Confused about the omegas? Here are your questions answered.
The world of fats can be confusing, especially when it comes to those with alien-sounding names like omega-3, omega-6 or omega-9 - which you’ve most likely heard of, but are probably left scratching your head when it comes to understanding their individual differences and benefits. This article is here to help clear some confusion and empower you with simple, actionable information that you can use to support your health.
What are ‘omega’ fats?
The term ‘omega’ is used to name some special types of fats that are found in the diet. Each ‘omega’ name, whether it’s omega-3, -6, -9, or something else, tells us of slight differences in the chemical structure of these unique fats. The important point to understand here is that even though these fats have similar sounding names, their tiny structural differences can significantly affect how they work in the body. Think of omega-3, omega-6 & omega-9 like slightly different-shaped keys that unlock slightly different health doors.
What’s the difference between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ fats?
Some of the ‘omega’ fats are also described as ‘essential’ fats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential fats. This means our bodies can’t make them so we must regularly include good sources of them in our diets. Other omega fats, such as omega-9, are ‘non-essential’ fats - this is not because they don’t play an important role in health – it’s because our bodies can make them if they aren’t included in the diet.
Where can I find the different omegas in food?
Omega-3 fats are found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, grass fed meat and eggs from pasture-fed chickens. The best dietary source of omega-3 is oily fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring). However, these types of oily fish are often contaminated with harmful toxins such as heavy metals and PCBs so a daily supplement containing omega-3-rich fish oil which has been thoroughly purified is generally considered to be a much better source.
Omega-6 fats are found in many commonly used vegetable oils such as safflower and sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, meat, poultry and eggs from grain-fed chickens. Omega-6 fats are also found in evening primrose oil, borage seed oil and blackcurrant seed oil.
Omega-9 fats – Olive oil contains high levels of an important omega-9 fat called oleic acid. Omega-9 fats are also found in avocados, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts and peanut oil.
What are the health benefits of the different omegas?
Omega-3 fats – Important structural components of cell membranes, mood, growth and development, brain health (neuro-development, learning, memory, behaviour, concentration), cardiovascular health, hormone balance, insulin sensitivity, vision, skin health, nervous system, anti-inflammatory effects.
Omega-6 fats – Important structural components of cell membranes, brain function, growth and development, skin health, hormone balance, both inflammatory & anti-inflammatory effects.
Omega-9 fats – Brain health, memory, cognitive function, cardiovascular health, energy, mood.
If we need all the omega fats, why is there so much focus on omega-3?
As you can see, all the different omega fats are needed for health and it’s important to consider your total intake of each. However, it’s also crucial to consider the relative balance between them.
Most people will get plenty of omega-6 and omega-9 from their food but typical Western diets tend to be seriously lacking in good food sources of omega-3, hence why most people will benefit from taking a daily omega-3 supplement. This is further compounded by the fact that oily fish is often contaminated with harmful toxins so it’s not even advisable to consume the quantities that would be needed to keep omega-3 intake optimal.
The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the diet is particularly crucial for health, especially since omega-6 fats tend to be more pro-inflammatory and omega-3 fats tend to be more anti-inflammatory. We need inflammation, but we also need it to subside when it’s no longer needed and maintaining a healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats is vital for this.
Should I take omega-6 and omega-9 in supplement form?
There are times when it may be helpful to take omega-6 and/or omega-9 fats in supplement form, and this is particularly relevant for brain health. It’s often advisable however to take these in addition to omega-3 and to make sure you’re taking higher levels of omega-3 than omega-6 to support the all-important healthy balance between them. One specific type of omega-6 fat is called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) and this may be particularly helpful for skin and hormonal health. GLA is found in blackcurrant seed oil and borage seed (starflower) oil.
Not sure what to choose?
Hopefully this article has helped to strengthen your understanding on the omegas and they feel a little less alien now. If you are considering adding an omega supplement into your diet and still not sure what to choose, why not book in for a free 10-minute product advice telephone call with one of our fully qualified nutritionists to help you decide which is the right product for you.
Blog provided by Nutri Advanced.