Omega-3 and 6 are essential fats, they are not produced by our bodies and therefore need to be consumed as part of a healthy diet. Both Omega-3 and 6 are needed for normal growth, proper brain function and development.
Omega -3 can help with rheumatoid arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s and reducing the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 is also very important for nerve and brain health. A deficiency in omega-3 can cause fatigue, dry skin, poor memory, heart problems and poor blood circulation. Consuming foods high in omega-3 can reduce fats in the blood and increase HDL (the good cholesterol). The highest source of omega-3 can be found in oily fish such as salmon. Other sources of omega-3 include mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, tuna, walnuts nuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.
There are 11 types of omega-3 fatty acids. Although they seem to all have the same effect, it would be beneficial to know the two major types. The first is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This type is found in vegetable oils, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Bear in mind that the vegetables oils only contain a very small amount of omega-3 and high amounts of omega-6.The other type is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This type is found in fish. The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA.
Omega-6 fatty acids are mainly pro-inflammation. Omega-6 can help with Diabetic neuropathy, ADHD, High blood pressure and many more. Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil etc. it can also be found in nuts and seeds, butter and margarine. The standard westerner diet contains a high amount of omega-6. Not only is supplementation not needed but we should reduce the amount of omega-6 we consume. In the standard western diet we consume a high amount of omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Both fats are vitally important for the body but there is a balance that’s needs to be maintained. The ratio for omega-3 to omega-6 should be 1:1, the ratio being 1:8 is when disease starts to develop in the body. But quite surprisingly the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in an average person is 1:16 to 1:40. This plays a big role with inflammation because most omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. So someone who has been diagnosed with inflammation or diseases that are caused by inflammation should reduce their omega-6 intake and increase their omega-3 intake. As we known many chronic diseases are caused by inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, Asthma etc.
Seed and vegetable oils – For about a hundred years we have been able to derive oil from seeds and vegetables, this meant a high amount of oil being produced for cooking purposes, in particular the production of soy bean oil. In this time the amount of omega-6 in our bodies has increased subsequently as well. These oils are high in omega-6. If you take a few minutes to analyse your diet I am sure a lot of you will realise that you consume a high amount of these oils. A lot of food is cooked in vegetable oil, corn oil, sunflower oil etc.
Below is a list of the foods high in omega-6 that should be reduced in your diet:
|Omega-6 per Ounce|
|Grape Seed Oil||19485mg|
|Nuts and seeds||9260mg – 5000mg|
|Sweets, cakes , pastries, biscuits||1429mg – 500mg|
|Pork products||935mg – 110mg|
After taking a quick glance at the table above I’m sure we all consume a lot of these foods on a daily/weekly basis. But that’s alright because now we can work on cutting them out. The thing to do is to stop eating fast foods, sweets, cakes, pastries, and biscuits. For the other foods on the table it is a little harder but we can make changes. Below are some suggestions:
Vegetable Oils – switch to coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil or other such oils as they are low in omega-6 (although coconut oil would be your best choice) and stop deep frying food. Rather than deep frying you can use other methods of cooking food such as grilling, roasting etc.
Margarine – switch to butter, they are both high in omega-6 fatty acids but margarine has 2195mg and butter has only 764mg per cup, that’s roughly 3 times more omega-6 in margarine.
Nuts and seeds are actually good for us and we don’t consume much of them in a western diet. So I wouldn’t remove them from my diet but would rather reduce the consumption of other foods which aren’t as nutritional such as vegetable oils or margarine.
Pork products and meat – switch these meats with fish. So if you consume let’s say 8 portions of some sort of meat a week you can reduce that to 4 portions of meat and 4 portion of fish instead. Fish are high in omega-3 especially oily fish like salmon. Therefore you’re not only reducing your omega-6 intake but actually increasing your omega-3 intake as well.
Now let’s look at foods that are high in omega-3 and a low in omega-6.
|Per Ounce (either average or highest to lowest)|
|Seafood (Caviar to Crayfish)||1901mg – 48.7mg|
|Fish (salmon to Tuna, yellowfin)||318mg – 68mg|
|Green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage etc)||38.6mg|
|Tropical Fruit (papaya, mango, kiwi fruit, melon)||7mg|
|Seeds (flax and chia)||4915mg|
|Salads (Lettuce, watercress, Rocket)||2.8mg|
As you can see from the table above omega-3 is not only in fish and seafood but also in vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Now that you have a clearer picture of foods that contain omega-3 it will make it easier for you to increase your intake. Furthermore I would like to stress that it is not only the amount of omega-3 in the food that is important, it is also very important to see the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, so do bear that in mind. Also the amount of omega-6 to consume is about 1 to 4 % of your daily calorie intake.
I hope this post was helpful in understanding what omega fatty acids are and which foods contain them. To help plan your diet you can use http://nutritiondata.self.com/. This website gives a thorough breakdown of every food so you can plan your meals better. If you don’t know what your ratio is then track yourself for a day or two using the above website and then do a total of the omega-6 and omega-3 values. It will be an eye opener because we don’t realise how bad our diet is until we start to track everything.
[Note: This blog is only for informational purposes only. It is not medical advice or diagnosis. Please consult with a Health care practitioner before making any diet, nutrition changes or when starting a new fitness program.