Do you have any insight on Omega 7? Someone told me it was good.
– Marie-Rose Nduku
New York, NY
Before we get to the actual answer, I think it is worth reminding everyone that only two omega fatty acids — omega 3 and omega 6 — are essential. In the world of nutrition, an “essential nutrient” is one we must obtain from food since our bodies are unable to manufacture it. This is why cholesterol is not an essential nutrient. Our bodies produce it on a daily basis, so one can be perfectly healthy without ever consuming a single milligram of cholesterol.
Omega-7 is not an essential fatty acid, no matter how crucial manufacturers of omega-7 supplements make it seem. Let’s learn more about it, though.
There are two types of omega-7 fatty acids: palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.
Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid manufactured by our bodies from other fatty acids in the diet, but is also found in decent amounts in fish and macadamia nut oil. Though research on it is very limited, we do know that it raises the body’s levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This is quite an anomaly, since most monounsaturated fatty acids raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
And so we come to the problem of isolating nutrients, rather than considering them within their respective food matrix. Unfortunately, the mainstream media loves to isolate nutrients and attempt to incite unnecessary hysteria. The fact that palmitoleic acid raises LDL levels does not mean fish and macadamia nut oil are now “unhealthy”.
Foods are a combination of fatty acids. In the example of fish, palmitoleic acid makes up a small amount of the total fatty acid percentage. Even in the case of macadamia nut oil, palmitoleic acid only makes up about twenty percent of its fatty acid profile (almost two-thirds of it are comprised of heart-healthy oleic acid).
Vaccenic acid — the other omega-7 — is a healthful naturally-occurring trans fat found in full-fat dairy products (and, to a smaller extent, in reduced-fat products). I know, I know; all this time you have heard trans fats be vilified. However, the trans fats nutritionists declared Public Enemy #1 were man-made, artificial trans fats. Natural trans fats (like vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid) are a whole other story.
Vaccenic acid is an isomer of heart-healthy oleic acid (“isomer” is science-speak for “not identical, but very very similar to”). Research on vaccenic acid has also been rather scant, but it appears that it is converted into conjugated linoleic acid by the body, thereby providing some cardiovascular-protective benefits.
So, what are our takeaways?
- The only fatty acids we must get from food are omega 3 and omega 6 (though, as regular Small Bites readers know, omega-6 consumption in the US is too high).
- When examining a food’s fat content, it is important to consider the entire fatty acid profile.
- There is no reason to shy away from full-fat or reduced-fat products. The fat-free phenomenon of the 1990s caused more harm than good. It led to an increase in added sugar intake (sugar replaced fat in processed low-fat and fat-free convenience foods) and reduced our intake of healthful compounds found in foods that naturally contain them. For this reason, I find that two-percent dairy products are a better choice than fat-free ones. Even in the case of your morning latte, I see absolutely nothing wrong with getting it with whole milk.
- What if you don’t consume dairy products? No biggie. Vaccenic acid is simply one of many fatty acids that provide heart-healthy benefits. As long as most of your fats come from the right foods (avocados, olives, walnuts, coconut, flax, fish, sea vegetables, etc.) you have no reason to be concerned.
- As for the “age defying skin complex” statement on the accompanying supplement image’s bottle: omega-7 has been found to be effective as a topical solution for certain skin conditions. The specific omega-7 associated with skin conditions is palmitoleic acid — the one our bodies manufacture from other fatty acids! There is no need to spend money on a supplement.