Based on some things I’ve seen lately, I thought it was time for a little omega refresher.
Omega-9 fatty acids: These are non-essential fatty acids as our bodies are capable of synthesizing them. This means that a dietary source is unnecessary. Don’t be fooled into buying a 3-6-9 supplement.
Omega-6 fatty acids: These are essential fatty acids; our bodies are not capable of synthesizing them so we must obtain them from dietary sources. Omega-6 FAs are plentiful in most of our diets and, therefore, don’t require supplementation. We get Omega-6 from plant oils, nuts, and seeds. In fact, we get so much Omega-6 that it may be having negative effects, such as increasing inflammation. We should be consuming a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1, Omega-6 to Omega-3. However, many of us are consuming in excess of 14-25 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3 (1)!
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are also essential fatty acids. In order to obtain enough Omega-3 we only need 2-4 teaspoons of plant oils a day. This is where it gets tricky. You’ll see a lot of foods marketed as being good sources of Omega-3, more than salmon for example, but they neglect to mention that we also need to consume EPA and DHA, two forms of Omega-3 which are not available from plant-based sources. Plants can provide us with plenty of ALA, which was can modestly convert to EPA and DHA. However, the conversion rate is pretty minimal. Under optimal conditions (such as when we’re not also consuming excessive quantities of Omega-6) conversion can reach up to about 4%. Not great when it’s advisable to consume 0.3-0.5 grams of EPA and 0.8-1.1 grams of DHA per day (2). It’s best to obtain these by eating fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, or trout) twice a week. If you don’t consume fish regularly, it may be worthwhile considering taking an Omega-3 supplement that contains both EPA and DHA as it’s pretty much impossible to get as much as you need by converting plant sources.