We hear more and more about Omega 7 Health Benefits in the Health and Wellness Industry. You might be familiar with the fatty acids omega 3, 6, and 9. A healthy balance of these unsaturated fatty acids positively affects brain and heart health, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, weight loss, and more.
Fatty acids are an essential part of a well-balanced diet. They serve a multitude of functions in the body including energy production, temperature regulation, organ protection, brain function, cellular development, balancing cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and the absorption of certain essential vitamins and nutrients.
Along with Protein and Carbohydrates, Fats are a part of the three core macronutrients the human body needs to function. The healthiest balance for most individuals is a 33-33-33% ratio. This means in your daily diet, each macronutrient should be evenly distributed throughout your meals and consumption.
Recent History of Fat
Over the years we have heard much conflicting information about the different types of fat and whether or not they are good for us. At one point in the 80s, scientists believed that fat, especially saturated fat was dangerous and even deadly. People began to believe that fat equaled weight gain or obesity.
In the meantime, the food industries began searching for alternatives to saturated fats like butter. Products were invented in labs to offer "healthy alternatives" like margarine or canola oil.
Other low-fat or non-fat labels were added to food to reduce the consumption of fat, specifically saturated fat. Everything from milk, yogurt, pudding, baked goods, and more was claimed to be fat-free. Consequently, in order to make things "fat-free" or "low-fat", scientists had to chemically alter natural substances in food. The discreetly hidden ingredient labels became a mile long. Over time, consumers of these new products began to find that they were gaining weight rather than losing weight. Consuming chemically altered foods and poor-quality oils was causing a health crisis.
Slowly but surely we are realizing the error of the fat-free fad years and how important healthy fat really is!
When consumers opted for low-fat dietary substitutions, a myriad of health issues occurred. Carbohydrates, refined oils, and processed foods were increased which caused a surge in weight and inflammatory problems. Often, these low-fat foods were hydrogenated oils, unstable oils that turned to trans fats and free radicals, and poor-quality omega-6 fatty acids. Essentially, macronutrients and the essential omega 3:6 ratio became highly imbalanced and we had to start back to square one.
Recently, studies have shown that a diet with a good balance of healthy fats actually improves overall health, encourages healthy cholesterol levels, supports weight management, and even has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Types of Dietary Fat
There are 4 main types of fat found in our food: Polyunsaturated fats, Monounsaturated fats, Saturated fats, and Trans fats.
Trans Fats are bad fats. They occur when certain unstable fats are altered by adding heat in the presence of hydrogen atoms and a catalyst (usually nickel). Carbon atoms of the oil break a double bond with other carbons, creating trans fats. The goal of partially hydrogenated oils was originally meant to lower polyunsaturated fat levels. While this may have happened, it also created trans fats and produced free radicals which cause oxidative stress and cardiovascular disease.
Trans fats can also be created by heating unstable oils in high heat. This often occurs in deep-fried foods. When these types of fats are heated at high levels, they create trans fats that clog arteries, trigger inflammatory cytokines, and increase the risk of heart disease.
Needless to say, it is important to avoid trans fat consumption. One way to check for trans fats is on the nutrition label. It is important to note that 0% trans fat does not mean there is no trans fat. It just means it is below 1% of the serving total. ANY trans fat is BAD!
Check the ingredients label for hydrogenated oils, artificial ingredients and chemicals, and poor-quality oils like cottonseed, sunflower oil, and canola oil. Avoid these at all costs. Choose high-quality stable cooking oils with a high smoking point like avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee. They can stand up to heat and won't turn rancid, or create trans fats or free radicals.
Avoid fried foods and highly processed foods. Be especially wary of packaged foods. Choose high-quality and whole-food ingredients and recipes.
Saturated fats have single-bond fatty acid chains. They are solid at room temperature and below, stable with a high smoke point, and do not create free radicals as readily as other fatty acids when subjected to higher temperatures. In the past, saturated fats got a bad rap for increasing bad cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). An imbalance of LDL cholesterol can put a strain on cardiovascular health and increases the risk for fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.
