When you’re trying to live a health-conscious life, as more and more people seem to be interested in nowadays, you should be focused on regular exercise, high-quality sleep, low-stress levels, and of course, proper nutrition.
Proper nutrition isn’t just about eating your 5 a day or drinking a smoothie every morning, it’s also about keeping a track of your micronutrient consumption and knowing what you need to consume to have the healthiest body and mind possible.
Two of these ‘essentials’ are omega 6 and omega 3, fatty acids that provide a wide range of health benefits in the right amounts, and if they’re balanced properly…
The ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 is something that’s been spoken about a lot since the world started to consume large amounts of processed foods that contained high levels of omega 6 in the mid-20th century. The consumption of omega 6 and omega 3 has to be balanced to ensure the body functions properly and to avoid chronic inflammation and other illnesses.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, or you’re aware of the necessity of taking both fatty acids but you’re unsure why they need to be balanced or how to balance them, this article is here to help you!
Think of this article as your omega 101, telling you why omega 6 and omega 3 are essential, why they need to be balanced, which foods contain these acids, and how to make sure your consumption of both is as balanced as possible!
What is Omega 6?
Omega 6 fats are healthy, unsaturated types of fats. There are four main types of omega 6 fats – linoleic acid (LA) arachidonic acid (AA), gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Omega 6 fatty acids are essential because the body can’t produce them, so they have to be consumed. They’re vital because they provide energy to the body. They also regulate genes, boost immunity, and support blood clotting. There are also claims that omega 6 can help to reduce symptoms of chronic illnesses, but there’s not enough research to back up these claims.
Omega 6 type arachidonic acid produces eicosanoids that are help inflammation, which supports the immune system in the right amount. However, if there are too many eicosanoids, this can lead to chronic inflammation and other serious illnesses.
What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 fats are also healthy, unsaturated types of fats. There are three main different types of omega 3 fats – alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Just like omega 6 fats, omega 3 fats are essential because they can’t be produced by the body and they have to be consumed. They are a vital part of cell membranes, supporting the function of cell receptors.
They also improve heart health, support mental health, help with brain development in children, and manage inflammation.
Why Is A Balance Between Omega 6 and Omega 3 Necessary?
Although omega 6 and omega 3 are both essential, too much of one will actually counteract the benefits of the other, so it’s really essential to consume a balanced amount of both.
If there’s a low intake of omega 3, and a high intake of omega 6, inflammation, heart problems, obesity, and chronic illnesses may occur. However, if you consume too much omega 3, free radicals may occur in the body, the immune system may become lower and you may experience bleeding (for example, nosebleeds and gums bleeding).
Research suggests that before food become industrialized, the estimated ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 was 1:1. However, today, the ratio sits around 10:1.
Therefore, this high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the modern world is often associated with obesity, chronic inflammation, cardiovascular illnesses, and even cancer.
How To Reduce Omega 6 Intake
The biggest contributors to the rise in the omega 6 part of the ratio are seed and vegetable oils. Nearly every processed food contains a type of seed or vegetable oil, which will be packed with omega 6.
Seeing as a lot of people have processed foods in their diet, they’re consuming a much higher amount of omega 6 than they naturally should, due to these oils.
So, to reduce omega 6 intake, consume less seed and vegetable oils. The most omega 6 rich oils are sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil.
Foods High In Omega 3
If you want to increase your omega 3 intake, you should be looking at animal foods. Many types of fish, including salmon, herring, and mackerel are rich in omega 3. Red meat is also rich in omega 3, but try to go for a grass-fed type of meat rather than corn-fed, to reduce the omega 6 intake.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan it’s obviously a little harder to have a good omega 3 intake. However, it’s not only meat and fish that’s packed with omega 3, there are a few plant-based foods that you can consume to get your dose of omega 3.
The best omega 3 rich plant-based foods are flaxseed, chia seed, hemp seed,
Brussel sprouts, and edamame.
3 Tips To Balancing Omega 6 and Omega 3
As mentioned above, in most cases, the problem with balancing these omegas is that the consumption of omega 6 is much higher than the consumption of omega 3.
Ideally, the perfect ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is 1:1, but it could be as high as 4:1 and still be considered healthy. As mentioned above, the estimated ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in most people is 10:1.
So, really, what most people need to do is decrease the amount of omega 6 that they’re consuming, and increase their consumption of omega 3.
Following these three basic tips below, you should be able to make your omega ratio much closer to 1:1 than 10:1.
Reduce Your Consumption of Vegetable Oils
Obviously, the biggest contributor to increase omega 6 intake is seed and vegetable oils, so very simply, all you need to do is reduce your consumption of these types of oils. This is the most important thing you need to do, hence it even has two parts to it!
Part one is that you need to check processed food ingredients. Even if you’re consuming processed food, you should make the decision to only consume healthy processed food that’s low in seed and vegetable oils. So, try to look and check for omega 6 rich oils such as sunflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil on ingredients labels, and go for a healthier option.
The second thing that you need to do is replace the cooking oil that you have in the kitchen if it’s a ‘bad’ omega 6 rich oil. So, get rid of your sunflower oil and opt for healthy olive oil to cook with from now on.
Prepare Fresh Food More
Due to the fact that omega 6 could be hiding anywhere in processed foods, it’s a good idea to prepare your own food using fresh ingredients, as often as you can. Not only will cooking fresh reduce your omega 6 consumption, but it could increase your omega 3 consumption, if you’re preparing red meat, fish, or plant-based omega 3 rich foods.
Eat Fish More Often
Fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, are the best providers of omega 3, so you can simply make a change by eating fish more often! Try to eat fish at least twice a week to reap the benefits of omega 3.
Supplement If Necessary
Now, I’m saying supplement ‘if necessary’ for a reason. If you live a healthy life in terms of omegas, as I’ve just suggested (you eat fish, cook fresh food and avoid vegetable oils), it’s very unlikely that you will need to take a supplement.
However, if you don’t eat fish and you’re not consuming a large amount of the plant-based omega 3 rich sources mentioned above, you might want to reach for an omega 3 supplement in an attempt to balance your ratio.
If you didn’t realize how important the omega 6 and omega 3 balance was before now, you really have been missing out on this key nutrition knowledge!
However, now that you’ve had the omegas 101, you should be fully prepared to balance the consumption of both, therefore benefiting from both and not allowing yourself to come to harm by consuming too much of either one.
All the best of luck balancing your omega consumption, and just remember – more fish, more fresh food, and less vegetable oil!