by Ruth Ann Clayton, RD
There is an abundance of information about omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. However, little is mentioned about the “Forgotten Omega”, omega-9. You may have seen it on a label or heard about it but do you know where it can be found and why it may be needed in your diet?
Let’s get a quick refresher on the omegas 3 and 6 which are the polyunsaturated healthy fats. Your body cannot produce these two fatty acids making it “essential” for you to obtain them from food. They are liquid at room temperature. Omega-3 is found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, and herring, and in plant foods like flax, walnuts, algae and hemp seeds. Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils such as cottonseed, soybean, corn and safflower. In proper proportion, these fats are good for brain development, heart health, good cholesterol and good mood. If you eat too many processed foods it will result in an abundance of omega-6 and you will be out of proportion.
So, what about the “Forgotten Omega”? Omega-9, like 3 and 6, is in the family of “good for you” unsaturated fats. Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fat (MUFA) where 3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fats. That’s enough chemistry. What you really need to know is why you should have them and where you can get them.
If you have enough omega-3 and 6 in your diet, your body can produce omega-9, making it “non-essential”. However it is helpful to find it in foods. The main Omega-9 is oleic acid commonly found in oils, fruits and nuts. Using oils like canola, olive, peanut, macadamia, sesame, safflower and sunflower instead of partially hydrogenated oils provide good sources of omega-9. It is found in almonds, cashew, peanuts, pistachios, macadamias, pecans, and walnuts. Avocados and olives, which are actually fruits, are tasty source of this monounsaturated fat.
So what are the important health benefits of the omega-9 foods? Clinical research has shown that these omegas can increase the HDL or “good” cholesterol and decrease the “bad” LDL cholesterol if they are used to replace partially hydrogenated and saturated bad fats. This means less arterial plaque buildup thereby reducing the potential for stroke or heart attack.
An epidemiologic study suggested a significant relationship was seen in the control of adverse blood pressure by using oleic acid from vegetable sources. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 edition, states “moderate evidence indicates that increased monounsaturated fat intake, rather than high carbohydrate intake may benefit persons with type 2 diabetes”. Omega-9 is indicated in increasing metabolism and even moisturizing your skin.
The proper proportion of the omegas is important. Top priority is the omega-3 intake at 1 to 3 grams per day. Omega-6 is required in smaller quantity than omega-3 so remember that processed foods can disturb the proportions. Omega-9 is required in yet smaller quantities but still is an asset to our health. It is the symbiotic bond of omegas 3-6-9 that gives your body a health advantage.
Remember the calories are the same for good fats and bad fats at 9 calories per gram. Overeating of any fats will provide excess calories. Keeping intake of all fats to 20-35% of your calories with most coming from MUFA and polyunsaturated fats will facilitate your weight control efforts.
Use the data in this article to create a good fat list when you go grocery shopping. Read labels and look for good fat ingredients, especially on dairy, breads, desserts, table spreads, prepared meats, and canned and packaged foods. (Some labels will actually display the amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats even though it is not required.) To determine the amount of good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats on a nutrition label do the math: Good Fats = Total Fat – Bad Fat (Trans Fat and Saturated Fats).
Omega-3, omega-6 and the “Forgotten Omega” 9 fatty acids all perform different duties within your body. Research shows that including a balance of both the essential omegas 3 and 6 and the non-essential omega-9 from food and/or supplement sources provides a definite impact on your health. So, don’t forget your omega-9.
Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.
As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.