Omega- 3, 6, and 9 are three forms of dietary fats, and knowing what they are, why they are important, their effects in the body, and foods rich in them has an implication on your health.
There are three types of fats; saturated, trans, and polyunsaturated. Omega- 3, 6, and 9 are examples of fats named according to the position of the carbon the double occupies and how far it is from the omega bond. All the three are needed by the body, although there have been increasing concerns about omega- 6 fatty acids. Dive into this article and learn what these fats are, why your body needs them, and the foods rich in them.
Omega- 3 fats- what are they?
Omega- 3 fats are a form of polyunsaturated fats, with their last double bond attaching itself in the third carbon away from the omega and fatty bonds. Poly means ‘many,’ while unsaturated denotes double bonds, signifying that omega- 3 fatty acids have many double bonds. Omega- 3 fats are essential, meaning that the body has to make them from your diet and not on its own. The body needs this kind of fat from the diet, hence the American Heart Association’s suggestion for one to take a portion or two of oily fish weekly to meet the body’s requirement for omega- 3. Here are the main types of omega- 3 fatty acids;
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) with 20 carbon bonds, andis necessary for producing eicosanoids, chemicals needed by the body for reduced depression and inflammation.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has 22 carbon bonds and is needed for brain development, hence why it constitutes up to 8% of brain mass.
- Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) has 18 carbon bonds, can undergo conversion to form EPA and DHA, although this is inefficient and could enhance the heart, nervous, and immune systems.
Some of the major functions of omega- 3 in the body include;
- Reducing liver fat composition
- Supporting an infant’s cognitive development
- Promoting heart health
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting weight loss and reduction of waist size
- Supporting mental wellbeing
Omega- 3 fatty acids are critical in the body, and having more omega- 6 fats than them predisposes the body to increased inflammation and risk of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and heart failure.
Omega- 6- what are they?
Omega- 6 fats are polyunsaturated fats whose last double bond is attached to the 6th carbon bond away from the omega and fatty molecules. Being a type of polyunsaturated fats, they also have many double bonds. The most common form of omega 6 in LA (linoleic acid), which the body converts to arachidonic acid (RA), another type of omega-6. Arachidonic acids produce pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, which boost immune function but which, when manufactured in high proportions, increase inflammation and inflammatory disease risks. For optimal health, the omega- 6 to omega- 6 ratios should be between 1:1 to 4:1, although the typical western diet increases the ratio to between 15:1 and 17:1.
Potential health benefits of omega- 6 fats
As mentioned previously, omega- 6 fats are linked to immune boost, but excessive amountsoften lead to increased inflammation and inflammatory disease risks. Gama linolenic acid (GLA) is another type of omega-6 fat found in borage and evening primrose oils, and once in the body, they are converted to dihomo-gama-linolenic (DGLA). DLGA and GLA are associated with reduced inflammatory risks, but these claims are subject to further studies to substantiate them. Another research suggested taking conjugated linolenic acid (CLA, another form of omega-6 fats) supplements could aid one’s fat weight loss journey.
Omega- 9 fats- what are they?
Unlike omega-3 and 6, omega- 9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fats, i.e., have only one double bond, which is located on the ninth carbon from the fat molecule’s omega end. The most common form of omega- 9 and monounsaturated fatty acid is oleic acid. Since the body can produce omega- 9 fats, they are not essentials, passe but consuming omega- 9-fatty acid-rich foods has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation risks in humans and rodents. In fact, many studies suggest replacing saturated fat-concentrated foods with omega-9-rich ones may be more beneficial to the body.
Foods rich in omega- 3, 6, 9 fatty acids
Omega- 3, 6, and 9 fats are found in the normal diet, but balancing is key to ensure that one meets the body’s recommended values for each. Since the typical Western diet contains more omega- 6 than the body needs, knowing which foods have what fats helps one focus on striking a balance among the three to keep them on track. Below are the main sources of the following fats;
- Omega- 3s
Omega- 3s, especially EPA and DHA, can easily be found in oily fish, although other marine sources like algal oils also have them. Anchovies, mackerel, salmon, and sardines have EPA and DHA, while flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds have ALA.
- Omega- 6s
Omega- 6 fats are easily found in vegetable oils and food prepared using them, as well as most nuts and seeds. Cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, mayonnaise, soybean oil, sunflower seeds, and corn oil. Soybean and corn oils have the highest amounts of omega- 6 fats, while almonds and cashew nuts only have considerable amounts.
- Omega- 9s
Omega- 9 fats are readily found in seeds, vegetable and seed oils, and nuts. Olive, cashew nut, avocado, almond, and peanut oil have high omega-9 fats, i.e., more than 45 g per 100 g oils, while almond, walnut, and cashew nuts have 8- 30 g Omega- 9s per 100 g oils.
Are omega- 3-6-9 supplements necessary?
Although combined omega-3-6-9 supplements provide the body with the fats in the needed proportions, they are unnecessary. The Western diet already supplies the body with enough omega- 6, from which omega- 9s are made. Therefore, focusing on a diet that provides more omega- 3s is better to keep the omega- 6 to omega- 3 ratios less than 4:1. Using olive oil for salad dressings and taking one or two portions of oily fish weekly is an ideal of balancing the fats.
Omega- 3, 6, and 9 are fats the body needs, but one is predisposed to more harm than risks without a balance. The Western diet provides more omega- 6s than the body needs; hence, combining omega-3-6-9 supplements does no justice to the body. Still, striking a balance between the fats isn’t the hardest thing, but including one or two portions of oily fish and olive oil in salad dressings helps achieve equilibrium.