Can foods that contain omega-9 fatty acids help with weight control? With all the recent research about the benefits of two omega-3 and omega-6, why not expect wondrous things from the third part of the omega triad, omega-9s? If you’ve seen online ads for these “miracle” supplements (and they’re impossible to miss), then you’ve no doubt witnessed some pretty amazing claims for omega-9s alongside the two others.
Figure 1: Walnuts contain all 3 omega fatty acids, as do many nuts.
The Truth about Omega 9s
Unlike the other two essential fatty acids, omega-3s and omega-6s, the omega-9s are usually produced by the human body and don’t have to come from supplementation and specialized food sources. Contrary to many advertising claims, the huge majority of people just don’t need an omega-9 supplement. But that doesn’t mean omega-9s are unimportant. In fact, without these vital nutrients, your body would be in very bad shape, and likely be extremely out of balance.
Whenever there’s a question about the basic benefits and usefulness of a given supplement, it always helps to begin with the bare facts. The basics of omega-9s are pretty straightforward:
- The 9s are in the category of “healthy fats,” but are more correctly referred to as oleic acid, and occur in both animal and vegetable sources. These unsaturated fats are also produced in abundance by the human body when it is in good health, which is why supplementation is not recommended.
Figure 2: The top food sources of omega-9 fatty acids
- Though they are within the general category of “unsaturated” fats, the omega-9s are a sub-group known as mono-unsaturated fats.
- In nature, the 9s show up in things like olive oil, mustard oil, almonds, safflower oil, as well as many other nuts and nut oils.
- Omega 9s are unique in that the body can produce them from a normal, healthy diet. That cannot be said for the other two omega fatty acids, the 3s and 6s.
- Omega-9s help maintain the body’s overall health, but particularly aid in brain and cardio system maintenance.
- Because omega-9 fatty acids are able to boost the level of HDL cholesterol, they assist in preventing strokes and various types of heart disease.
- The unique method of operation for omega-9s leads to a decrease of plaque buildup within the arteries. This single mechanism is responsible for the majority of the benefit that omega-9s provide, but there is more to it than that.
- It is important to keep intake of omega-9 foods at a moderate level. If used sensibly, these “good fats” can help the brain do its work more efficiently by enhancing mood, preventing depression, and possibly boosting the overall levels of mental and physical energy available.
- It is probably best to consumer non-GMO versions of the nut oils when possible. If you can’t find non-GMO products, then try to prepare meals at home with organic nuts and avoid the GMO oils.
- Studies have shown that by increasing the proportion of unsaturated fats to saturated fats in the human diet, people can actually improve their brain and heart health at the same time. Oleic acid present in omega-9s can reduce anger levels and help clear out the arteries.
- Some research has led scientists to believe that oleic acid found in omega-9 sources, both body-produced and dietary, can help strengthen the memory and possibly alleviate one of the primary symptoms of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Mustard oil, in particular, seems to contain a variety of omega-9 fatty acid that works in this way, which is why it is currently one of the most studied foods.
- Many dietitians recommend getting a balanced amount of omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids. The 3s and 6s are typically labeled “essential” because your body can’t create them without the intake of certain types of food, like fish, nuts and many types of fish and nut oils.
- Even though the omega-9s are considered “non-essential” (meaning your body produces them on its own), you still need to eat a balanced diet to allow that process to occur. By eating a well-rounded diet, there should be no need for supplementation of any of the omega fatty acids.
Sources for Omega Fatty Acids
Typical omega-3, -6, and -9 foods include:
Mackerel, Flaxseed oil, Salmon fish oil, Sardines, Flaxseeds, Cod liver oil, Walnuts, Chia seeds, Wild-caught Atlantic salmon, Herring, Tuna
Safflower, Grape seed, Sunflower oil, Poppy seed oil, Corn oil, Walnut oil, Cottonseed oil, Soybean oil, Sesame oil
Sunflower, Hazelnut, Safflower, Macadamia nuts, Soybean oil, Olive oil, Canola oil, Almond butter, Avocado oil
Potential Risks from Too Much Omega-9
The main medical risks from fatty acids, not just omega-9s, tend to be in the overuse of supplements or the over-abundance of fatty foods in the diet. Mustard oil has been singled out by some research as a rather dangerous substance for consumption unless taken under the strict supervision of a doctor. In fact, you might notice that the only retail source for mustard oil in the U.S. is not in a food but in massage oils.
U.S. law forbids the sale of mustard oil as a food substance or dietary supplement, so be careful with this one even though there has been a lot of positive research about its potential for helping improve memory in people who have dementia.
Another risk with the fatty acids is having an imbalance, such as too much omega-6 or too much omega-9. Supplements are usually the cause of these cases because it’s pretty hard to consume so much food-sourced fat to cause any problems other than weight gain. This is why doctors routinely ask their patients if they’re taking supplements like fish oil and related substances.
One of the problems with too much omega-6 is that any medication you’re already taking could be rendered ineffective. In some cases, medication effects can even be exaggerated by too much omega-6 in the bloodstream. This is just one of the many reasons it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before using supplements.
When the omega-3, -6, and -9 balance gets out of whack, the body can experience weight gain, cholesterol imbalance, skin problems, and all sorts of negative results. It’s a very good idea to keep track of the amount of fatty acids you consume on a daily basis. That way, you’ll be able to optimize your health and avoid negative consequences.
The Bottom Line on Omega-9 Supplements
Remember these key facts about omega-9 fatty acids:
- While millions of people safely take omega-3 supplements, there’s usually not a need to do so with omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. But this doesn’t let you off the hook! You’ll need to eat a balanced diet to get all 3 of these important nutrients.
- When the body has the right amount of omega-9s from a proper diet, these substances can lead to a lower risk of stroke, better heart health, more energy, better overall mood, and possibly a more resilient memory.
- There’s no need to use supplements to get omega-9s into your system. The following foods are a natural source for omega-9 fatty acids: canola oil, avocado oil, almond butter, soybean oil, olive oil, macadamia nuts, safflower and hazelnuts.
- The fact of the matter is that most U.S. adults get plenty of omega-6 and omega-9 food sources in their diets. In fact, many people get too much of these foods because they tend to be things we seek out, and foods that contain fat. That’s why experts usually recommend moderating the intake of all fatty foods. If you do need a supplement from this category, it’s likely the omega-3 family, which we in the Western nations often do not get enough of.
- Avoid supplements that advertise a “balanced” amount of the three omega fatty acids because you’ll likely end up getting too much 6 and 9 as a result. The only one that really makes sense for supplementation is omega-3, which is one of the reasons fish oil supplements are among the best-selling nutritional products in the nation.
- Finding the best type of fish oil supplement, an omega-3 fatty acid source, is a topic far outside the scope of this article, but keep in mind that the best products are fresh, pure and reasonably potent. Buying “cheap” fish oil is usually a total waste of money and can even be worse than taking nothing because of the possible impurities present in low-grade fish oil products.
While most of the advertising blitz about omega-9 supplements is likely a ploy to sell us something we don’t need (and that our bodies are perfectly capable of creating), there is a place on the nutritional shelf for balanced omega supplements. But retailers who hawk lone omega-9 supplements are probably doing nothing more than trying to profit from a product that the human body can get for free, from itself!
Note: The information above is not intended to be taken as medical advice, but is merely a compilation of information resources on omega-9 supplements. For readers who have questions about their own particular health situations, it is recommended that they visit a doctor and discuss the issue in detail. It is our hope that the above information can be a starting point for individuals who are interested in learning about the role that omega fatty acids play in a balanced, healthful dietary regimen.