Are omega-6 fatty acids healthy?
We don’t need to remind you that omega-3 fatty acids are popular nutrients these days due to their benefits not only in joint health, but also in immune, cardiovascular, and brain health, too.
Amongst the plethora of omega-3 options, you might have seen omega-6 fatty acids thrown into the mix…but how are they different? Is one better than the other? Should you be consuming the same amount of each?
Let’s dig in and answer those questions…
A quick intro on Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks for many molecules within our immune system and help to determine which paths are taken during an immune response. The problem is, that our bodies can’t make omega-3 fatty acids; we must eat foods that contain them.
It’s important to note that these omega-3s are polyunsaturated—not saturated.
Omega-3 fatty acids vs Omega-6 fatty acids…what’s the difference?
The simplest way of generally knowing what kind of omega’s your body is getting is by the foods you eat.
Seafood—especially krill and fish—are excellent sources of EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 fatty acids that continually demonstrate improvements in health within multiple systems of the body. Another form of omega-3s, called ALA, is found in some nuts and seeds, as well as high-quality beef.
You can find omega-6 fatty acids in oils used for cooking such as vegetable oil, soybean oils, safflower oil, etc.
We don’t want to get too far into the chemistry of these two kinds of fatty acids, so we’ll just say that their main difference lies in the location of the strongest chemical bond between two carbon molecules.
The location of a tiny chemical bond may not seem like it would be the determining factor…but researchers state otherwise!
Omega-6s seem to be the opposite of omega-3s
Researchers have found that omega-3 and -6 fatty acids seem to have opposite effects on the body.
In other words, they compete with (or complement) one another:
More omega-6s present results in more inflammatory molecules and enzymes, while in contrast, more omega-3s present results in more anti-inflammatory molecules and enzymes.
Should you cut omega-6 fatty acids completely out of your diet?
It might seem strange that the end result of these similar molecules can be so opposing, but the reality is, that we need both kinds of omega fatty acids to function efficiently.
While it’s true that increased swelling and other indications of “inflammation” are undesirable, our immune systems’ put it into effect for a reason.
For example, if an athlete is running and suddenly trips, falls, and breaks her leg…her immune system will use the products of omega-6s to instantly “tell” her to stop using her leg. With the help of pain, her body will automatically attempt to immobilize her leg via swelling and begin the early stages of the healing process.
Like omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids are unsaturated, too. This makes them more preferential than saturated fats, which are associated with high cholesterol levels.
In other words, omega-6 fatty acids shouldn’t be removed from your diet completely; it’s the proportions of omega-3s and omega-6s we need to adjust.
The Omega 6:3 Ratio
Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to get omega-6 fatty acids into your daily meals than it is omega-3s—especially if you’re a fan of the typical Western diet that uses oils to cook and fry foods.
Researchers and physicians have established the 6:3 ratio to aim for when it comes to limiting the amount of omega-6-rich foods and getting enough omega-3s from foods you eat.
Today, the general public’s omega 6-to-omega-3 ratio is 20:1!
This ratio is based on the percentage of calories from fat. A 20:1 is high when comparing most things, and omega-6 and omega-3s are no different.
Researchers hypothesize that humans’ omega ratio was 1:1 up until around the 18th century!
In other words, since the days of Benjamin Franklin, our consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has multiplied by 20! Is it such a surprise that joint problems are such a prevalent problem these days?
But, there’s good news!
Increasing omega-3 intake while also decreasing omega-6 fatty acid-rich foods can improve your omega 6:3 ratio drastically.
There are even healthier omega-6 options that contain omega-3s, like the Mediterranean Diet.