Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Fatty Acids

Most likely you have heard about omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids and their advantage to our overall health when found readily in the diet. The Washington Post recently reported omega 9 fatty acids as a nutrition trend to watch in 2018 due to their “potential to regulate blood sugar levels and promote a healthy weight.”1 Let’s take a closer look at each of these fats, their sources, and their benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning they must be obtained from food as we do not make them in our body. “Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer as well as lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol.”2 "Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, and cell division and growth. DHA is important for brain development and function.” 3

Food sources with omega-3 fatty acids

  • Oils such as canola, flaxseed, algae and soybean
  • Oily fish such as salmon and sardines
  • Shellfish such as oysters and crab

Omega-6 fatty acids

Just as omega-3 fatty acids are essential, so are omega-6 fatty acids. These are much easier to find in the American diet, as one of the main sources is soybean oil, which is found in many processed foods such as crackers and granola bars. It is actually most important to find a good balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid, in “excessive amounts can contribute to inflammation and result in heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression.” 2 Finding a good balance may be difficult but a healthy diet should strive to have approximately “two to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.” 2

Food sources with omega-6 fatty acids

  • Oils such as sunflower, corn, peanut, and soybean oil
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Eggs

Omega-9 fatty acids

A big difference in these fatty acids is that they are produced by the body and are therefore not considered essential. But they are also found in both animal and vegetable fat sources and are beneficial in reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, 7th edition, also indicates that dietary monounsaturated fatty acids … improves responsiveness in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes individuals when used as a replacement for dietary saturated fat."4 Consider replacing regular butter with an oil-based butter such as Smart Balance® to try achieving these extra benefits.

Food sources with omega-9 fatty acids

  • Almonds
  • Sunflower, olive, peanut and canola oils

Tips to remember

  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids must be obtained from food sources
  • Replacing saturated fats with Omega-9 fatty acids may improve insulin responsiveness
  • Proper intake of these fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Speak with your physician if you have any questions or concerns about your diet

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