It’s no wonder that there’s much confusion about what oils, fish and nuts are considered healthy fats and which ones are not. Most have heard of omega-3 fatty acids and maybe even omega-6 fatty acids, but what do you know about omega-9 fatty acids and the omega-9 benefits available in this type of fat?
Omega-9 fatty acids are from a family of unsaturated fats that are commonly found in vegetable and animal fats. These fatty acids are also known as oleic acid, or monounsaturated fats, and can often be found in canola oil, safflower oil, olive oil, mustard oil, nut oils and, nuts such as almonds. However, unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, omega-9 fatty acids can be produced by the body, which means the need to supplement is not as important as the popular omega-3. (1)
So what makes omega-9s something to pay attention to, particularly if our body can produce them on its own? It’s important to understand these fats because omega-9 benefits the body in a few key ways.
Omega-9 benefits the heart, brain and overall well-being when consumed and produced in moderation. Here are three key omega-9 benefits to your health.
1. May Help Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
Research has shown that omega-9 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Omega-9 benefits heart health because omega-9s have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). This may help eliminate plaque buildup in the arteries, which we know as one of the causes of heart attacks and strokes.
Canola oil, for example, is high in monounsaturated fat, low in saturated fat and has zero trans fat, but, it’s really tough to get non-GMO canola oil. While the industry is changing, it may be best to prepare foods at home. Other good omega-9s are avocados and almonds. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a Qualified Health Claim suggesting that the daily intake of healthy fats may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content. However, it also suggests moderating how much you take in daily. (2)
2. Increase Energy, Decrease Anger and Enhances Mood
Omega-9 fatty acids, found in oleic acid, may help increase energy, decrease anger and enhance your mood. A clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition focused on determining whether “lowering the ratio of saturated fatty acids to monounsaturated fatty acids in the Western diet would affect physical activity and the amount of energy used. The studies of physical activity and mood changes may mean that the type of fat we eat could alter cognitive function.” (3)
The study concluded that the use of oleic acid was associated with increased physical activity, availability of more energy and even less anger. So if you’re exhausted and irritable, you may want to boost energy levels with omega-9, since omega-9 benefits extend to your mood and energy levels.
3. May Benefit Those with Alzheimer’s
Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in fats like mustard oil. Studies show that it may normalize the accumulation of very long chain fatty acids in the brains of patients suffering from X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is a serious genetic disorder affecting the adrenal glands, spinal cord and nervous system. It’s possible that mustard oil enhances cognitive function — therefore enhancing memory impairment.
Memory performance in normal naïve mice was tested in a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, showing that erucic acid may be a therapeutic agent for diseases associated with cognitive deficits, such as Alzheimer’s disease. (4) This means you can add memory enhancement and improved cognitive function to the list of omega-9 benefits.
Omega-9 Foods vs. Omega-3 and Omega-6 Foods
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are more commonly sought after because our bodies cannot produce these alone, which is why they’re called “essential.” Typically, they’re derived from plants and fish oils. A recent survey suggests that as much as 10 percent of all supplements consumed are omega-3s from fish oil supplements.
Remember that our bodies produce omega-9 fatty acids on their own, so no need to overdo it, but you can replace some of the other oils and fats in your diet with these on occasion.
Omega-9 fatty acids, an oleic acid, can be found in olive oil (extra virgin or virgin), olives, avocados, sunflower oil, almonds, sesame oil, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts, to name a few. Here’s some more info on the top omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 foods:
- Flaxseed oil
- Salmon fish oil
- Cod liver oil
- Chia seeds
- Wild-caught Atlantic salmon
- White fish
Highest Omega-6 Foods (7)
- Sunflower oil
- Poppyseed oil
- Corn oil
- Walnut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Soybean oil
- Sesame oil
Highest Omega-9 Foods
- Macadamia nuts
- Soybean oil
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Almond butter
- Avocado oil
Fatty Acids and Triglycerides
Fatty acids, in general, do a few different things for our bodies. They’re the primary component of stored fat, they serve as important building blocks of cell membranes and they help regulate inflammatory processes. Fatty acids are important sources of fuel because, when metabolized, they yield large quantities of adenosine triphosphate, which gives us energy. Many cell types can use either glucose or fatty acids for this purpose.
There are two main types of fatty acids called saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid when at room temperature and found in animals and tropical plants. These are the omega-9 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats, classified as polyunsaturated fats, are usually liquid at room temperature and found in vegetables, seeds and, most common, fatty fish. This is what we know as omega-3 and sometimes omega-6 fatty acids.
Let’s dig a little deeper into fatty acids. Some diets recommend minimizing fats, but fats, if choosing the right ones, play an important role in your health. Dietary fat is broken down into fatty acids and other compounds, such as cholesterol. Some of these fatty acids, in particular if in excess, are converted into triglycerides, which can be used to store energy.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood, and having too much of this type of fat can raise the risk of coronary heart disease. A blood test can measure your triglycerides along with your cholesterol. There are a few factors that can raise your triglyceride levels, such as being overweight, lack of physical activity, smoking, too much alcohol use, a very high carbohydrate diet, certain diseases and medicines, and some genetic disorders.
Now that we understand triglycerides, what does that have to do with fatty acids? These triglycerides are used by the body when there is a demand for energy, and they come from free fatty acids. These free fatty acids are critical for metabolic functions, such as peptide hormone secretion and inflammation, and contribute to energy homeostasis, which is the regulation of body energy. (8)
In particular, recent studies have shown that they improved glucose metabolism and systemic metabolic disorders. Ultimately, they help regulate energy metabolism. However, it’s important to note that while these fatty acids are very important for our bodies, the upset in the balance of that energy can be caused by excess food intake, leading to diseases, such as obesity and diabetes. (9, 10)
Risks and Side Effects
There has been much controversy over the internal use of mustard oil, a top source of omega-9. Fox news reported that due to the toxicity of erucic acid, a component found in mustard oil, it’s been banned in the U.S. as a product sold for consumption. It can be found in many stores as a massage oil. (11)
Even though chefs use mustard oil regularly, make sure you check with your functional medicine doctor or general practitioner before using mustard oil or anything new in your diet.
It’s also crucial to have proper balance of omega fats. Too many omega-6s, in particular, can be harmful.
People with specific conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, diabetes or breast tenderness, should consult their doctors before taking any omega-6 supplements. Both borage oil and evening primrose oil reportedly lower the seizure threshold; therefore, individuals requiring anticonvulsant medication should exercise caution and discuss it with their physician.
Some omega-6 fatty acids, such as GLA, may increase or decrease the effects of certain medications.
In addition, consuming too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s can throw off your fatty acid balance, which has numerous negative effects. That means you want to watch your omega-6 intake and eat a healthier diet than most Western diets. Try the Mediterranean diet as a guide, and monitor the type of fats you consume.
- Unlike omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, omega-9 fatty acids can be produced by the body, which means the need to supplement is not as important as the popular omega-3.
- Omega-9 benefits include helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke; increasing energy, decreasing anger and enhancing mood; and potentially benefiting people with Alzheimer’s.
- Some of the top foods to get omega-9 benefits include sunflower, hazelnut, safflower, macadamia nuts, soybean oil, olive oil, canola oil, almond butter and avocado oil.