What Everyone Should Know About Omega Fatty Acids

Secret’s out! Fats don’t make you fat—at least not healthy ones in healthy amounts. In fact, fats actually serve a very important purpose in the body—they provide us with the energy to keep up with our kids, dance our booties off, or carry out other functions of daily life.

We’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: unsaturated fats are your friends. Stick to these for a happy and healthy life. But exactly what kinds of fats are these? Well, the Omega fatty acids, of course. Omega 3’s are something we don’t get enough of. Yet, Omega 6’s are in everything these days. And WTF are Omega 9’s! We’ve broken it down for you so you know the what’s what and who’s who when it comes to fats!

The Basics

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are fatty acids—more specifically there are ESSENTIAL fatty acids. What makes them so essential? Both omega 3 and omega 6 cannot be synthesized by the body and must therefore be obtained through the diet. Omega 3’s primary member is linolenic acid, from which eicosapentaonoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be made. You may have heard of these guys. Omega 6’s primary member is linoleic acid, from which it can make archidonic acid.

Food Sources

Where to get these oh-so-essential fats you might ask? The answer is simple:

Omega 6

  • Linoleic Acid
    • Vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean)
    • Poultry fat
    • Nuts, seeds
  • Arachidonic acid
    • Meats
    • Poultry
    • Eggs

Omega 3

  • Linolenic Acid
    • Oils (flaxseed, canola, walnut, wheat germ, soybean)
    • Nuts and seeds
  • EPA and DHA
    • Human milk
    • Oysters
    • Fish

Recommended Ratio

Anthropological research suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. It also indicates that both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers were free of the modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that are the primary causes of death and morbidity today.

Achieving the right balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is crucial for optimum health. An improper balance of these two can lead to inflammation and increased risk of heart disease.

Americans get almost 20% of their calories from a single food source – soybean oil – with almost 9% of all calories from the omega-6 fat! This reveals that our average intake of Omega-6 fatty acids is between 10 and 25 times higher than evolutionary norms. The consequences of this dramatic shift cannot be overestimated.

To balance your Omega-3 and Omega-6 levels, aim for a ratio of 4:1 (O-6 : O-3). Try taking that up a notch by making that ratio 2:1 (O-6 : O-3)!

This is a simple guide to optimize your balance of the Omega fats:

  • Avoid vegetable oils high in Omega-6 (and the processed foods that contain them).
  • Eat plenty of Omega-3 rich animals, including something from the sea at least once or twice a week.



Health Benefits

Eating a diet high in omega 3’s can lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. EPA and DHA in particular assist in growth and development of the brain and eyes.

Omega 9’s? What are those?

Omega 9’s are another monounsaturated fat whose primary member is oleic acid. The major difference from omega 3 and omega 6 is the body can make that omega 9. How convenient! That’s not to say that getting sources of omega 9 from food isn’t also good!

Food Sources

  • Oleic Acid:  Canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, and almonds

Health Benefits

Like omega 3’s, omega 9’s have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by increasing HDL cholesterol (the food stuff) and lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff).

Embrace healthy fats!

References: 12


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Carly Sippel is a registered yoga teacher, certified life coach, and nutrition nut. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Dietetics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She turns her passion into practice, promoting healthy bodies in both her personal and professional life.