The Benefits of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

In today’s crazy diet culture, it can be quite tricky to navigate the maze of macronutrients, micronutrients, grocery shopping, meal prepping, food preparation, etc. One misconception I’ve continuously come across is that fat is bad and should be avoided at all costs. In reality, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet and contribute to organ protection, supporting cell growth, energy source, and many more processes. Fats are composed of fatty acid chains- either saturated or unsaturated and within unsaturated fats are both omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) and omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids. Both of these fatty acids are essential, meaning that the human body is not able to produce them on its own and needs to get them from outside sources. The two are extremely important to growth and repair but are also important precursors to other bioactive lipid mediators as well.

Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory function and are primarily known for their role in heart health and can be found in both plant and animal sources. They are also known for their role in supporting brain, nerve, and eye development infants and maintaining a healthy immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in many foods including oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring, walnuts, flaxseed, and leafy green vegetables.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that individuals consume at least 2 servings of seafood (fatty fish) per week which are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 is more pro-inflammatory in comparison to omega-3’s anti-inflammatory action, but it’s still important to consume foods containing omega-6 fatty acids. They help support gene regulation, a healthy immune system, as well as blood coagulation and clotting.

Sources of omega-6 include vegetable oils like sunflower, corn and canola, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, as well as meat and eggs.

Overall, both of these fatty acids are essential fats that your body needs for energy and proper functioning, though it is crucial to take into consideration the anti-inflammatory versus pro-inflammatory functions of the two fats and to focus on consuming more omega-3 versus omega-6 fatty acids. The typical American diet usually results in a much higher intake of omega-6 than omega-3. To make sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, try to eat a few servings of seafood each week, or if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet you can incorporate plant-based sources of omega-3 like flaxseed or chia seeds in a smoothie or oatmeal, beans in a salad or burrito bowl, or edamame in a stirfry! By focusing on having a balanced diet- focusing on healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein foods, you’ll get the complete range of essential nutrients your body needs!

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