Fatty acids are the foundations of fats, helping form the building blocks of many cells and systems in our bodies. There are three abundant and beneficial types of fatty acids. These are omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. Each of these fatty acid groups provides its own nutritional value, and they all play important roles in your health.
Some of these fats are essential, while others are non-essential but still beneficial. Either way, you should strive to obtain a balanced intake of all three types for their potential health benefits.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, which means that chemically, they are made up of many double bonds. Your body cannot produce omega-3 on its own, so you must obtain these fats through your diet. Because the only way to get them is through food, they are considered “essential fats.”
Omega-3 fatty acids can have several different types of chemical makeup, but ultimately, there are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids. These are:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a short-chain fatty acid precursor
Each of the three types of omega-3s has its own benefits, but your body must receive an adequate amount of each, either through dietary choices or supplementation. ALA omega-3s can be converted into EPA in the body and then into DHA, but this conversion only happens in small amounts, making it essential to get EPA and DHA directly.
What Are Sources of Omega-3?
The three different types of omega-3 fats are found separately in various foods. ALA is the most abundant omega-3 in the western diet, while DHA and EPA can be found paired together in many kinds of seafood. Some of the most significant sources of omega-3 are:
Fatty fish sources are abundant in both EPA and DHA omega-3s and are the main source of both types, giving the two acids the nickname marine omega-3s. All other sources of omega-3s, specifically plant-based sources, contain only ALA omega-3s. The only plant-based source of EPA and DHA omega-3 is algae.
What Are the Benefits of Omega-3?
Each type of omega-3 potentially offers its own specific benefits. In general, omega-3s can help support the body’s system in several significant ways. For example, omega-3s are well-known for supporting healthy cardiovascular function. Some people believe these fats help play a role in maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels already within the healthy range. They are also known for supporting eye health.
DHA can be a great addition to your diet if you’re pregnant. More specifically, DHA can support healthy brain development and maintain nervous system function in a child. Even in adulthood, DHA omega-3s can support brain health by helping maintain normal cognitive function, including memory and motor skills.
EPA may help support overall emotional wellness. During pregnancy, EPA also plays an important role by helping to support the healthy development of the fetus and can support feelings of mental wellness in the mother.
What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Omega-6 fatty acids are similar to omega-3s in that they are polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, they are slightly different chemically. These fats can be changed into longer omega-6 fats like arachidonic acid or ARA.
Like omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids are essential and are not made by the body, though they are a bit more abundant in a standard diet.
What Are Sources of Omega-6?
Americans receive more omega-6 through their diets than they do omega-3s. It is recommended that individuals increase their intake of omega-3 compared to omega-6, but there do not seem to be any problems with taking in too many omega-6 fatty acids.
However, omega-6 is more common in refined vegetable oils, which are not always considered the healthiest source of nutrition.
If you want to add enough omega-6 servings to your diet, it can be found in the following sources:
- Soybean oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Borage oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Sunflower seeds
What Are the Benefits of Omega-6?
Like omega-3s, omega-6s play an important role in the body. They are most beneficial for their ability to support overall feelings of energy. In combination with plenty of dietary omega-3s, omega-6 fats help the body manage the inflammatory response.
There is some debate about whether these fatty acids are harmful if consumed in high amounts, but when balanced with omega-3s as part of a complete diet, researchers typically see little reason for concern.
What Are Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated fats. On a chemical level, this means that they have one double bond.
The body can produce these fatty acids and, therefore, are not considered “essential” nutrients. However, they are still a positive nutrient to include in your diet.
There are many different types of omega-9s, including hypogeic acid, elaidic acid, erucic acid, gondoic acid, and nervonic acid. The most abundant form of omega-9 is oleic acid, which is found in cell membranes and plasma throughout the body. Oleic acid is also the greatest form of omega-9 in a standard diet.
What Are the Benefits of Omega-9?
Just like the other two forms of fatty acids, omega-9s can offer multiple benefits to the body. Foods rich in oleic acid and omega-9 fatty acids can support and maintain a healthy immune system, eye function, and heart health.
What Are Sources of Omega-9?
Omega-9 fats are commonly found in vegetables, seeds, and nuts. More specifically, they can be found in the following sources:
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Avocado oil
Because omega-9s are considered non-essential, there is no set standard for what your daily intake of these fatty acids should be.
Should I Take an Omega-3, Omega-6, or Omega-9 Supplement?
Whenever possible, you should try to receive a significant amount of all three fatty acids from healthy sources in your diet. If you feel you are not getting enough fatty acids from your diet, you could consider taking a supplement. Because there are so many potential benefits associated with each of the three fatty acids, the most important question is what type of supplement you need.
Some supplements can balance all three fatty acids, offering various ratios of the three nutrients. For example, they may include the ingredients omega-3:6:9 at a ratio of 2:1:1. Some supplements may have a higher ratio of omega-3 than the other two types.
Typically the amount of omega-3 is higher in any supplement because it is an essential fatty acid. Since omega-6s are very abundant in a western diet and omega-9s can be produced by the body, the body typically has the largest need for omega-3s.
If you are on a plant-based diet, you may prioritize taking a supplement that is high in omega-3s since it is most abundant in fish and harder to obtain otherwise. Even plant-based supplements that prioritize omega-3 intake can contain a significant amount of the other two forms of fatty acids.
An iwi life omega-3 supplement also contains a balanced amount of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, allowing you to potentially obtain a significant amount of omega-3 while still maintaining a healthy balance of the other two fatty acids. Even more impressive, this supplement is made from algae, which directly provides DHA and EPA omega-3s, requiring no conversions in the body.
Experience All the Benefits of Omega 3-6-9
Omega 3-6-9 nutrients are all beneficial, healthy fats that you should include in your diet whenever you can. At iwi life, we want to help you get all of the important nutrients you need from trusted, natural sources. When you choose an iwi life omega-3 supplement, you can find peace of mind that you will receive a sufficient amount of each of the three important fatty acids (without the “fish burps” or potential for rancidity of fish oil).
Since our omega-3 supplement is made from the power plant that is algae, you can trust that you are receiving true DHA and EPA omega-3s directly, and your body does not need to do any conversions.
We make our products with your health and the planet in mind. To support your overall health and wellness, explore our whole assortment of plant-based supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids | National Institutes of Health