Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids are endowed with plenty of benefits. You are advised to regularly consume these fats as part of your diet. A thorough understanding of these essential fatty acids can help you harness their powers to a greater extent.
A balanced intake of omega-3-6-9 fatty acids is highly recommended. Any imbalance however may trigger serious ailments. It is hence necessary to know about the functions of these fats and their sources.
Omega-3 fatty acids
These are essentially polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated means substances with dual bonds, and as the name signifies it is made of multiple, dual bonding fats. This fatty acid gets formed at the end of its molecular structure. It is not possible for your body to produce this fatty acid. The only other way to have this essential fat is through your diet.
These fats exert a positive influence on the health of your brain and heart. It can also regulate your metabolic rate. On the contrary, insufficient provision of these essential fats can cause serious problems like cardiac disorders, diabetes, turning obese, etc. It is observed that diets consumed in western countries are not rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Benefits associated with the intake of omega-3 fats include enhancement of your mental health, power to fight obesity, improvement in your cardiac health, avoid likelihood of dementia, reduction of fats in the liver, needful support to prevent asthma, slowdown the damage of brain cells (among demented patients), and also strengthen your bones. An overview of these benefits is provided here.
Mental health- Intake of omega-3 fats can decrease the signs of mental conditions such as bipolar diseases, manic spells, depression, schizophrenia, etc. In general, omega-3 fats are taken to prevent possible mental problems including psychosis, etc.
Fight against obesity- These fats have gained importance among people with obesity issues and are known to decrease the circumference of your waist, and also help to make good progress in achieving weight management goals.
Enhancement of cardiac health- Omega-3 fatty acids are proven tools to build-up your HDL, widely called as good cholesterol. This is achieved by decreasing blood pressure, working on plaques formed on the walls of your arteries as well as decreasing the levels of triglycerides.
Care for dementia- Omega-3 is known for its ability to avoid dementia, a condition wherein the function of your brain is affected. In old patients, this fatty acid is also found to improve memory skills.
Apart from these benefits, intake of omega-3s can help in the treatment of inflammation.
Various types of these fatty acids exist and each is differentiated with their size and chemical structure. The most common types are as under.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – This is taken for boosting your energy levels.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – This type of omega-3 fatty acid is known for its capabilities to boost your mental health. It can avoid conditions like swelling and mood swings. It is also found to work effectively to treat depression and related mental disorders. It makes a substance known as eicosanoids through its 20-carbon molecular structure.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – This type plays a critical role in the development of your brain and enhancement of the functioning of brain. It has a 22-carbon based fatty structure.
Foods rich with these essential fats are consumed for needful supply. Consumption of fish is one way to provide your body with these fatty acids. Among fishes, those having a higher proportion of oil content are found to have greater share of these essential fats. Some examples of these fishes are salmon (~4 grams DHA as well as EPA), mackerel (~3 grams of DHA and EPA), etc. Apart from fishes, it is also found in chia seeds (ALA content of ~5 grams), walnuts (ALA of ~3.0 grams), flaxseed (ALA content of ~2.5 grams), etc. The share of these fats listed above denotes their quantity as observed in one serving of those items.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Similar to omega-3, this is also a polyunsaturated fat. The key difference between omega-3 and -6 is that, the last bond is 6 carbons from the end – also known as omega – of the molecular structure. The commonly available variant of omega-6 is called linoleic acid. This eventually becomes lengthier and the resultant fats are called arachidonic acid (ARA). Omega-6s can boost your energy levels.
ARA – very much like EPA (one of the types of omega-3 fatty acids) – makes eicosanoids. These are essentially substances of pro-inflammatory nature – which if produced in excess – can trigger swelling of your tissues. These eicosanoids (of the pro-inflammatory type) are substances found in your immune system. Dietary studies have inferred the presence of excessive omega-6s in the diets of western nations. Such diets can supply a surplus amount of these fatty acids than what is optimally needed.
The common types of omega-6 fats are conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). CLA is endowed with properties that can cure conditions such as obesity. These substances can decrease fats accumulated in your body and can help fight obesity effectively. A scientific study has confirmed that an intake of ~ 3 grams of CLA everyday can decrease body mass in obese people.
GLA is used for treating autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer – especially breast cancer, etc. In case of cancer treatment, provision of GLA along with the regular cancer drugs has rendered better efficacy to cancer drugs. It is available in a sizeable proportion in borage oil as well as evening primrose oil. Upon intake, GLA tends to become another version called as dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid (DGLA).
In general, caution is required before taking omega-6 fatty acid. It is because of the availability of an already excess amount of this fat in the western cuisine. You are advised to take these fats under proper medical supervision. Always remember to consult your dietician or your treating doctor before starting a course of omega-6 – either as a supplement or as part of your foods.
