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Eat Up: The Best Food Choices for Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Essential Fatty Acids

You likely already know the importance of adding essential fatty acids to your diet, but do you know the best food sources for omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9? We’ve taken the guesswork out of adding these must-have “essentials” into your daily routine by sharing some of our favorite food choices for each.

Best Food Choices for Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (Linolenic Acid)

The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are ALA, DHA, and EPA, for short. Plant sources are rich in ALA, while fish and seafood are excellent sources of DHA and EPA. In addition to improving the overall appearance of your skin and preventing premature wrinkles and sun damage, research suggests omega-3 fatty acids may help: 

  • Fight inflammation
  • Reduce the risk of eye diseases such as macular degeneration
  • Decrease risk factors for heart disease
  • Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer
  • Ease depression and bipolar mood swings
  • Improve bone strength and joint health
  • Decrease age-related mental decline and the risk of Alzheimer's disease

It’s important to eat a variety of foods with high omega-3 fatty acids. Experts suggest eating at least two servings a week of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, or sardines. And an added bonus of eating more fish is that these omega 3 food sources pack a healthier protein punch than red meat. Good sources of omega-3 include: 

  • Coldwater high-fat fish, especially wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, shad, herring, and trout
  • Flaxseed oil (which has the highest linolenic content of any food), flaxseeds, flaxseed meal, hempseed oil, hempseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, and sesame seeds
  • Avocados
  • Certain dark green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, purslane, mustard greens, and collards 

Best Food Choices for Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids (Linoleic Acid)

Although they aren’t as well-known or studied as omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fats are also beneficial, as long as they’re consumed in moderation. Dozens of studies support the heart health benefits of omega-6 fats. Potential health benefits include reducing “bad” cholesterol (LDL), boosting good cholesterol (HDL), and improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Good sources of omega-6 include:

  • Flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal
  • Hempseed oil, hemp seeds
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Seeds such as pumpkin and raw sunflower
  • Nuts, including pignolia (pine) and pistachios
  • Borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil
  • Acai

Although corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils are also good sources of linoleic acid, they’re refined and may be deficient in some nutrients

Best Food Choices for Omega-9 Essential Fatty Acids (Oleic Acid)

Humans can manufacture omega-9 from unsaturated fat, therefore this fatty acid isn’t technically classified as essential. Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid and monounsaturated fatty acid in food. Foods rich in oleic acid are recommended because they’ve been shown to increase HDL cholesterol and decrease LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Good sources of omega 9 include: 

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts
  • Sesame oil

A word to the wise about nuts and seeds—try to buy organic whenever possible, get in small batches, and store them in the freezer to prevent rancidity.

So that’s the story of key omega fatty acids in a nutshell, no pun intended! All the essential fatty acids your skin and body need for better health and a more youthful-looking appearance simplified in one convenient shopping list.