Get a grip on fatty acids

By HappySkinnyGirl

This is a guest post by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard the term fatty acids. But, do you understand what they are and how the right ratio will improve your heart health? I intend to clear up the confusion.

Types of Fatty Acids

There are numerous types of fatty acids. I am focusing on omega 3 and omega 6.

Unsaturated Fats

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are both unsaturated fats. To improve cholesterol levels, you want to replace the saturated fats (i.e. lard, shortening, ice cream, cheese) in your diet with unsaturated fats.

What does “omega” mean?
Most of you are familiar with the saying “alpha to omega”, in other words, beginning to end. The “omega” indicates which carbon has the first double bond on the carbon chain when you start counting from the omega end. For omega 3, the first double bond is on the third carbon from the omega end of the carbon chain. I know you were wanting to review a little biochemistry today!

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are also essential fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are necessary for cardiovascular health, but our body cannot synthesize them. You can only obtain essential fatty acids through the foods you eat.

Omega 3 (Linolenic Acid)

To keep things simple, I am going to use the acronyms ALA, EPA, and DHA. These are all types of omega 3 fatty acids. If we consume a food containing the omega 3 fatty acid ALA, our body will convert it to EPA and DHA. Studies have shown a link between EPA, DHA, and heart disease. More studies are needed to understand ALA’s relationship.


Oils – Canola oil, Soybean oil, Flaxseed oil (good source of ALA)

Seeds and nuts – flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds

Vegetables – avocados, some dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, mustard greens, collards)

Fish (good source of EPA and DHA) – salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, lake trout, herring

Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid)

I am going to throw in more acronym’s – GLA and AA – omega 6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid is converted to GLA and on into AA by the body. Researchers are finding indications of a link between GLA and EPA, in relation to heart health and reduced blood pressure. High intake of sugars, alcohol, trans fats, and various other factors can inhibit the conversion from linoleic acid to GLA.


Oils – Sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, flaxseed oil

Seeds and nuts – flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts

Meat – chicken, beef

For optimum heart health, the ratio between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 should be between 1:1 and 4:1. A practical example of what a 1:1 ratio means, for every 3 ounces of beef you eat, you would need to eat 3 ounces of tuna (I do not mean in the same meal!). The ratio for the typical American diet is 11:1 to 30:1. This poor ratio is linked with heart disease, among several other health issues.

Bottom Line:

For heart health, increase your intake of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, while cutting back on omega-6 fatty acid sources. For example, switch from corn oil to canola oil, increase the number of meals you eat that contain fish each week, and grab walnuts instead of pistachios.

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13 Comments on Get a grip on fatty acids

  1. Tina
    June 3, 2008 at 8:32 am (10 years ago)

    What a great blog! Love the wealth of info!

  2. CupidsReviews Heidi
    June 4, 2008 at 9:44 am (10 years ago)

    All of this food talk is making me extremely hungry! One tip: never bake with Omega 3 eggs…unless you were planning on making fish cakes……….ick!

  3. Lois Smithers
    June 5, 2008 at 3:09 pm (10 years ago)

    Hi Lisa

    This is a great information on the different fats and Omega-s. Thanks for sharing.

    Lois Smithers

  4. Schubsta
    June 8, 2008 at 10:06 am (10 years ago)

    Hehe, I tried a totally different way. Massive amounts of sports. I started playing american football again and visit a gym three times a week. I haven´t lost a single pound, but lost quite some fat. Suits me more, ´cause I can be the most inconsequent person in the world when it comes to diets.



  5. Bobby
    June 8, 2008 at 5:37 pm (10 years ago)

    I agree, great info and very important to know as well. Good job relaying this info Jess!

  6. Lady G
    June 8, 2008 at 11:31 pm (10 years ago)

    Walnuts are great! I love them and slip a few into my porridge, on my salads, with an apple, etc.

  7. Horny Ang Moh
    June 10, 2008 at 2:35 am (10 years ago)

    Wah! Got so many type of fat meh? 🙁 Tq for this nice information! But for me to be healthy I need to do ‘pokeing’ every night! 😀
    BTW tq very much for dropping on my site! Have a very nice day!

  8. Jade
    June 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm (10 years ago)

    Another great way to get omega 3’s is flax seeds 🙂
    However, be warned because I have heard that when the liquid kind you can buy in the health food stores (omega 3 flax seed oil) is exposed to air or light, it can become rancid. Better opt for some soaked flax seeds whole or sprinkled in foods salads etc.!

  9. Happyskinnygirl
    June 19, 2008 at 8:24 am (10 years ago)

    MizFit, Sorry, I missed it. Give me the link? I’ve never tried chia seeds so I don’t know.

  10. MizFit
    June 19, 2008 at 7:05 am (10 years ago)

    did you see my chia post?


    Id love your insight on it (uh, chia. not my post :))


  11. Mark Salinas
    June 30, 2008 at 9:58 am (10 years ago)

    Very nice post indeed…how did I miss this one?