As you recall from our previous post, saturated fats are the “bad fats” that tend to be harmful to our bodies, while the unsaturated ones are beneficial to our body when taken in healthy amounts.
Omega 3, 6, and 9 are type of unsaturated fatty acids that have gained much popularity in the recent decade.
The figure below describes where each type belongs:
Since these types of fatty acids have much contradicting news, this post will provide you with a conclusive overview of the 3 types, and whether or not you should incorporate them into your diet.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
They have a unique structure that your body can’t synthesize – the final double bond in is 3 carbon atoms away from the “omega”/tail end of the chain.
They are thus termed as “essential fats” that you have to acquire from your diet.
The three most common types of omega 3 fatty acids are:
Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of our cellular membranes. They also have a number of other important functions, including:
Foods High in Omega-3 Fats:
Omega-6 fats are found in large amounts in fish.
The recommended intake of omega-3 is 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams/day for women.
100 grams of each of the below food contains the following amounts of omega-3 fats:
- Salmon: 4.0 grams EPA and DHA
- Mackerel: 3.0 grams EPA and DHA
- Sardines: 2.2 grams EPA and DHA
- Anchovies: 1.0 grams EPA and DHA
- Chia seeds: 4.9 grams ALA
- Walnuts: 2.5 grams ALA
- Flaxseeds: 2.3 grams ALA
Unfortunately, our diets do not contain enough omega-3s. And deficiencies may contribute to malfunctions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.
However, their last double bond is six carbons away from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
The most common type is linoleic acid, which can be converted into longer omega-6 fats like the famous arachidonic acid.
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 4:1 or less. However,
These fats are primarily used for energy.
Foods High in Omega-6 Fats:
Omega-6 fats are found in large amounts in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
The recommended intake of omega-6 is 17 grams/day for men and 12 grams/day for women.
100 grams of each of the below food contains the following amounts of omega-6 fats:
- Corn oil: 49 grams
- Mayonnaise: 39 grams
- Walnuts: 37 grams
- Sunflower seeds: 34 grams
- Almonds: 12 grams
- Cashew nuts: 8 grams
What Are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fatty acids that aren’t “essential”. They can be produced by the body.
They only have one double bond that is located nine carbons from away the omega end.
Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid.
They are mainly used as sources of energy and may decrease the risk of heart diseases.
Foods High in Omega-9 Fats
Like omega-6 fats, omega-9 fats are common in vegetable and seed oils, and nuts and seeds.
There are no recommended doses for omega-9 fats since they are non-essential.
100 grams of each of the below food contains the following amounts of omega-9 fats:
- Olive oil: 83 grams
- Cashew nut oil: 73 grams
- Almond oil: 70 grams
- Avocado oil: 60 grams
- Peanut oil: 47 grams
- Almonds: 30 grams
- Cashews: 24 grams
- Walnuts: 9 grams
1. Omega-9 isn’t essential, your body can synthesize it, and you attain it passively by most of the fatty things you eat. So don’t worry about it!
2. Omega-6 is essential, your body can’t synthesize it, so you actually have to supplement it. But since we rely heavily on oils, nuts, and seeds in our diets, you actually have to limit your intake of it. Or at least, be careful to keep it at balance with its ratio to omega-3 fats (4:1).
3. Omega-3 is essential, so you also have to supplement it and increase its intake since our diets don’t incorporate much of its sources into its recipes.
P.S. Supplement = eating food that contains it, and not taking pills. As long as you eat right, supplements wouldn’t be a necessity at all!
Ranim Daw, MS in Cell & Molecular Biology
April 14, 2017