January 3, 2020
Breaking Down Omega Fatty Acids The Difference Between Omega-3, 6, and 9
When talking about omega fatty acids, omega-3’s happen to be the most well-known and the most talked about. However, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids also play an important role in overall health, and it’s important to take a look at the difference between these three.
Read on to learn more about these three omega fatty acids, as we’re breaking down everything you need to know.
Breaking Down What You Need to Know About Omega-3, 6, & 9
Omega-3’s are a type of polyunsaturated fat. The human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids, they must be obtained from diet. These essential fatty acids are called omega-3’s because of their chemical structure. There are three carbon atoms from the “omega”, a fancy name for the very end of their molecular chain.
Aside from knowing about the super “sciency” molecular structure of omega-3’s, the other important thing to keep in mind is that there are different types of omega-3’s including:
- EPA: Known as eicosapentaenoic acid, this fatty acid produces chemicals called eicosanoids, which are thought to help slash inflammation.
- DHA: Also known as docosahexaenoic acid, DHA plays a big role in supporting brain development. In fact, DHA makes up a whopping 8% of our total brain weight!
- ALA: Commonly referred to as its longer name, alpha-linolenic acid. The important thing to know here is that ALA isn’t active in the body until it is converted to EPA and DHA. However, even when it is converted in the liver, the conversion is very limited. Only about 15% or less is actually converted to EPA and DHA. This is why it’s important to consume enough EPA and DHA-rich foods or take a high-quality fish oil to make sure you are getting enough.
Omega-6: Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fats. The difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fats has to do with their chemical structure. Omega-6 fatty acids have six carbons at the tail end, the “omega” of the molecule, and these fats are mostly used for energy. The most common omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, can be converted into another type of omega-6 fat called ARA. ARA can then create eicosanoids. However, unlike the eicosanoids created by EPA fatty acids, these specific omega-6 eicosanoids are pro-inflammatory.
This is where consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids, a common problem in the Standard American Diet becomes a big inflammatory issue. These fatty acids are commonly found in soybeans, safflower oil, sunflower oil, nuts, and seeds.
Omega-9: Have you ever heard of omega-9’s? If not, you’re not alone. These fatty acids are definitely not talked about as much as omega-3’s and omega-6 fatty acids. They are different from the other two fatty acids because they are monounsaturated fats, so they only have one double bond. As you have likely guessed, they have nine carbons at the end of the molecule, giving them their name.
Unlike omega-3’s, and omega-6 fatty acids, they aren’t considered essential. The body is able to produce them, but they can also be obtained from the diet. And, you may be familiar with oleic acid, an omega-9 monounsaturated fat found in olive oil.
With all that information, you may be wondering what you need to know about making sure you are getting the right amounts of each of these fats. It’s really all about balance. Most Americans are getting way too much omega-6 fatty acids, and not nearly enough omega-3’s. As a general rule of thumb, you should strive to consume double the amount of omega-3’s than omega-6 and omega-9’s.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just want to aim for balance, and focus on quality sources. For example, while we want to get more omega-3’s than omega-6 fatty acids, not all omega-6 fats are bad. While it’s best to stay away from refined vegetable oils, there are some healthy sources of omega-6 fats like nuts and seeds.
To help you better understand what the best sources of each fat is, and to help you balance your intake, here are the best sources of each.
- Fish oil
- Wild-caught fish
- Cod liver oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Coconut oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Olives/olive oil