Omega 3,6, and 9 fatty acids play an important role in our diets. Each one plays a different role in maintaing optimum health. It is important to try and get a balance of each as too much of one may contribute to ill health.
So what benefits does each one bring and how do we get Omega's from our diet?
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are a type of fat that the body cannot make on its own. They are polyunsaturated fats characterized by the presence of a double bond in their chemical structure. Omega 3's are known as essential fats which means you have to get them from your diet. There are various different types of Omega 3
EPA - This fatty acid produces eicosanoids, a chemical that reduces inflammation and symptoms of depression.
DHA - This fatty acid makes up 8% of brain weight and is important for brain development and functioning.
ALA - This fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA, ALA is mainly used by the body for energy.
Omega 3 fats have a number of different health benefits and functions.
Improving Heart health. Omega's have been shown to help increase good cholesterol (HDL). They can also help lower blood pressure.
Improve Mental Health. Symptoms of bipolar, depression and other Mental Health dissorders have been show to improve in patients who take omega 3.
Support brain development. Especially in babies and children.
Fight inflammation. Omega 3's contain anti inflammatory properties.
Stave off dementia. People who get more omega 3 in thier diets tend to have a slower decline in brain function.
Strengthen Bones. Omega 3 helps to increase bone mineral density.
Prevent Asthma. Omega 3 has been shown to help with lung health and improve breathing difficulties.
Omega 6 fats are essential to meaning you need to get them from your diet.
Omega 6 acids are also polyunsaturated like omega 3s.
These fats are mainly used for energy but have been shown to help with treating symptoms of chronic disease. The problem with the western diet is that there can be too much omega 6 in the food we eat, and in some cases we actually need to look at lowering intake.
The recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in diet is 4:1 or less. It is estimated that the western diet has a ratio of between 10:1 and 50:1. As with anything in life too much of one thing can turn out bad. This is the case with the food we eat too. Eating too much omega 6 can cause increase inflammation and inflammatory disease.
Omega 9 fatty acids are monounsaturated unlike 3's and 6's, meaning they only have one double bond.
oleic acid is the most common omega 9 in our diets. Omega 9's are strictly essential which means the body can produce them. In fact they are the most abundant fats in most cells in the body.
studies have shown that eating foods high in omega 9's (monounsaturated fats) were shown to lower bad cholesterol by 22%. Insulin sensitivity was shown to improve also in other tests as well as decreased infammation.
So what foods contain these good fats?
Omega 3 - The best source is oily fish, Salmon being the best. Another source nuts and seeds.
Omega 6 - Nuts and seeds again, vegatable oils, mayonnaise, sunflower seeds.
Omega 9 - Same again, nuts and seeds and oils. Olive oil is a great source too.
In summary Omega 3's are mainly found in fish whilst the other 2 are abundant in nuts, oils and seeds.
The best advice would be to get these oils naturally from a balanced diet including 2 portions of oily fish a week. Avoid cooking with too much refined vegatable based oils and supplement if your diet is lacking.