If you read MensHealth on the reg, you probably already know you should be incorporating more fish into your diet. That’s because fish is loaded with nutrients like protein and vitamin D. It’s also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are widely known as brain boosters.
But omega-3s aren’t the only fatty acids that you need to get to know. New research shows that omega-6s, another essential fatty acid, can also provide some serious health benefits, no supplements required.
Basically, fatty acids fall into two camps: essential fatty acids, which your body can’t make (omega-3s and omega-6s); and non-essential ones, which, while not necessary to ingest, can benefit many functions of the body. Here’s everything you need to know about fatty acids and where to find them.
The top dogs of the fatty acid world, omega-3s are found in mackerel, sardines, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds and canola oil. They’re likely already on your radar because they improve cardiovascular health — but that’s not all they can do. Omega-3s have numerous perks, including lowering triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), fighting arthritis or joint pain, boosting your mood, and improving brain function, says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N., CEO and founder of The New York Nutrition Group. And since they’re anti-inflammatory, omega-3s can also help with muscle recovery post-workout, according to Stephanie McKercher, R.D.N., Colorado-based registered dietitian and recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer.
For most men, an intake of about 1.6 grams per day is enough, and you can get roughly that amount in a 3-ounce (85g) serving of salmon (no supplements required).
Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils like soybean oil, so they often make an appearance in processed foods — but they also can be found in nuts, seeds, meats and dairy. A study from earlier this year also found that eating omega-6s can benefit heart health.
Though omega-6s are considered a healthy fat, eating too many foods rich in omega-6s and too few foods rich in omega-3s can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. And since inflammation has been linked to tissue damage and disease, this is not a great thing. “In order to achieve optimal benefits, it is believed that omega-3 intake should be higher than omega-6 [intake], but it is more often the other way around,” says Moskovitz.
Instead of worrying too much about overdoing it on omega-6s, which can be found in many processed foods, McKercher suggest upping your omega-3 intake by eating omega-3 rich fish or seeds a few times per week. “There is no official recommendation for amount [of omega-6s] but focusing on eating more omega-3 rich foods is ideal to keep the ratio in balance,” says Moskovitz.
“Because omega-7s are not essential, meaning the body can make its own supply, there’s no recommended amount [one should eat every day],” Ansel says. “But if you want to work more of them into your diet, you can get them from salmon, anchovies, olive oil, and macadamia nuts and oil.”
What’s more, studies show they can also help fight inflammation, improve heart health, and protect against certain types of cancers, Moskovitz says, with research also indicating that a type of omega-9s may have memory-boosting effects as well. They are also found in many healthy fats (like canola oil, sunflower oil and olive oil) and many of the same foods that are rich in omega-3s, so if you get omega-3-rich foods on your plate, you’ll likely get enough omega-9s, too.
By Kelsey Butler