Omega 6 versus Omega 3
When it comes to our health, there is one ratio you should really understand, and that is the ratio omega 6 to omega 3.
Omega 6 and omega 3 are both fatty acids. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and they are important because they provide cellular structure and help the brain function. Both omega 6 and omega 3 must be acquired from food.
The ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is as close to 1:1 as possible. 3:1 is okay. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us eat too many omega 6 fats and have a ratio closer to 20:1. And current research suggests that a high omega 6:3 ratio leads to inflammation, metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.
Why is our omega 6 to omega 3 ratio so off?
Omega 6 fatty acids are found in processed foods and in the most common cooking oils, such as canola, soybean, vegetable, and grape seed. The bottom line is that a diet high in processed foods, conventional meat and dairy, and industrial seed oils contains large amounts of omega 6 fatty acid and significantly increases the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.
So, what can we do?
Emerging evidence shows that in order to achieve optimal health, we need to bring down our omega 6 consumption in a big way! Let’s dive into what types of foods contain each of these fatty acids and learn how we can consume less omega 6 and more omega 3.
What is Omega 6?
As you will see, it’s really not the bad guy, when consumed in the correct ratio! Some of the benefits of a healthy amount of omega 6 include:
- Heart health
- Optimal brain health and function
- High energy
Sources of Omega 6
Linoleic acid is the most common omega 6 fatty acid. Sources include:
- Walnuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds
- Hemp seeds, sunflower seeds
- Vegetable/fruit/seed oils
Arachidonic acid is another type of omega 6 fatty acid that can be found in fish, meat, and eggs.
When is Omega 6 Dangerous?
It is important to note that omega 6 can be inflammatory in large amounts. Much of the typical American diet contains large amounts of omega 6 fatty acids, including processed foods and industrial seed oils, such as:
- Chips and crackers
- Packaged baked goods
- Vegetable oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Restaurant food
- Most salad dressings
- Granola bars
We should prioritize reducing or eliminating all processed sources of omega 6 in order to achieve a better balance of omega 6 to omega 3.
What is Omega 3?
In general, we don’t get enough quality omega 3 fatty acids from the food we eat, which again throws off the ratio. This is a problem because omega 3 fatty acids are not associated with some major health benefits like:
- Supports cardiovascular, immune, and nervous system
- Promotes healthy aging throughout life
- Critical for fetal development
- Promotes brain health (protects against dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases)
- Promotes eye health, especially the retina
Sources of Omega 3
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common omega 3 fatty acid and is found in plant sources such as flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and some green leafy vegetables. ALA is also found in canola and soybean oils, however, most of those oils are stripped of all of their health benefits and cause incredible inflammation in our bodies based on how they are processed. You need to find cold-pressed oils to make sure the omega 3 is still intact.
Better than plant sources, fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring (SMASH) are some of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Pasture-raised eggs are also a good source. But quality surely matters here! Pasture-raised eggs have substantially more omega 3 than a conventional egg. For example, the ratio of omega 6:3 in pasture-raised eggs is almost 1:1 (anti-inflammatory and healthy) versus conventionally raised eggs 19:1 (very inflammatory and not healthy). Quality fish oil supplements are also a source of omega 3.
Aim to eat SMASH fish at least 3 times/week. Or take a daily omega 3 supplement. This along with the elimination of most processed foods will make a huge impact! The benefits are too numerous to count, and your heart, brain, eyes, and entire body will thank you from the bottom of their cell membranes!
Why the Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio is Important
Having an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio as close to 1:1 results in a plethora of health benefits. This ratio is highly dependent on the type and quality of the foods we consume.
In general, to balance out this ratio:
- Eat more omega 3 polyunsaturated fats
- Reduce our consumption of omega 6 polyunsaturated fats
- Prioritize foods that have a balanced omega 6 to omega 3 ratio
- Aim to eat fatty fish, preferably wild caught and SMASH three times a week
- Prioritize grass-fed, grass-finished meat and dairy
- Prioritize pasture-raised eggs
- Eliminate processed foods
- Eliminate packaged desserts
- Eliminate ALL seed oils
- Cook at home instead of eating out
- Cook with ghee, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and tallow
- Eat more leafy greens
Even if you can bring the ratio down to 3:1, you can start to reverse neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, you can even increase your lifespan or at least improve your “health span” (the amount of time that you are healthy).