O is for Omega Fatty Acids

Chia seed: Source of Omega-3

Chia seed: Source of Omega-3


O | Omega Fatty Acids

by Lindsey Herr


Let’s talk chemistry (just for a second, I promise!).

A Fatty acid is a long chain of carbons, with lots of hydrogen bonded to it, and on one end is a carboxyl group. A Carboxyl group is a carbon double bonded to an oxygen and single bonded to an oxygen with a hydrogen on it. Sounds complicated (because it can be), but here’s a picture of one:


Okay, science lesson is over.

Let's talk specifically about the Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. From here on, we won’t worry about the structure or name - just what they can do for your health and where to find them!


Function and Importance:

  • Part of cell membranes
  • Improve heart health
  • Increase HDL (the good cholesterol)
  • Reduce blood pressure and triglycerides
  • Can improve mental state
  • Essential Fatty Acid - cannot be made by the body and needs to be consumed in the diet

3 Main Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) comes from fish, reduces inflammation, reduces symptoms of depression
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) comes from fish, promotes normal brain function and growth
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) comes from vegetable and nut oils, used for energy

Note: ALA is prominent in the Western diet but if you do not consume fish regularly, your doctor may suggest an Omega supplement to be sure you are consuming enough EPA and DHA!

Good Food Sources:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds


Function and Importance:

  • Primarily for energy
  • Part of cell membranes
  • Can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions like asthma
  • Essential Fatty Acid - cannot be made by the body and needs to be consumed in the diet

Note: The American diet includes much more Omega-6 than is necessary. Much of the Omega-6 research focuses on the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. The suggested ratio is about 2:1. However, the typical American diet is much lower - about 15:1. While Omega-6 is important, a ratio lower than about 10:1 had adverse effects and higher ratios like 3:1 and 5:1 were able to help with asthma and arthritis.

Good Food Sources:

  • Most vegetable oils: Corn, walnut, soybean, flax, etc.
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Cereals


Function and Importance:

  • Non-Essential Fatty Acid - can be made by the body but also plentiful in the American diet
  • Consumption is not necessary but consumption of more Omega-9s than saturated fat has shown health benefits

Good Food Sources:

  • Olive Oil
  • Cashews and Cashew Oil
  • Almond Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Peanut Oil


In Summary:

Focus on Omega-3. It is highly likely that you already consume enough Omega-6, and your body can make Omega-9 on its own. The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend eating a serving of fish twice a week. This will come out to about 8 ounces of fish each week to obtain optimal nutrients that seafood can provide.  

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