However, quality sources of saturated fats actually lower LDL and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good cholesterol". It is important to have a healthy balance of LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Saturated Fats have been demonized for centuries for clogging arteries and harming cardiovascular health, but recent studies discovered it is the opposite of the truth.
Saturated fats are the ideal oil to use for cooking, due to their high smoking point. They are naturally included in many of our healthiest foods including avocado, coconut, unprocessed animal products, and certain nuts and seeds.
These fats make up a large number of our cells and help protect many healthy bodily functions as well as the absorption of essential nutrients. In moderation, high-quality saturated fats are an important part of a well-balanced diet.
Polyunsaturated fats have multiple double-bond fatty acid chains. There are many different kinds of polyunsaturated fats, some are healthy, and others are not. The differences between the healthy and unhealthy of these fatty acids depend on the source and how they are used. Sunflower, corn, rapeseed (canola), and soybean vegetable oils are a few of the polyunsaturated oils which are typically highly processed, refined, and genetically modified. These oils often contain high levels of omega 6, which can throw off the ideal ratio of omega 3:6 which can lead to increased inflammation.
This processing increases their shelf life, as well as the risk of them turning into trans fatty acids and producing dangerous free radicals.
Oily fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are examples of healthy polyunsaturated fats. Low heat should always be used if needed when cooking with polyunsaturated fats. If overheating is avoided, these high-quality food sources can be incredibly healthy.
Fatty fish contain some of the highest amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the forms of omega 3 that are found in cold water fish and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids have a beneficial effect on inflammation and promote healthy skin, and brain health while reducing high blood pressure levels. (see also our article on black seed oil benefits.)
Walnuts are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. ALA has positive effects on heart health and function.
To consume these healthy fats, you can add these high-quality foods to recipes or take omega 3 in supplement form. Fish oil supplements are another popular way to get the recommended daily dose of omega-3.
Monounsaturated fats have a single unsaturated carbon bond in their molecule, also known as a double bond. These fats are liquid at room temperature and turn to solid when refrigerated. Monounsaturated fats are slightly more stable than polyunsaturated fats but temperature regulation is still needed. Much like other types of fat, there are healthy and unhealthy versions. Peanut oil, canola oil, sesame oil, and safflower oil are all forms of monounsaturated fats that can be unhealthy. Many of these oils are chemically processed, refined, or genetically modified.
It is important to choose high-quality products to avoid potential health risks. Some examples of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids are Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Peanuts, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, and Macadamia Nuts. Olive oil and other MUFs should be heated on medium-low heat at most. If you need to cook with higher heat, consider using a more stable lipid.
Omega 7s are considered a monounsaturated fatty acid and are found in very few plant food sources. Macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn seeds are two of the most prevalent sources. Omega 9 is also a MUFA and is found in macadamia, avocado, almond, sunflower, and hazelnut and is highly anti-inflammatory and beneficial to many systems in the body, including cardiovascular.
We will discuss the incredible benefits of the lesser-known essential fatty acid, omega 7 in a moment. First, it is important to know the difference between Omega 3, 6, 7, and 9.
Omega 3, 6, 7, and 9
Simply put, the omega numbers are related to how many carbon atoms they are from the end of the fatty acid chain.
Omegas 3 and 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated while 7 and 9 are monounsaturated.
Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids, which means the body does not produce them on its own. They need to be consumed from foods. Omegas 7 and 9 are non-essential, which means they are naturally produced in the body. However, it is still beneficial to consume them in your food. Food sources of omegas 7 and 9 are filled with benefits.
Omega 3 and 9 have similar anti-inflammatory effects. These effects benefit many different conditions from rheumatoid arthritis to heart disease and even cancer.
Omega 6 or its precursor linoleic acid (LA) has a more pro-inflammatory effect, which can cause issues in large quantities. The Standard American Diet tends to be high in omega 6 and lacking in omega 3. Since these two are essential, it is important to keep them in balance. For optimal cardiovascular and inflammatory health, consume a minimum ratio of 1:4 omega 3:6. This means for every 4 grams of omega 6, be sure to consume 1 gram of omega 3.
