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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Omega 3, 6, and 9: What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Not all fats are created equal—learn which fats are important to your health.

For years, we cardiologists have badgered our patients to eat a low-fat diet without understanding that our well-intentioned advice may not be very well informed. The fact is, the body craves fat for good reasons. Fat is important in satiety, allowing us to feel full and satisfied. It also contributes a great deal to the flavor of the food we eat. But not all fats are created equal.

The fats that are most harmful to our hearts are trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are found most commonly in processed foods, while saturated fats come from meat, dairy, and other animal sources, and from tropical oils.

Omega 3, 6, and 9 fats are the most common forms of polyunsaturated fats. Although just as caloric as the less healthy fats, they are vital to our heart health. Omega-3’s are abundant in cold-water fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil. Common sources of omega-6 fats include vegetable oils and sunflower seed oil. We need both, but our typical Western diet includes far more omega-6 than omega-3. This is important, because both compete for the same enzymes that allow them to be broken down and put to use by the body. If we have too much omega-6 fat, then the omega-3 that we eat is less available to our cells.

Omega-9 fats are found in olive oil and canola oil, and are broken down through a different set of enzymes. Olive oil in particular has a wide variety of heart-healthy elements, and has been linked to a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

When choosing a dietary supplement, it makes no sense to take a product that includes omega 6 and 9 fats, since we can easily get plenty of those from the foods we eat. Many people don’t get adequate amounts of omega-3’s. If your diet does not include cold-water fish, such as salmon or tuna, at least twice per week, an omega-3 supplement on the order of 1,000 mg is a great idea, and a good investment in your health. As with any supplement, be sure to check with your doctor first.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , High Blood Pressure , Risk Factors for Heart Disease , Supplements

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.