The prescribed share of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in your food is upto 4:1. This ratio is the maximum limit, and hence a lesser ratio is preferred. But, the western cuisine achieves a ratio of anywhere between 12:1 and 40:1. It is the reason why dieticians tell people living in the west to reduce the intake of foods – mainly oils and nuts – that are rich with omega-6 fatty acids. Recent epidemiological studies have also reported that this excessive slant of omega-6 in the western cuisine can be a reason for the incidence of several chronic diseases, especially those falling under the category of autoimmune diseases.
The prescribed intake of omega-6s is 12 grams for females and upto 17 grams for males. These intake levels are commonly administered onto people between 18 and 49 years, based on their gender. Foods that contain this essential fat are those made with refined vegetable oils, and also a few nuts. The common oils where it is found in abundance are corn oil (~50 grams) and soybean oil (~45 grams). Other than these sources, omega-6s is also available in mayonnaise (~40 grams). Nuts that are endowed with this fat are walnuts (~40 grams), sunflower seeds (~35 grams), cashew nuts (~10 grams), almonds (~10 grams), etc. These proportions relate to presence of omega-6 in 100 grams of each of the above foods.
Omega-9 fatty acids
Unlike the other two variants mentioned above, this is a monounsaturated fat. It refers to the presence of only one double bond in its molecular structure. Oleic acid is the commonly found form of omega-9 fats. It has the suffix “nine” because it is found 9 carbons before the end of its chemical structure.
Your body does produce this fatty acid and is available in most of your cells. But, this fat offers a host of health benefits, and hence foods rich with such fats are consumed. Some of the salient benefits include-
Reduction of cholesterol- Foods rich with monounsaturated fats can bring down the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) also known as bad cholesterol. It can also decrease the levels of triglycerides in your plasma by upto 18%. Intake of monounsaturated fats can reduce risks of swelling, regulate absorption of insulin and metabolic rate. Omega-9 fatty acid also has capabilities to enhance cardiac health of patient suffering from diabetes.
As omega-9 is not an essential fat, no apparent levels are set for its daily consumption. In general, these essential fats are found in abundance in seeds, nuts as well as oils extracted from vegetables. The oils which have a sizeable share of omega-9 include olive oil (~80 grams), almond oil (~65 grams), peanut oil (~45 grams), avocado oil (~55 grams), etc. Nuts that contain these non-essential fats are cashew nuts (~25 grams), almonds (~25 grams), walnuts (~10 grams), etc. These levels pertain to omega-9 content in 100 grams sample of aforesaid items.
Does one need to opt for an omega-3-6-9 supplement?
The western cuisine in general is found wanting of omega -3 fats. So, nuts and oils that are rich in omega-3 can help people living in the west. Supplements are made with omega-3-6-9 rich foods and are often blended in the ratio of 2:1:1.
You are advised to talk to your doctor if you need to take these dietary supplements. As you may be consuming omega-6 through various foods, and omega-9 is already produced in your body, the need for such supplements may not be very pronounced. Your dietician may inform you to adhere to a diet plan for ensuring a balanced intake of these essential fats. Commonly prescribed diet plan includes use of olive oil for low temperature cooking as well as intake of a minimum of 2 servings of fish each week. While you consume fish, ensure to opt for a variety that is rich in oil.
On the other hand, if your dietician tells you that your diet has a deficient amount of omega-3, you are advised to opt for an omega-3 diet supplement. This might work well for you than an omega-3-6-9 supplement. For a balanced level of omega-6, your dietician may advise you to reduce the intake of foods cooked in vegetable oils as well as general consumption of such oils.
So, if you have decided to purchase a supplement, which one is the right choice?
As a thumb rule, opt for a supplement whose omega-3 is the highest compared to its other two counterparts. The prescribed level is 0.2 to 0.3 grams of omega-3 in each portion served.
Among the variant of this fatty acid, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are preferred to Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is a known fact that flaxseed oil has a pronounced presence of ALA. Hence, you are advised to avoid supplements made of flaxseed oil. Instead, opt for those made with algal or fish oil.
These supplements may lose their molecular structure when they are oxidized. An exposure to light and heat can lead them to get oxidized. Hence, it is recommended to select a cold pressed supplement of omega-3-6-9. Cold pressing extracts oils at a bare minimal heat. When heat applied is at a minimal level, risks of oxidation are kept at bay.
As an added measure, search for supplements that also contain vitamin E. This vitamin is an antioxidant and it can help minimize the possible damages caused to your supplement due to light and heat.
To sum, omega-6 is already found in abundance in western cuisine. It is purported that the western diet is making people to consume more than necessary levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Also, omega-9 is produced in your body, and is made available through foods you take daily. Hence, these two fatty acids do not need a separate supplement. However, omega-3 fatty acids need to be supplemented adequately. Though supplements containing omega-3-6-9 are available, it is recommended to opt for omega-3 supplements. Also, omega-3-6-9 supplements can offer very minimal or almost nil advantages than consuming supplements that contain only omega-3.