If you type “omega fatty acids” into the search window on Google, you get at least 15 million responses in 0.69 seconds!
No wonder it’s so hard to figure out why some articles tout the amazing health benefits of omega-6s, and others warn against consuming plant oils, such as sunflower, corn and soy oils, that are loaded with omega-6. And although omega-3s are superheroes when it comes to tamping down inflammation and associated pain, heart disease and cognitive problems, you hear warnings about taking fish-oil supplements that are rich in omega-3s because of possible contaminants. What about those other odd omegas — 5, 7 and 9?
Well, we’re here to help you make the best choices.
Omega fatty acid basics
Omega fatty acids are essential for your health, and you can get them from the foods you eat or from supplements. Some, such as certain omega-6s, can promote inflammation, which is important in the right doses to help your body heal from injury. Others (omegas-3, -5, -7 and -9) fight to keep inflammation in check. Early homo sapiens’ diet balanced equal amounts of omega-6s and omega-3s, and the body got the best benefits it could from all of them.
Fast-forward to today’s processed, packaged, plant-oil-crazy world, where omega-6-rich corn, soy and cottonseed oils are found in most margarines and shortening, mayonnaise, salad dressings, frozen foods, imitation dairy and meat products and commercially baked goods. In fact, 55 percent of the oil Americans consume is soy. Those oils have tipped the scales so that most Americans eat 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. And new research indicates that that’s tipped the scales toward obesity and bad-for-you inflammation.
A study in the journal Obesity reveals that when you eat foods containing omega-3s, they signal your body to “burn fat.” But taking in omega-6s, particularly from vegetable oils, sends out fat-storing signals. The researchers also say that too many omega-6s in relationship to the amount of odd omegas in your diet increases white fat cells and reduces brown fat cells (which help regulate weight), raises inflammation and triglycerides, and shortens telomeres. Plus, they promote insulin resistance, increase waist circumference and up your risk for diabetes.
Adding more odd omegas, including omega-3s, to your diet reduces fat and inflammation, lowers triglycerides and oxidation, and increases protein synthesis.
Bottom line: Get omega-6s from food sources that let them do their good work, supporting brain function, bone and reproductive health, regulating metabolism and making hormones: walnuts, with 11,141 mg in a quarter cup; dry-roasted peanuts have 5,727 mg; pumpkin and squash seeds have 1,401 mg.
Foods rich in omega-3s include: flax seeds (6,388 mg per ounce!), walnuts (2,500 mg per ounce), and wild salmon (60 mg per ounce). Veggies that also deliver: basil (88.5 mg per ounce), wheat germ (202 mg per ounce) and turnip greens (17.3 mg per ounce). Other good sources are cauliflower, arugula, sweet green peppers and spinach. The World Health Organization recommends a daily EPA and DHA intake of 300-500 mg; ALA intake of 800-1,100 mg. We suggest taking 900 mg daily of DHA algal omega-3 (you dodge contamination by getting DHA from where fish do, algae) or fish oil that meets U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) standards.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.
Those other omegas
Omega-3 and -6 aren’t the only omegas. These others come along for the ride when you get the right balance of 3 and 6:
Omega-5: The best source is pomegranates, and it may help prevent cancer.
Omega-7: (Palmitoleic acid) Seems to be even more powerful than omega-3, although there haven’t been head-to-head studies. It decreases inflammation, triglyceride and LDL levels, and improves HDL levels, glucose uptake, insulin sensitivity and fatty liver. Sources include: macadamia nuts, anchovies and olive oil. Dr. Mike takes 420 mg daily.
Omega-9: In macadamia nuts, almonds and olive oil (it’s oleic acid), canola and mustard seed (erucic acid) and peanut oil (arachidic acid), it helps control blood pressure, prevent diabetes and protects you from various cancers.