The typical modern Western Diet has caused a distorted ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 intake. Majority of people are consuming Omega-6 fatty acids and don’t even know it. Omega-3 intake however has been reported to be the lowest it has ever been. Both Omega-3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids, meaning the body cannot make them on their own. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which basically just means that they have many double bonds. These fatty acids differ from most fats because they are not just used for energy, but have biologically active roles in physiological processes like blood clotting and inflammation. So, which one should we be eating more of?
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6
Omega-3’s are found in the fat of cold water fish, such as salmon, sardine, herring, mackerel, black cod and blue-fish. This fatty acid is considered the building block for hormones that regulate immune function, blood clotting and cell growth. They also serve as an important component of the cell membrane. Contrariwise, omega-6 fatty acids are extremely prevalent in modern diets. They are found in nuts and seeds, and the oils that are extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils serve as an important component to most processed foods such as cookies, crackers and sweets. While omega-6 fatty acids may be found in less nutritious foods, they still serve an important role in the body. Hormones created from omega-6 fatty acids ultimately do the opposite of hormones created from omega-3 fatty acids. They increase inflammation, blood clots and assist with cell growth.
A Healthy Balance
Hormones derived from omega-6 and omega-3 must be balanced to assume optimal health. Most North Americans and Europeans obtain ample omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. The nation’s rise in asthma, coronary heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases may be linked, at least in part, to this dietary imbalance. Bringing the two fatty acids into proper balance may help to alleviate some of these chronic conditions.
Reduce 6, Increase 3
Simple substitutes can help increase the amount of omega-3 you are consuming on a daily basis. Reducing consumption of fast and processed foods will lower your intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Instead, cook at home and use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and dressing salads. Additionally, you can eat more fatty fish, walnuts, flax-seeds or omega-3 fortified eggs. Fish oil supplements can also be a great addition to a balanced diet (just talk about it with your doctor first as it can thin blood)!
Written by GUADS intern Lindsey with contributions from drweil.com