We’ve talked about the importance of omega-3 fish oil in a previous post. And you’ve probably heard some of the buzz out there about the health benefits of omega-3s. But I think it’s really confusing when discussing omega-6 fatty acids, which are different from omega-3.
Is omega-6 good for you? How much should you ingest compared to the omega-3 fatty acids? What are the foods we eat that help us to balance out these important fatty acids? We’re going to answer these questions and talk about the health benefits of balancing them.
Not all omegas are created equal
First of all, let’s clear up the murky waters a little bit. The world of fats is complex. We find the omegas within the category of unsaturated fats. There are three different kinds of omegas: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. The number refers to how many carbons away from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain that the carbon-carbon double bond appears. So an omega-3 fatty acid is three carbons away, for example.
Most of us don’t care about the chemistry. But what’s important to know is that fats are an essential component of a healthy diet. These fats aren’t just used for energy or stored. They’re biologically active and they’re necessary for things like proper blood clotting and healthy inflammation. Eating the right amount of fat, and getting the right ratio of omegas, is actually crucial to our health. The different omegas do very different things in our bodies.
The omega balancing act
I know omega-3 fish oil is good for you. I also know the best way to get it is in oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, oysters, herring and cod liver oil. I used to think that omega-6 fatty acids are bad for you. Then Carla taught me how we need omega-6 fatty acid, just not in the amount the standard American diet contains of it.
Omega-3 and -6 are both important because they are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies don’t make them, and we have to get them from our food. They each play a role in blood clotting, cell proliferation and inflammation.
Omega-3 helps reduce inflammation (we talk about that a lot here at More Than Healthy). Omega-6 promotes inflammation, which we need in several circumstances for healing and survival. But chronic inflammation causes severe damage and contributes to disease. The typical American diet, which is high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s, increases chronic inflammation.
Having such an imbalance in these two omegas has created a real health problem in our society.
The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
A good goal is to have a ratio of 2:1 (1:1 would even be better) of omega-6 oils to omega-3 oils. Unfortunately, our current diets have a ratio of more like 16:1. This means we’re getting somewhere from 8-16 times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in our diet to the amount of omega-3s.
As a society as a whole, we don’t eat many foods rich in omega-3s like our ancestors did, foods like the oily fish listed above. Instead, we’re eating high amounts of omega-6 fats in the form of hydrogenated oils (like what french fries are cooked in) and processed foods (almost everything processed probably has some level of an omega-6 oil in it).
This throws our ratios way off. We’re getting far too much omega-6 from unhealthy sources, when we should be eating the good omega-6 fats in eggs, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds. (More on this below.)
Get more omega-3
We need to work to balance these important oils in our diet by reducing our intake of all the bad oils and increasing our intake of omega-3 fish oil. Since most of Carla’s clients don’t want to eat more of the oily fish listed above, they supplement with a good fish oil. We recommend taking four Kirkland Signature Natural Fish Oil Concentrate with Omega-3 Fatty Acids a day. That’s a pretty simple fix.
Get less omega-6
The bigger struggle is reducing the omega-6 oils. Getting the right ratio with the standard American diet would mean taking 16 omega-3 fish oil pills a day, and that would have a dramatically negative effect on our bodies as well. We’ve got to work on consuming less omega-6.
Some of the highest sources of omega-6 are soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, and corn oil. Look at the ingredients of any package, and these are likely the oils used. The technology to process these oils didn’t exist until the 20th century. We simply haven’t had time to genetically adapt to the high amounts of omega-6 they contain.
Soybean oil is the single biggest source of omega-6 fatty acids in the U.S. because it’s so cheap. It’s in all kinds of processed foods. From 1909 to 1999, average soybean oil consumption went from zero to 24 pounds per person per year. On average, soybean oil contributes a whopping 7% of total calories we consume. Frighteningly, the amount of omega-6 fatty acids found in stored body fat has increased by more than 200% in just the past 50 years.
The best way you can do to reduce your consumption of omega-6 is to avoid these processed seed and vegetable oils, as well as the processed foods that are made with them. Here is a helpful chart that shows the amount of omega-6 found in each oil, represented by the color blue.
Common Fats and Oils:
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Avoid oils with the large amounts of blue shown above. By reducing the amount of omega-6 oils, and by supplementing daily with omega-3 fish oil, you can start to get these out-of-whack ratios back to much healthier levels.
Let’s talk about four powerful health benefits of balancing your omega-6 fatty acids.
Benefit #1: The right balance of omega-3 and -6 may help get your weight to a healthy level.
You know we don’t focus on weight loss here at More Than Healthy. However, it’s really a nice side benefit to all we do to help people get healthy. I think that most people know eating those fried foods, like french fries, which are usually made with omega-6 oils, leads to weight gain. But did you know that an even bigger culprit is processed foods?
Check out the label on some of your favorite crackers, cookies, or even what should be a healthy treat like trail mix, and see how much cottonseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, or corn oil they are using. I’m telling you it’s in everything!
Excessive amounts of omega-6 in the average American’s diet is proven to increase appetite and weight. They also increase insulin resistance. The science is clear: If you eat too many bad oils that your body can’t use, then it will simply store them for later in the form of fat. Too much of that, and you will become overweight. And I don’t have to tell you about all the negative effects that will have on your body.
This is why Mediterranean-style diets work so well. They’re low in omega-6s and high in omega-3s. So, step away from the chips! Cut down on prepared foods and increase your intake of whole foods that are rich in healthy, slimming omega-3 fats. Doing so will help you to gradually “right size” to a healthy weight.
Benefit #2: The right balance of omega oils is great for brain function.
