How to Balance Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
Healthy New Year! You may now be proactive about taking omega-3 supplements with your diet. However, did you know that balancing your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is critical to improving overall health?
The average American diet is a 10:1 to 20:1 ratio, omega-6 to omega-3. Unfortunately, most Americans consume a diet high in omega-6 such as refined carbs, sugar, and processed meats. For those who try to consume an omega-3 diet of fish, nuts or plants alone, achieving the recommended omega-3 daily intake can be difficult.
In this blog, you’ll learn how to balance your omega-6 to omega-3 diet (scroll to read or click the links below to jump to sections):
- What is Omega-6?
- Why is Omega-6 Important?
- What is the Best Source of Omega-3?
- Foods to Avoid in Your Diet
- Reducing Omega-6 From Your Diet
Omega-6 is a polyunsaturated fat. It belongs to the same family as omega-3. Both omega-6 and omega-3 are essential fatty acids because the body cannot make them on its own. The difference is that omega-6 is derived from linoleic acid (LA). LA is an essential omega-6 fatty acid that is commonly found in corn, corn oil, soy beans, fried foods, red meats and fatty meats like hamburgers, hot dogs and pork chops.
When these foods are consumed, LA gets converted into arachidonic acid (AA). AA is the body’s signal chemical for pain and inflammation. Our body sends these chemical signals to the brain to alert us when something is wrong. Without AA, we wouldn’t feel pain or otherwise know if we’ve been injured.
We adapt to our environment by a natural flight or fight response to danger. We need to know when we are in pain so we can heal. Since AA signals the brain that something is wrong on a cellular level, omega-6 is an essential fatty acid that we all need. However, the problem is when we consume too much omega-6 fatty acids in our diet.
A diet rich in red meats, fried greasy foods, and fatty foods leads to inflammation and chronic pain. The more inflammation builds up in our bodies, the more at risk we are to diseases and disorders such as arthritis, heart disease, Chron’s disease, and irritable bowel disease. Balancing our diet with omega-6 and omega-3 is critical to our overall health and wellness.
The best source of omega-3 is found in wild-caught fish like salmon, trout, mussels, sardines, herring, anchovies and shad. These fish are also low in mercury. Tuna may be a great source of omega-3; however, tuna is high in mercury. Wild canned salmon is a better replacement for canned tuna.
Omega-3 is also found in plant sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp and walnuts. However, for our bodies to convert the omega-3 found in plants, we have to consume an incredible amount only to get a small amount of its nutrients. While there are vegan alternatives to omega-3 derived from algae, they are not as potent as omega-3 supplements derived from fish oil.
Therefore, the most potent form of omega-3 comes from omega-3 supplements that are sourced from wild-caught fish. It is recommended that you still consume an omega-3 rich diet along with omega-3 supplements.
Many people make the mistake of relying solely on supplements to improve their health, while still maintaining a poor diet. The problem is consuming fried greasy foods, sugar, and processed foods while taking omega-3 supplements doesn’t bring the best results. With the average American consuming 10:1 to 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3, there are other foods you should avoid.
We get most of our calories from refined carbs such as processed sugar and starches. Refined carbs are in just about all foods that aren’t whole foods. The most common include:
- White sugar
- Powdered white sugar
- Corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Fruit concentrate
- Breakfast cereals
- Refined grains (meal, flour, corn starch)
Healthy, unrefined carbs come from natural whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you are on a low-carb diet, some great foods to replace refined carbs and sugar include:
- Sweet Potato
- Whole-grain Oatmeal
- Black beans
If you’d like, you can read the updated dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Vegetable oil is an omega-6 fatty acid. It is the most processed and least healthy omega-6. It’s also a main ingredient in most products in the grocery store. More than 60 percent of the calories in the food we buy are highly processed foods.
Just about every processed food has vegetable oil in it. The method of processing involves pressing, heating, and reheating oils that eventually become highly toxic. Vegetable oil includes soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil and safflower oil. A healthier choice of fats or cooking oil is olive oil, an omega-9 fatty acid that can be produced by animals and humans.
Vegetable oil is most commonly found in:
- Baked goods
- Salad dressings
- Chips and crackers
- Coffee creamers
- Frozen pizza, fruits and vegetables
- Fried foods
- Microwave popcorn
The above are some common foods that can lead to inflammation. A diet high in omega-6 increases inflammation, which leads to illness and higher risks of disease states. Consuming more omega-3 and less omega-6 in your diet reduces common health risk factors. Taking omega-3 supplements with a balanced diet helps reduce inflammation so you can reach optimal health.