Benefits of Omega-7
As mentioned before, omega 7 is a lesser-known mono-unsaturated fatty acid. It is naturally produced in the body. However, it is beneficial to consume omega-7-rich foods as a part of a balanced diet.
These fatty acids can be broken down into 3 forms: palmitoleic acid, vaccenic acid, and runenic acid. Palmitoleic acid is the form that scientists have found most prevalent and beneficial to the body. in fact, it is found in the highest concentrations in the liver. Omega 7 health benefits are pretty incredible. Check it out:
- Omega-7 supports a healthy cardiovascular system by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. It also promotes healthy blood vessels and reduces the occurrence of plaque in the arteries.
- Improves skin hydration and suppleness
- 7's potent antioxidants hydrate mucous membranes in the body to prevent dry eye, nasal passages, dry mouth, and constipation.
- The antioxidants also improve cellular repair which promotes faster wound healing.
- Promotes collagen production, improving skin health and reducing the signs of aging
- Anti-inflammatory- Research links omega 7 intakes with healthy c-reactive protein levels. Elevated levels of this protein are linked to chronic inflammatory diseases.
- Helps symptoms of postmenopausal women by acting as a hormone in the body without increasing estrogen levels. This discovery has been revolutionary as it is thought to be able to replace hormone replacement therapy in many cases. This can help with many unpleasant symptoms related to menopause.
- Lowers triglyceride levels and reduces the risks of coronary heart disease
- Improves metabolism, especially fat metabolism.
- Promotes management of healthy weight. It also aids in a full feeling, which helps maintain portion control.
Sources of Omega 7
While Omega 7 fatty acids can be produced naturally in the body, there are few natural sources of omega 7.
Salmon and other fatty fish sometimes have low levels of omega-7. While they are rich in EPA and DHA (Omega 3), they have lower levels of Omega 7. Olive and avocado also have trace amounts of omega 7 alongside many other healthy fats.
The most prevalent natural sources of palmitoleic acid are sea buckthorn berries and macadamia nuts.
Sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides) is a spiny flowering shrub native to Europe and Asia. It is commonly cold-pressed from the sea buckthorn seed or fruit pulp into oil or dried and ground into a powder. This is an incredibly healthy fruit that is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants, and all omega fatty acids 3, 6, 7, and 9. This powerful combination of nutrients makes it a potent superfood. Its benefits range from anti-inflammatory to anti-carcinogenic. Sea buckthorn oil can be found in health food stores or online in dietary supplements.
Macadamia nuts can be consumed raw or lightly roasted or cold pressed into macadamia oil. Along with sea buckthorn, it is one of the richest food sources of palmitoleic acid. Macadamia nuts are actually seeds that grow on a tree in tropical climates. They are indigenous to Australia and are considered the most expensive nut in the world, due to their long cultivation process. It takes 7-10 years until macadamia nuts are ready to harvest. Then they must be removed from their very tough shell with a powerful nutcracker.
Macadamia nuts can be used in baked goods, trail mixes, cereals, and baked goods. Macadamia nut oil and sea buckthorn berry oil can be used in whole food recipes like hummus and salad dressings, or transdermally (topically).
It is far easier to find macadamia nuts than sea buckthorn, however. Searching for the highest quality product from reputable vendors is key!
Another way to consume Omega 7 is through supplements. It is very important to consider the source of the supplement.
It is better to avoid supplements extracted from fish. Since there is very little omega 7 in fish, quite a bit of chemical separation is required in order to extract it efficiently. It is best to find sources that use sea buckthorn or macadamia.
We covered many topics involving fatty acids and their function in our diet and bodies. Remember, this post is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet or supplement regimen. Omega fatty acid supplementation can be contraindicated in certain situations.
Have you heard of Omega 7 and its many newly discovered benefits? Let us know how it has helped you in the comments below!