Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known by another name: omegas. There are three types of omega fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two types of polyunsaturated fat. They are considered essential fatty acids because the body cannot manufacture them. Omega-9 fatty acids are from a family of monounsaturated fats that also are beneficial when obtained in food.
All omega fatty acids play specific roles in overall health. These good fats can have health benefits, including:
- Prevent coronary heart disease
- Prevent stroke
- Prevent diabetes
- Promote healthy nerve activity
- Improve vitamin absorption
- Maintain a healthy immune system
- Promote cell development
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat considered essential for human health because the body cannot manufacture these types of acids. People must obtain omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as fish-, nut- and plant-based oils, including canola oil and sunflower oils.
There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids.
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
ALA is found in flaxseed, canola and soybean oils, and walnuts.
EPA and DHA are found in fatty fishes such as herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout.
Omega-3 fatty acids correct imbalances in modern diets that lead to health problems. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
A diet high in ALA helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, enhancing the elasticity of blood vessels, and preventing the build-up of harmful fat deposits in the arteries.
Diets high in EPA and DHA help with brain and eye development, prevent cardiovascular disease, and can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. For example, diets notably high in DHA have been known to protect against degenerative processes within the retina of the eye and increase the problem solving skills in 9-month-old infants. As such, all infant formula is now supplemented with DHA.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, essential for human health because the body cannot manufacture them. People must obtain omega-6 fatty acids by consuming foods such as meat, poultry and eggs, as well as nut- and plant-based oils, including canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower oils.
There are 3 types of omega-6 fatty acids.
- LA (linoleic acid)
- GLA (gamma-linolenic acid)
- AA (arachidonic acid)
LA is found in canola, corn, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils.
GLA is found in infrequently consumed vegetable oils, such as evening primrose oil; mostly delivered in nutritional supplements.
AA is found in red meat, poultry and eggs.
Most omega-6 fatty acids are consumed in the diet from vegetable oils, such as linoleic acid.
However, excessive amounts of linoleic acid can contribute to inflammation and result in heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis and depression. Hence, it is important to strike a proper balance between the intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. A balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet allows both substances to work together to promote health. An improper balance or too much omega-6 fatty acid promotes inflammation and can contribute to the development of diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
Omega-9 fatty acids are from a family of unsaturated fats commonly found in vegetable oils. However, unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the body can produce omega-9 fatty acids, but they are beneficial when obtained in food.
The primary omega-9 fatty acid is oleic acid.
Oleic acid is commonly found in oils, fruits, and nuts:
- Oils: canola, olive, peanut, safflower and sunflower
- Fruits: avocados and olives
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts
Omega-9 Canola and Sunflower Oils are uniquely high in monounsaturated fats and reduce key factors that contribute to heart disease and diabetes. Oils produced from these sources are healthier, highly functional replacements for partially hydrogenated cooking oils, which are laden with unhealthy trans and saturated fats.
Omega-9 fatty acids, commonly referred to as monounsaturated fatty acids, offer important health benefits. Research has shown that omega-9 fatty acids are protective against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Because omega-9 fatty acids have been shown to increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, they help eliminate plaque buildup in the arteries, which may cause heart attack or stroke.
Increasing the consumption of omega-9 fatty acids, specifically as a substitute for saturated fat, provides beneficial health implications for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and overall health. Omega-9 Oils are also uniquely high in monounsaturated fat, low in saturated fat and contain zero trans fat.
Although omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids all serve different functions within the body, the evidence is clear that incorporating balanced proportions of both essential and non-essential fatty acids are necessary for maintaining overall heart health and general wellness. According to a 2014 position paper on dietary fatty acids and human health from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adults should receive 20 to 35% of energy from dietary fats, avoid saturated and trans (“bad”) fats and increase omega-3 fatty acids. The paper also states that the majority of calories from fat should come from monounsaturated fats and that these heart-healthy fatty acids should replace saturated fats when possible. These recommendations are based on the most up-to-date research available.
You can read more about different types of fats here.
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