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Balancing Omega 6 to Omega 3 Ratio

September 26, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team


Balancing the Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid consumption can be a bit complex. Most people are eating too much omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be one-to-one. This balance is essential for cardiovascular health.

Understanding Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty Acids

Fats can either be classified as saturated or unsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are a class of unsaturated fats and are characterized by their two or more double bonds. Omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are the only two types of fatty acids that the human body is unable to produce. Both must come from the diet and are therefore termed essential fatty acids.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes and act as precursors to other substances in the body, including those involved in blood pressure regulation and the inflammatory response. The distinction between omega-6s and omega-3s lies within their chemical structures, which, as a result, leads to their unique functions in the body.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, a type of fat your body can’t make. Since the human body can’t produce omega-3s, these fats are referred to as essential fats, meaning that you have to get them from your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower triglycerides, promote blood flow and cardiac and vascular function, and control thrombosis and inflammation. There are many types of omega-3 fats:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

    Its main function is to produce chemicals called eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation. EPA may also help reduce symptoms of depression.

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

    DHA makes up about 8% of brain weight and contributes to brain development and function.

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

    ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA. ALA appears to benefit the heart, immune system, and nervous system.

Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They also have other important functions, including:

  • Fighting inflammation
  • Improving heart health
  • Reducing weight
  • Improving mental health
  • Decreasing liver fat
  • Supporting fetus brain development

Here are foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Salmon - EPA and DHA
  • Mackerel - EPA and DHA
  • Sardines - EPA and DHA
  • Anchovies - EPA and DHA
  • Chia seeds - ALA
  • Walnuts - ALA
  • Flaxseeds - ALA

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Like omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, so you need to obtain them from your diet. Omega-6 fatty acids mainly provide energy. The most common omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which the body can convert to longer omega-6 fats such as arachidonic acid (AA). Linoleic Acid (LA) is found primarily in vegetable oils, along with some nuts and seeds. It can be beneficial for heart health when eaten in moderation. LA acts mainly by lowering LDL cholesterol.

What should be Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio?

The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids should be 1 to 1.

Although it is important to consume both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, too much or too little of one of the two can affect how the other functions in the body. Omega-6s are not inherently bad for you. They can improve cardiovascular health when coming from whole food such as nuts and seeds. But, when omega-6 intake from refined vegetable oils is high, they can promote inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to poor heart health outcomes if accompanied by low omega-3 consumption.

A low intake of omega-3 fatty acids compared with omega-6s may contribute to inflammation and chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart failure.

Tips to Optimize your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio

  • Eat fatty fish like salmon at least twice per week.
  • Replace your salad dressing with olive oil.
  • Avoid restaurant fried food.
  • Limit chicken because it has the most Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Eat more walnuts.

Summary

A low omega-3 intake is the primary driver of poor heart health outcomes. Rather than focusing on cutting back on omega-6 fats, experts recommend adding more omega-3-rich foods into your diet to achieve a better balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

The best way to promote health is to get adequate levels of omega-3, either through fish and seafood consumption or supplementation (like with fish oils). Limit inflammatory omega-6 from seed oils in processed foods. Omega-6 from whole food sources is beneficial and should not be avoided.

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