Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids
What Are They & How Do They Add Up?
Fats in our food are made up of fatty acid, which can be divided into three major categories: saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Trans fats are bad for you, unsaturated fats are good for you, and saturated fats are somewhere in-between. When choosing a healthy cooking oil, avoid the trans fats, limit the saturated fats and replace with unsaturated fats.
Within the unsaturated fats category, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), while omega-9 fatty acids are usually monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats. Nevertheless, it is important to get the right balance of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids in your diet. An imbalance may contribute to a number of chronic diseases.
Types of Fatty Acids
(according to the number of double bonds)
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. DHA and EPA) are essential fats that you must get from dietary sources as your body cannot produce them on its own. Common foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, fish oils, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends eating at least two portions of oily fish per week. If you do not eat much of these foods in your diet, an omega-3 supplement or cooking oil rich in omega-3s, such as flaxseed oil and camelina oil, are often recommended. Vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower omega-3s and cooking with the right oil is extremely important to ensure sufficient intake of omega-3s.
Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They also have a number of other important functions, including:
Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, they help reduce the inflammation in the body which can contribute to a number of chronic diseases .1,2
Promote heart health:
Omega-3s help increase HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce triglycerides, blood pressure and the formation of arterial plaques. 3,4,5,6,7
Promote brain health:
Omega-3s are crucial for brain development in babies 8. They also help slow the decline in brain function and improve memory in the elderly. 9,10
Reduce liver fat:
Omega-3s help reduce the amount of fat in the liver and may help improve liver health. 16,17,18
Promote joint health:
Omega-3s help reduce joint pain and stiffness. 19,20
Support bone health:
Omega-3s help improve bone strength by increasing calcium in the bones, which should help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. 21,22
Omega-3s help reduce symptoms of childhood asthma. 23
Support weight loss:
Omega-3s play a crucial role in weight management and help reduce waist circumference. 24,25
What are omega-6 fatty acids?
Like omega-3s, omega-6s are also essential fatty acids. The body cannot make them and you have to obtain them from dietary sources.
Omega-6s are an important source of energy for the body. Along with omega-3s, omega-6s play a vital role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Furthermore, omega-6s help stimulate skin and hair growth, promote bone health, regulate metabolism and support healthy reproductive system. While omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. Inflammation helps protect the body from infection and injury and is essential for survival. However, when the inflammation becomes chronic or recurring, it can cause severe damage and lead to lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancers. A very high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, as found in Western diets, promotes the development of many diseases. Hence, choosing the right oil with a balanced omega-3 and omega-6 is extremely important.
What are omega-9 fatty acids?
Unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, omega-9s are non-essential fatty acids, since the body can make them in small amounts. Nonetheless, this does not necessarily mean that eating them is bad for you though. Foods rich in omega-9s include cashews, hazelnut, olives, avocados and almonds. The benefits of omega-9s are wide-ranging:
Increase energy levels and enhance mood
Increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels and decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
Improve memory function
Reduce insulin resistance in diabetics
A large study found that high-monounsaturated fat diets could reduce plasma triglycerides by 19% and “bad” very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol by 22% in patients with diabetes 26. Another study found that diets high in monounsaturated fat improved insulin sensitivity and decreased inflammation 27. Besides, FDA supports claim that oleic acid, the most common omega-9 fatty acid in the diet, can help improve cholesterol levels and protect against coronary heart diseases. Hence, supplementing omega-9s in the daily diet will be beneficial for overall well-being.
It is important to note that the body will eventually suffer from having a large amount of omega-9s if there’s a lack of healthy amount of omega-3s. Hence, it is of utmost important to have the right ratio of omega-3s, 6s, and 9s in the diet. Without the delicate balance of omega acids, serious health issues may ensue.
Healthy balance of omega-3-6-9
One of the fundamental keys to optimal health is maintaining a healthy omega-3-6-9 ratio in the diet. Today, most people consume excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Meanwhile, the consumption of foods high in omega-3s is at its lowest. Scientists have hypothesised that a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation, while a diet with an overly high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may contribute to excessive inflammation in the body, potentially raising the risk of various diseases.
The optimal omega ratio should be between 2:1 to 4:1, i.e. you should consume at least double the amount of omega-3s compared to the other fats. Omega-6 fats are found in large amounts in processed foods and refined vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, peanut and grape seed oils (Chart 1). The distorted ratio of these polyunsaturated fatty acids in these oils causes an imbalance in the body and a wide range of health issues to surfaces. These inflammation-related issues include cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other problems. These oils should be minimised or avoided in your daily cooking.
Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio of common cooking oils:
On the other hand, some of the cold-pressed oils, such as Flaxseed Oil and Camelina Oil contain the healthy balance of Omega-3-6-9 (Chart 2). These oils increase your intake of omega-3 fats, which should be consumed more in the daily diet. One or two tablespoons of these good oils per day provides sufficient omega-3s for optimal health.
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