Here’s another topic Carla and I are always interested in: brain health. Because balanced levels of omega-3 and omega-6 lead to the right amount of inflammation in the body, it also helps improve brain function.
Too many people are walking around with excess inflammation throughout the body and especially in the brain. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Health and a leading authority in this area, says that this imbalance may contribute to depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity, and even some violent tendencies.
If your child is dealing with any of those issues, try lowering their omega-6s and adding more omega-3s and just see if it has a positive effect on them.
Studies published in the journal Aging & Disease have linked unbalanced levels of fatty acids in the blood to the integrity of brain structures and cognitive abilities that typically decline in aging. These studies looked at the frontoparietal network, the part of the brain that influences intelligence and that tends to decline early, even in healthy aging scenarios. They also looked at the center of the brain which is important for memory. Study results showed that the balance of nutrients and fatty acids directly influences cognition, specifically memory.
As someone who struggled so much with brain fog (a side effect of the chronic inflammation I was battling), I have always been worried about Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids are linked to brain changes commonly found in people with Alzheimer’s. This reason alone is motivation for me to make sure I’m getting the right levels of omega-6 in my diet.
Benefit #3: Balancing your omega oils may reduce unhealthy aging.
It totally makes sense that if your body isn’t fighting constant inflammation, you probably won’t see many of the negative effects of aging. Beyond the visible signs of aging that no one likes, this can include cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and, as mentioned above, the brain diseases associated with aging.
A recent study from Tufts University followed 2,622 adults for 23 years. Researchers found that adults in their 70s with higher blood levels of omega-3s from fish had an 18% lower risk of unhealthy aging compared to those whose omega-3 levels were the lowest. In other words, they had balanced their omega-6 and -3 oils to get an optimal level – and they aged in slower, healthier ways.
Anti-aging in the truest sense
I could quote studies on this all day, but the most compelling study of all is the one that Carla and I have done on our own bodies. We’ve worked hard to stay as healthy and active as possible. Part of this has been reducing our omega-6 oils and increasing our omega-3 fish oil.
Last month we went to Florida for very thorough health testing and body scans. We were thrilled when we received our results. Chronologically, I am 66 years old. But epigenetically (or in other words, according to my genes), I now test at age 43. 43!! Just a few years ago, when I was battling so many health issues and chronic pain, I was testing epigenetically older than my actual age. But now, according to my cells, I am a full 23 years younger than my actual age!! Carla had similar results, testing 15 years young than her actual age!
We wholeheartedly believe the key to this anti-aging phenomenon has been lowering our inflammation.
Another benefit that has changed my life immensely is that I no longer deal with chronic pain. I used to be on 10 different medications to manage my pain. But I still dealt with pain at a level 8-10 every single day. Since I’ve worked hard to get rid of that inflammation, I’m off all medications, and my pain is usually zero. Sometimes if I do a lot of intense exercise, it can go up to a 2 or 3, but it doesn’t last, because I no longer have chronic inflammation in my body.
Benefit #4: The right omega oils can help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Once again, this is all about inflammation. Less inflammation, less heart disease. In the Lyon Heart Study, participants were given a ratio of 4:1 of their omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and the results were pretty astounding. Those who had the 4:1 ratio were able to decrease mortality by 70% as compared to the control group that didn’t change their diet.
That’s right – a decrease in death by 70%! These results were so compelling that they brought the control group back after 27 months to get them on the 4:1 ratio as well. It was the responsible thing to do, considering how there were dramatically more deaths occurring in the control group than in the experimental group.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years we’ve been doing this, it’s that maintaining the right amount of inflammation in your body is key to overall optimal health.
Good omega foods to eat
To learn more about omega-3 fish oils, and how to get more of them through your diet, check out our thorough post on the topic here.
The Adequate Intake of omega-6, or AI, is the recommended daily nutrient intake level recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Women need 12,000 milligrams a day, and men need 17,000 milligrams.
Here is a list of some healthy sources of omega-6 fatty acids:
|Sunflower Seeds||9,310 mg||55%|
|Brazil Nuts||6,294 mg||41%|
|Pumpkin Seeds||5,886 mg||35%|
|Peanut Butter||3,931 mg||23%|
|Chicken Thighs||3,792 mg||22%|
|Avocado and its Oil||3,395 mg||20%|
Remember, the goal is to increase the amount of omega-3 you’re getting each day. And then to get the right ratio of omega-6 from healthy sources. The sources really make a difference here.
Other favorite high-omega-6 foods for us include eggs, almonds, cashews, hemp, and grass-fed beef. There are many reasons why grass-fed beef is so important (more on that topic here). One reason is that there are significantly higher levels of omega-3s in grass-fed beef, somewhere between 2-5 times more omega-3s.
Besides the peanut butter, I can eat most of those foods and do so on a regular basis. And…it’s working! My last hair analysis showed a big improvement in the balancing of my fatty acids. I still have to take my omega-3 fish oil as I don’t seem to get enough of that in my diet, but I’m okay with that.
Check your fatty acid levels with a More Than Healthy Hair Analysis
If you don’t know if your omega oils are balanced, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazingly informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report that looks at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and which foods you should avoid.
Go to our website to learn more. You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
Also, be sure to tune in each week for our More Than Healthy weekly tips, as we’ll be talking about the other fatty acids. They’re really important to your health, too.
And remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing with you what’s worked for us on our health journey. You will want to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and supplementation.
We love hearing from you!
As always, we enjoy hearing from you. If you have health questions on the health benefits of balancing your omega-6 fatty acids, or anything else, you can go to our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram (@morethanhealthyliving). We try to respond to all questions. We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve optimal health.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.