Omega-3 fatty acids are popular nutrients these days. Sometimes, you might see omega-6 fatty acids thrown into the mix…but how are they different? And is one better than the other? Should I be consuming the same amount of each?
Let’s dig in and answer those questions…
Omega-3 fatty acids vs. Omega-6 fatty acids
Today we want to share why omega-3’s are all the rage and counterparts, omega-6 fatty acids, aren’t.
A quick intro to Omega-3’s
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, our bodies can’t synthesize omega-3 fatty acids; we must eat foods that contain them.
It’s important to note that these omega-3’s are polyunsaturated—not saturated.
Do you get confused by saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats?
Download our quick guide on Healthy vs Unhealthy Fats.
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-3’s, 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-6’s seem to be the opposite of omega-3’s
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-6’s present results in more inflammatory molecules and enzymes, while in contrast, more omega-3’s present results in more anti-inflammatory molecules and enzymes.
It might seem strange that the end-result of these similar molecules can be so opposing, but the reality is, we need both kinds of omega fatty acids to function.
“Inflammation” is something we strive to lessen in our bodies, but it does play a crucial part in our immune systems’ responses to injury and disease.
It’s the proportions 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-3’s—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-3’s 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-3’s 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.
Learn more about omega-6 fatty acids here.