We know that essential fatty acids—omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9—help keep the body healthy but how beneficial are these fatty acids individually? More importantly, how do you make sure you are consuming balanced levels of essential fatty acids in your diet?
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Simply put, essential fatty acids are types of fatty acids needed to improve organ function. The human body cannot synthesize these types of fatty acids. This means our bodies cannot produce essential fatty acids. We only get these compounds from the food we eat.
Two of the most common essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 is composed of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid DHA.
Omega-6 is composed of linolenic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomogamma linolenic acid (DLA), linoleic acid (LA), and arachidonic acid (AA).
Omega-9 is oleic acid (OA). Seafood, like oily fishes, is often rich in omega-3. Soybean oil, eggs, and sunflower oil are rich in Omega-6. Olive oil is a rich source of Omega-9.
Unlike omega-3 and omega-6, the oleic acid in omega-9 is a saturated fatty acid. It’s not unhealthy per se. In fact, the Mediterranean diet—which is rich in oleic acid—is one of the healthiest diets in the world.
However, not all types of fatty acids are essential. In most diets, we could get our fill of omega-6 and omega-9 but not enough of omega-3 — which is the most beneficial to our health among all three. In addition, certain types of omega-6 fatty acids are not only non-essential, they can be unhealthy too. As such, it’s important to achieve the perfect balance of three essential fatty acids to take advantage of their health-giving benefits.
Balancing Your Essential Fatty Acid Consumption
You don’t need to go through a special diet to consume a perfectly balanced essential fatty acids supply. To make sure you are getting the right amount of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 in your diet, consider these tips:
Choose the Right Cooking Oil
Because some cooking oils may be harmful to the body, it’s important to choose the best kind of oil when cooking. Olive oil is a great start. It is monosaturated and contains a balanced content of omega-3 and omega-6 approaching a 1:1 ratio. Olive oil is also rich in omega-9, plus a host of health-giving minerals and compounds such as vitamin E, carotenoids, oleuropein, polyphenols, squalene, and flavonoids!
When using olive oil, make sure you choose 100% organic extra virgin olive oil. Regular olive oil is great too but because extra virgin olive oil is not processed, it offers the maximum level of nutrients. Linseed oil and macadamia oil are also rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Balancing Seafood With Meat Products
You can balance your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 by eating one portion of oily, cold water fish per one portion of poultry or red meat. Fishes like tuna, wild salmon, herring, and mackerel are all rich in omega-3 while eggs, poultry, and red meat are rich in omega-6.
Go Organic — Choose Grass-Fed Food Products
Meat sources that are grass-fed have fewer trace elements of chemicals, including hormone or antibiotic. As such, grass-fed food products will always be healthier than grain-fed food products. In addition, grass-fed food products contain a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6.
Most grains and nuts are rich in balanced omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. However, some nuts are extremely high on omega-6 and saturated fats so be very choosy in the kind of nuts and grains you add to your diet. We recommend flaxseeds and walnuts because both are high in balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.