Do you know the difference between Omega 3 and 6 fats? Omega 6 fats are pro-inflammatory and omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory fats.
Yet they are both labeled polyunsaturated fats. So we dig into the difference and debunk both of them in this podcast.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The difference between omega 6 and omega 3 fats
- Food sources of omega 6 and 3
- Why the ratio of omega 6 and 3 is important
- How these fatty acids affect our health
- 10 steps to balance our intake of omega 3 and 6
In today’s podcast we are going to chat about omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids. You may or may not have heard of these before, so if you have you might pick up on something new. And if you haven’t you will get to know them better, the difference between the two and why it’s important to know.
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Well that’s enough of this weeks updates, let’s start digging into the topic of today’s podcast, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fats, we’ve all heard of that right?
But both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids come under the umbrella of polyunsaturated fats, and yet they are both very different.
I remember asking my university lecturer about the reason why polyunsaturated fats have been promoted so heavily as “healthy” fats when omega 6 fats are know to be not so healthy. She said it was likely due to the evidence around the benefits of omega 3s for health.
Sure, I can accept that.
However, it is usually not things like fish or sardines that are promoted as a healthy polyunsaturated fat. It’s things like unsaturated vegetable oils and margarines that are full of omega 6 fatty acids and there is PLENTY of research to show that these are pro-inflammatory and bad for our health.
Polyunsaturated fats include both omega 6 and omega 3.
Examples of omega 6 fatty acids are vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, grains and conventional meats.
Examples of omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, flaxseed and chia.
So here we are faced with yet another one of ‘those’ health claims that isn’t exactly right because both of these fatty acids produce very different outcomes in the body. But before we dig into that, let’s look at the major omega 6 sources a little more closely.
Major Omega 6 Sources
- Vegetable oils – such as corn, safflower, soybean, grapeseed, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and so forth. These are the biggest contributors. Think about all the processed food products that contain these oils…all of them. Check out the labels when you go shopping. It’s rare to find olive oil in something, which is a pity because olive oil is a very healthy anti-inflammatory oil. You’ll also find canola oil is used a lot. Canola is a monounsaturated fat but is highly processed and we covered that back in episode 34 of the GFE podcast, so head back there to find out more about canola.
The second item with omega 6 is Grains – you might have heard that grains are high in omega 6 and while it’s true, the omega 6 content is rather low compared to oils and fats. For example: there is only 1 g of omega 6 and lower per 100 g compared to safflower oil with 74 g per 100 g of omega 6. The main issue with grains is that they do get consumed in large quantities, so in that sense they can add to your omega 6 overload.
- Conventional meats – because most farmed animals today are fed grains, conventional meats also contain omega 6. Again, it’s not at super high levels like the oils but it’s a food source to be aware of. Grass fed meat contains less omega 6 and higher omega 3s, having a better ratio of the two, and we’ll soon find out why all this is important.
- Nuts & Seeds – do contain omega 6, but the benefit of nuts and seeds is they also contain loads of other vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Nuts are really only meant to be eaten in small portions so as long as you keep it that way you’re fine.
The nuts/seeds highest in omega 6 include sunflower seeds, butternuts, and pine nuts. Do I still eat these? Yes I do but not all the time.
Next let’s look at major Omega 3 Sources
- Chia seeds
- Free range eggs are higher in omega 3
- Wild salmon is better than farmed
- Grass fed beef is better than conventional
- Wild animals are better than farmed animals
- Milk and cheese from grass fed animals contain omega 3, others don’t
This is not an extensive list of all omega 6 and omega 3 sources but it gives you an idea of where each of these comes from.
So what’s the big deal about omega 6 and omega 3 anyway?
The basics of it are this:
- Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory
- Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory
Both are ‘essential’ fatty acids because the body can’t produce them internally but unfortunately in our modern diet most of us eat too many omega 6 foods and not enough omega 3. And, just about all foods in the modern diet have reduced omega 3 fat content.
The ratio of omega 6/3 in the body is very important to ward off health conditions.
Studies show that Western diets range anywhere from 15:1 to 20:1 omega 6 to 3 ratio.
Ideally the ratio should be around 2:1 or a maximum of 4:1.
And this major difference between what the ratio should be and what it is for most of us, may be a key contributor to ill health because an Imbalance in Omega 6 / Omega 3 Can Have Health Implications
There is evidence that changes in fatty acid composition in the body:
- Effect the brain and lead to depression
- Influence serotonin levels
- Increase autoimmune disease risk
- Increase risk of chronic conditions
Many chronic health conditions can be triggered by increased inflammation, as many of you know we’ve covered this a lot on this podcast. Studies have shown that inflammation is associated with conditions such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes, cancer, obesity, autoimmune conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, depression, and various other things.
These conditions are all associated with increased production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokine’s, which increase with omega 6 and decrease with omega 3.
If you can imagine that huge imbalance between these fats in the body you can start to comprehend how it could be a problem, particularly in increasing inflammation.
So why does this happen?
It All Has To Do With Metabolism of Omega 6 and Omega 3
Both omega 3 and omega 6 have to go through an elongation and desaturation process to make them useful for the body. The main issue is they both use the same enzymes to get broken down in the body, and out of that metabolic process they produce what’s called eicosanoids.
- The eicosanoids from omega 6 are pro-inflammatory
- The ones from omega 3 anti-inflammatory
Because the two fatty acids have to compete for the same enzyme, when there is too much omega 6 it significantly decreases the conversion of omega 3.
Taken from the scientific literature here are some of the physiological effects of these eicosanoids on the body.
Omega 6 Aracadonic acid eicosanoids
- Pro-arrhythmic – affects heart rhythm
- Vasoconstrictor – tightens arteries
- Increased vascular permeability – allows molecules to permeate the artery wall
- Accelerates reactive oxygen species – more free radicals
- Increase production of inflammatory cytokines – changes to the immune system
- Abnormal cell proliferation – changes to cells
Omega 3 EPA & DHA eicosanoids
- Anti-arrhythmic – promotes healthy heart rhythm
- Inhibit TXB2 mediated platelet aggregation – prevents blood from clotting
- Promote vasodilation – relaxes arteries and improves blood flow
- Suppresses activation of NFkB blocking the synthesis of inflammatory cytokines – slows down and stops inflammation
Fats Are Critical To ALL Our Cells
All the cells in our body have a lipid bilayer. ALL cells, like our immune cells, the cells in our brain, the cells in our organs and so forth.
The types of fats we eat in our diet affect this bilayer.
When we have more omega 3 it can suppress inflammatory molecules, prevent molecules from adhering to places they are not meant to, and stop conditions from arising or getting worse.
So what can we do about it?
10 Practical Steps To Balance Omega 6/3 Ratio
- Reduce or eliminate processed foods as these often contain refined grains and are high in low quality omega 6 vegetable oils
- Avoid vegetable oils and choose olive oil, macadamia nut oil, or coconut oil instead
- Limit grains to a maximum of 1 cup a day
- Eat grass fed beef, which you can now get at most supermarket chains
- Eat free-range eggs
- Eat nuts and seeds in small quantities
- Increase consumption of omega 3 foods
- Consume olive oil with omega 3s to increase the incorporation of omega 3s into cells
- Eat more veggies
- Take an omega 3 supplement
They are just some of the practical steps you can take every day and incorporate into your regular routine.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast.
Nutritionist & Health Coach