Omega 3, 6 and 9 – a primer on everything omega!

You’re supposed to take omegas for your health – but which ones, and how much? With all the omegas out there, the terminology can be confusing. We’ll break it all down for you to help you make informed decisions for your health.
 

First of all, let’s talk fats or more specifically, fatty acids which is how omegas are classified. Fatty acids can be divided into four general categories: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats. You’ve probably heard of the health risks associated with some heavily processed or deep-fried foods that contain trans fats and saturated fatty acids. On the flip side, there are those fats that are good for you and indeed necessary for the healthy functioning of the human body – often called “good” or “healthy” fats, including essential fatty acids.
 

Despite the somewhat unappealing term, “essential fatty acids” do some amazing things! Omega-3 is important for our bodies’ healthy inflammatory response, which can impact cardiovascular and joint health, and the maintenance of overall health. Omega-6 also has a role to play in the body’s inflammatory response, albeit different than that of omega-3. Let’s focus on these two fatty acids first. Despite being necessary for our health and wellbeing, omega-3 and omega-6 are considered “essential” because neither is synthesized naturally by the human body, meaning we can only acquire them through our diet – unlike omega-9, which our bodies can make on their own.
 

Omega-3 – are you getting enough?

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high concentrations in foods such as wild cold-water fish, flaxseeds, algal oils, and chia seeds. Though these foods are common, most of us don’t eat them in large enough quantities for our health. On top of that, of the three key types of omega-3s – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), only the first two can be used efficiently by our body. If you’re interested in learning more about EPA, DHA and ALA, check out our Omega-3s 101 blog for a deep dive into all things omega-3.
 

A key reason your doctor or naturopath might recommend an omega-3 supplement is that a typical Western diet is relatively poor in omega-3s. For example, to get the equivalent of EPA and DHA contained in one teaspoon of NutraSea a day for a week, you’d have to eat five 1000 mg 3oz servings of salmon a week – most of us simply don’t eat that much fish. Both NutraSea and NutraVege omega-3 supplements are formulated using marine fatty acids that naturally contain large amounts of beneficial EPA and DHA.
 

Omega-6 – the most common essential fat

Worried about getting enough omega-6 in your diet? If you’re like most of us, you’re probably getting too much.
 

Like omega-3, we can only acquire omega-6 from our diet. But unlike omega-3, omega-6 is found in everything from cereal, vegetable oil and fast food to dairy, eggs, and meats. Where the recommended ratio of dietary omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1[1] or less, the average Western diet today has a ratio of 20:1 or even higher[2]. So, while they’re important for our body, the odds are you are more likely to supplement with omega-3 than with omega-6.
 

Omega-9 – why isn’t it “essential”?

Omega-9 fatty acids are needed for our cells to work properly. However, they aren’t considered a dietary essential, because they can be produced naturally by the body. Omega-9 fats are found in olive oil, some other plant oils, and some nuts and seeds, all of which are considered “good” fats – and also part of a healthy diet.


Doing the omega-math.

So what does all this information about omega-3, 6 and 9 add up to?
 

Omega-6s are essential in certain quantities, but they are in many foods and people following a Western diet already generally consume too many of them. Omega-9 fats can be produced by your body and are easily obtained in your day-to-day diet, so you don’t need to take them in supplement form. 
 

The bottom line is that while combined omega-3-6-9 supplements have become very popular of late, they don’t add much additional benefit over taking an omega-3 supplement such as NutraSea or NutraVege that provide EPA+DHA.

[1] Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. doi: 10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00253-6. PMID: 12442909.

[2] Simopoulos AP. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):128. Published 2016 Mar 2. doi:10.3390/nu8030128