With all the different types of fatty acids, it can be hard to keep track. From omega-3 and omega-6 to new kid on the block omega-7, here’s a breakdown of how they work, what they do for our health, and where to find them.
The essentials on fatty acids
An essential fatty acid is a fat the body needs to function. The body can produce most essential fatty acids on its own, but we need to get two from food: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). The two work together to balance inflammation in the body. Omega-6 essential fatty acids are used as part of the body’s inflammatory response, while omega-3 fatty acids are used as part of the body’s anti-inflammatory response. While omega-3’s are typically seen as “good” and omega-6’s as “bad,” the truth is we need a balance of both. Omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids are considered non-essential (we won’t die without them), but they’re still important for optimal health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Our body uses omega-3’s to produce hormones that prevent inflammation from attacking healthy tissue, promote blood flow, and send signals to the brain to encourage relaxation. Omega-3’s have an important role in managing conditions related to inflammation such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, IBS, and cancer, as well as mood disorders like depression and overall brain health.
Dietary sources of omega-3’s include salmon, anchovies, tuna, sardines, trout, shellfish, and shrimp, as well as flaxseed, walnuts, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, leafy greens, chia, and hemp seeds. However, most of us don’t eat high enough quantities to get the recommended 1,000mg daily minimum-which is substantially higher for those of us with chronic inflammation.
Omega-6 fatty acids
The body needs an inflammatory response to deal with infection, foreign invaders, germs, and to tighten blood vessels and restrict our blood flow. omega-6’s are used to make hormones to do that job. The trouble is the American diet is typically higher in sources of omega-6’s than omega-3’s, which can cause an imbalance in inflammation. Omega-6’s are found in refined vegetable oils that are used in fried and processed foods like cookies, crackers, and chips.
Omega-9 fatty acids
Omega-9’s aren’t an essential fatty acid, but they can impact our health. The body only produces omega-9’s if our supply of omega-3’s and omega-6’s is low, but omega-9’s are found in most food we eat. Nuts, avocados, lard, fat from bacon and chicken, and olives are all sources. The best source for omega-9’s is olive oil, which has been shown to decrease weight gain in combination with a diet containing fish or fish oil (a great source of those oh-so-important omega-3’s).
Omega-7 fatty acids
Omega-7 fatty acids are a relative newcomer to the fatty acid family. Omega-7’s are trans fats that that helps the body fight inflammation and promote cardiovascular health. They can also lower cholesterol and insulin levels, support liver function, and promote weight loss. Omega-7’s are found in full-fat dairy products, sea veggies, and macadamia nuts. The recommended daily intake to see health benefits is about 200 mg.
The bottom line
Omega-3, 6, 9, and 7 fatty acids all have a role to play in our overall health. The key is balance-something the typical American diet doesn’t provide. We get plenty of omega-6’s and omega-9’s from food, but many of us are lacking in omega-3’s and omega-7’s. Supplementing omega-3’s and omega-7’s is a great way to ensure we get enough of the anti-inflammatory support our body needs. We recommend choosing a high-quality supplement like one from our partner Barlean’s, which has a variety of oils and pills in regular and vegetarian formulas. Before starting any supplement, it’s best to discuss your individual diet and concerns with a natural health practitioner.