’s, but if that is not possible, you may want to consider an omega-3 supplement that contains EPA and DHA.

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